“Just like in a lot of other companies, the hard-working West-Frisians worked long hours in the steam pumping station with little or no breaks. They had no choice because blue collar workers often had large families to support. They literally worked up a sweat to stay afloat and prevent the inhabitants of Medemblik from drowning.”
'Suddenly two elderly ladies in flower dresses appear in front of you. They ask one technical question after another!' laughs Henk Olbers. He joined the Nederlands Stoommachinemuseum in the West-Frisian town of Medemblik. As a machine operator in 2013. "That’s unexpected." More often than not, the female visitors sit around on the benches chatting while the men are involved in the tour, and they say things like: “I love that smell of steam.” I explain that steam is an odourless gas. "The smell is caused by the oil used to lubricate the machines. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t see steam either. What you see is the vapour. Eventually we always manage to get the women off the benches and involved in the tour. Children pose yet another challenge. For example in the case of young high school students, we have to make sure our story is more interesting than their mobile phones. So we take our target audience into account and adapt our story to make sure everyone enjoys the tour."
Kees Jongert has always loved steam engines. It started as a hobby and ended in an actual steam engine museum. In 1973 he created an exposition of his steam engine collection in a warehouse next to the station in Medemblik. They were sourced from ships and industrial applications. Twelve years later Kees relocated his steam engines to the old steam pumping station ‘De Vier Noorder Koggen’. This pumping station used to pump water from the polder into the Zuiderzee. With the arrival of the new electrical pumping station in Wervershoof, the steam pumping station stopped its operation in 1975, but it is still functional to this day. The fact that the water authority actually employed the old water pumping station in the late nineties, is highly unique. Volunteers worked for 72 hours to pump out the excess water.
The building, now a national monument, is a true eye-catcher and boasts an impressive location by the panoramic IJsselmeer. Kees has passed away but his love for steam engines lives on in the hearts and souls of the volunteers of the Nederlands Stoommachinemuseum. One of many cultural ‘secrets’ in West-Friesland. The collection is a truly impressive sight. The thirty odd year old steam engines are still well-maintained and shine their way into your life. Apart from this collection, you can also still admire the original pumps and machines of the station itself. You can moor your boat from the inner waters for some ice cream or a cup of coffee on the terrace.
"Because we use a traditional stoking method, we are able to demonstrate how this was done in the twenties of the previous century", says Henk. Around a hundred volunteers working at the museum take you back in time. And by offering the opportunity to conduct playful little experiments, we make sure that the pumping station is a fun and educational experience for children. Once the tour is completed, you'll know all about the history, development and operation of the steam engines. "It takes some demanding physical exercise to get the steam engines running", Henk explains. Not everyone can do that, but there are plenty of other jobs as well. Just the terrain maintenance is quite the chore. The kettle makes up the core of the operation. Without fuel, nothing will work.
A few years ago an elderly gentleman visited the museum. He said that he had to get inside one of the kettles when he was a young man, to stop the rivets from falling through. They were hammered in from the outside. This rendered him deaf, because working conditions in those days were awful. Just like in a lot of other companies, the hard-working West-Frisians worked long hours in the steam pumping station with little or no breaks. They had no choice because blue collar workers often had large families to support. They literally worked up a sweat to stay afloat and prevent the inhabitants of Medemblik from drowning. We aren’t particularly fond of it, but we all get a bill from the water authority every year. A lot of people have no idea how much water needs to be pumped out to allow us to live below sea level.
"The West-Frisians have been fighting the water for centuries. It may hurt a little less to pay those bills knowing how invaluable a pumping station is", Henk concludes.