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Hoover Dam, USA
December 212009

Hoover Dam, USA

Background:

The Hoover Dam is one of the world’s largest concrete structures and the 38th greatest producer of hydroelectric power. Built in the 1930s, it was designed to tame the Colorado River and also irrigate the dry land of Western America. The structure remains intact today, with a bypass running along the top of its 60 story height.

Farmers living in western America first tried to tame the ‘Mighty Colorado’ river in 1901 by building a canal system further towards the west called the ‘Imperial Valley’ but suddenly the river became more wild and in 1905 it flooded the valley and destroyed the canal system. It created an inland lake that took up 150 square miles and precious farmland was lost, bankrupting the families. In 1907 farmers, citizens and people who wanted to move to the west started looking at where they could place a dam. Another problem in the west was that the desert land there was arid and desperately needed irrigation. After four years of testing, plans for the Hoover Dam then began to go ahead as it could kill two birds with one stone.

In total, the Hoover Dam was to cost $165 million; a bill that the government was anxious of, but knew it was necessary. Luckily, the developers realized they could harness the hydroelectric power produced by the dam and sell it (primarily to the busy and bright city of Los Angeles), to fund the cost of its construction. The plans were finally commissioned in 1929 and construction was allowed to begin.

Construction:

When plans for the Hoover Dam were drawn up in the mid 1920s, professional and experienced engineers deemed it physically impossible. However, construction began in 1930 and proved those engineers very wrong indeed.

In the three years before the Hoover Dam began its construction, many men in Las Vegas were out of work due to a depression, so they took trains to the site of the Hoover Dam and found jobs there. The only problem was that construction didn’t start for another year. Colorado soon became overrun with the families of these men who had moved with them in wagons and set up their lives in fields, waiting for construction to start for a full year. The conditions were squalid, with most people living in shabby tents. The temperature reached highs of 50 degrees Celsius and many feared for their lives as they baked in the hot sun day after day.

Finally construction started and the men risked their lives for very little pay. In total 112 died during the construction of the Hoover Dam, but just 6 years later in 1936 the Dam was complete, and the future of Western America was about to change considerably. Today there is also a two lane road running along the top of the dam, also known as part of the U.S Route 93. There is now also a Hoover Dam bypass project in place, with the Colorado River Bridge just 1500 feet south of the Hoover Dam itself.

How to Get There:

Luckily for those who wish to visit the Hoover Dam, it is located right by some of Western America’s biggest cities, i.e. Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego. You may want to visit these places first and then travel to the Hoover Dam as part of a week or fortnight long holiday.

Flying to Las Vegas McCarran airport is your easiest option, and there are plenty of hotels, restaurants and means of entertainment in this city. From your accommodation you can rent a car, or catch a taxi to the Hoover Dam itself. At this one of the seven wonders of the industrial world you can take a guided tour.

Where to Stay:

Your best bet for comfortable accommodation is to stay at a hotel in Las Vegas, as this area is close to shops and restaurants, whereas this is not necessarily the case right by the Hoover Dam.

If you’re looking for a budget stay in Las Vegas then try the Inn Link (Siena Suites) lodge where rooms start at as little as $44 per night. For something more mid-range try the Sunset Station Hotel with rooms starting at $100. For luxury stays, however, we recommend Loews Hotel which was renovated in 2007. Rooms start at around $230. All of these hotels are within 15 miles of the Hoover Dam.

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Panama Canal, Panama
December 212009

Panama Canal, Panama

Background:

In the early 1500s one of the biggest problems involved in trade between Asia, Peru, Ecuador and southern America was the problem of the ships having to travel 14,000 miles around Cape Horn, rather than being able to cut directly through the isthmus better known as Panama.

Plans were put forward to the King Charles V in 1524 who approved them, and various others were approved right up to 1880 when it was finally commissioned. This route would not only speed up the time it took for stock to be transported from one port to another, but it would also reduce the amount of crime and violence that sailors experienced (their ships were often attacked in attempts to steal the goods).

The classic engineering designs that were used for the three sets of locks that the Panama Canal includes still exist and are still used to this very day by various large ships and freighters in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It’s also possible to sail down the Panama canal in a private boat on holiday, or on a cruise ship and many people enjoy seeing this part of the world from a leisurely cruise down this man made canal.

Today it stands at 41 miles in length, cutting through Panama from the Atlantic ocean to the north-west, diagonally down to the Pacific ocean in the south-east. It serves around 14000 ships which sail through it annually; the same number of miles that these ships would have had to travel before the canal existed, on a route around Cape Horn.

Construction:

Like many projects conceived of in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, construction of the Panama Canal was interrupted by wars that were waged between many countries to try and gain control. The first plans were drawn up in 1529 under Charles V’s reign as this kind of venture was well worth the benefits in trade and the reduction in crime that it would provide.

Actual construction of a canal through Panama did not begin until 1880 when Frenchman Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps (who had previously designed and built the Suez canal) was assigned the role of project leader. Unfortunately de Lesseps’ efforts failed due to landslides and disease such as yellow fever which swept the construction workers. In the early 20th century the USA took over the project, were successful and the Panama Canal was eventually finished and ready for opening by 1914.

The construction of the Panama Canal is thought, in total, to have taken 27500 workmen’s lives. The route through the Panama Canal is less than half that original journey, at just 6000 miles through three sets of locks (soon to become five when the upcoming expansion plans are put in place).

How to Get There:

Panama has its own airport, also known as Tocumen International Airport (PTY) so flying into the country internationally is simple.

Tocumen International is near the southern end of the Panama Canal, so once you’ve landed you will be traveling up the canal towards its southern end that opens onto the Pacific Ocean. Of course, you may not want to have to travel back up the canal to Tocumen again, so you can then take a flight from smaller northern airport known as ‘Marcos A Gelabert’, although this airport is smaller, and you may need to catch a connecting flight.

Where to Stay:

There are several hotels near Tocumen International Airport as it is located just to the east of Panama City; the most busy and well populated area of Panama. One such hotel is the luxury Intercontinental Miramar Panama hotel, right in the city center, where rooms start at around $240 per night. Here guests will find a spa, restaurant, gym with fitness instructors and marina with yachts available for renting.

For a mid range hotel try the Crowne Plaza Panama, where rooms start at around $190 per night, or if you are on a lower budget then the Veracruz Hotel where rooms start at $62 per night.

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First Transcontinental Rail Road, USA

Background:

Today it takes just 6 hours, a quarter of a day, to travel from the East coast of America to the West. In the 19th century, however, it could take up to six months, hopping from one train to another and taking risks along the way.

At least this was the case up until the early 1860s when the US Government approved plans for what was known at the time as the ‘Pacific Railroad’. The concept had been around for many decades previously, but it wasn’t until this time that the Government and the Pacific Railroads Acts decided that it was essential for improving trade and reducing the crime that people experienced when trying to cross America.

The First Transcontinental Rail Road did a lot to improve the tourism industry in America and traffic problems in many of its large cities, as well as improving the postal system (reducing the average cost of posting a letter from the east coast to west considerably) and the trade of goods overall. Perhaps one of the main reasons that the first transcontinental rail road was chosen as one of the seven wonders of the industrial world is that it comprised so many different types of engineering; from building tunnels through mountains to assembling wooden bridges across rivers.

Today the First Transcontinental Rail Road is still in use, but not entirely. Over 100 miles around the Sierra Nevada Mountains is still in operation, and hundreds more miles of the original tracks can still be seen across America.

Construction:

Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington and Charles Crocker are four names that crop up continuously when the First Transcontinental Rail Road is discussed, and this is because they were the four main investors in the project.

The ‘Big Four”s investments allowed the hundreds of construction workers (the majority of whom were Mormon) to build the 1800 miles of train track that ran from Sacramento, California in the west to Omaha, Nebraska in the north east of America. At their peak, the construction workers could manage ten miles of track in just one day, but sometimes the logistics of carrying food, materials and tools to the site where they were working meant that this was delayed. Construction of this railroad meant blasting through mountains to construct tunnels, and erecting wooden bridges across large bodies of water. This project didn’t just involve laying track on dry, flat land.

The construction of the First Transcontinental Rail Road took a total of six years, with celebrations held at Promontory, Utah on May 10th 1869 where the final golden spike was hammered into the ground. It was at this point where the Central Pacific Railroad met the Union Pacific tracks and the project could be declared complete. To this very day, one of the very last golden spikes can be seen at Stanford University (in the Cantor Arts Centre), California.

Upon completion the First Transcontinental Rail Road became the best and fastest way to travel across America, until 1959 when American Airlines released their first non-stop flight from East to West.

How to Get There:

It is still possible to travel on the same track that was laid well over 100 years ago across America, but only in certain parts. Areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and also Utah and Wyoming still have operating train tracks, so if you were to visit them you would need to fly as close to one of those areas as possible.

Natrona County Airport is small, but you could get a connecting flight to there, via a larger airport in the US and then start your train journey from there, through Utah and ending up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the west coast. From here you can quite easily travel down through bustling, exciting California to LAX airport and then fly home.

Where to Stay:

If you spend the majority of your stay near the Sierra Nevada Mountains, then you should definitely check out the Rodeway Inn right by Yosemite National Park. In Winter this hotel is right by a skiing hot spot, but in summer it’s also perfect for mountain biking, golfing and other outdoor pursuits.

Alternatively, for a luxury stay further into the metropolitan area, you could try the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Sacramento where rooms are approximately $270 per night. This hotel is located near shopping malls, an IMAX theater, museums, jogging trails and wine tasting day trips which should keep you busy during your stay.

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London Sewerage System, England

Background:

The 1800s was a smelly, unhygienic time for citizens of London, England. Greater London’s waste system was essentially an open sewer, with bacteria such as ‘vibrio cholerae’ causing cholera outbreaks and various other epidemics that threatened the population of the capital city.

In 1958 the smell that surrounded London because of the open sewer became almost unbearable and hygiene was at its very lowest. This prompted the London Government to sort out the problem once and for all, and they commissioned the construction of what would be known as the London Sewerage System.

Built in the late 1800s, the original London Sewerage System still makes up a small section of the one that’s in use today. It comprises six intercepting sewers, 21,000 kilometers of smaller sewers and several pumping stations to serve the areas where gravity cannot promote the easy flow of sewage to the east. The waste is diverted away from central London, to the Thames Estuary so that sanitation is at its highest where the greatest number of people live. The sewer system was designed by Joseph Bazalgette; the Metropolitan Board of Works’ Chief civil engineer who managed to incorporate its construction into the roadworks of London, and what was to later become the London Underground train system’s circle line as well.

Due to a huge increase in population since the 1850s, London’s modern sewerage system is around 100 times bigger than Bazalgette’s original construction. At the time, however, this design was revolutionary and desperately needed.

Construction:

Construction of the London Sewerage System began in 1859 and went on for six years until completion in 1865. 318 million bricks were used for job, as well as 670,000 meters squared of mortar and concrete. The main sewers that made up this system spanned an incredible 450 miles, not to mention the six interceptory sewers which ad a total length of 100 miles.

The pumping mills, used at various point along the Victorian London Sewerage System, were (and still are) mostly house-like structures where people would work to keep the sewage flowing in the right direction. The sewers were designed to largely run using gravity, but the pumping stations ensured that in areas the needed it, the water and sewage levels were raised to keep it flowing towards the east (or in the case of the north and south sewers, flowing to Beckton and Crossness treatment works respectively). Abbey Mills Pumping Station, along with a lot of the pumping stations from the Victorian sewerage system, has been renewed.

The London Sewerage System was repaired and reinforced in the 1900s, as was the treatment of the water throughout it so that the North Sea and the Thames Estuary would suffer less waste pollution. It is now 100 times bigger, so that it can cope with the increase in population and therefore the huge increase in waste in the capital. Compared to 250 years ago, the water flowing through London is much cleaner and much more safe.

How to Get There:

As you can imagine, visiting the actual sewers of London would be an unpleasant trip, considering they are all still in use today. It is, however, possible to visit the old Abbey Mills pumping station in Stratford, as a new one has been built to replace it, but the old one still stands.

To get to the Abbey Mills pumping station from abroad you should have no problems as London is served by three main airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton. Heathrow Airport is the nearest to Abbey Mills pumping station and once you land it is a 22 mile taxi ride across central London to Stratford.

Where to Stay:

Luckily for visitors, London is full of budget, mid range and luxury hotels. Try the Hotel Ibis on Romford Road for mid-range rooms starting at around £75 ($121 USD) per night. Budget rooms, on the other hand, can be found at Hotel Citystay on Bow Road where they start as low as $73 per night. Do bear in mind, however, that Hotel Citystay only has 19 rooms within it, so you will need to book early.

If you’re looking for a luxury hotel nearer London then look no further than the Four Seasons Hotel in Canary Wharf. It may be a further drive from the Abbey Mills pumping station than the others, but the luxury rooms are worth it.

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Brooklyn Bridge, USA
December 212009

 

Background:

In 1870 the New York Borough of Manhattan was largely populated and in danger of overcrowding. The borough of Brooklyn, however, which was located just over the East River, occupied a much larger area and was only populated with around 400,000 people. The obvious choice was to encourage growth outside of Manhattan, into Brooklyn, but with the East River in the way this wasn’t easy. In 1870 construction began on the Brooklyn Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan via the East River.

Vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles alike are allowed to cross the Brooklyn Bridge (known as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, until officially shortened in 1915), making it the ideal tourist spot. Many people visit New York on weekend trips and fortnight-long holidays, incorporating the bridge into their itinerary. Photographers find it one of their favorite spots as you can take pictures at any point along it, during day or night (when it’s lit up quite spectacularly) and from almost any angle.

While the Brooklyn Bridge has seen tragedies such as people committing suicide from it and into the East River below, and an attempt in 2003 by Al Qaeda to destroy it, it is also a very well loved part of the New York skyline to this very day. In 2008 elaborate celebrations took place to mark the Brooklyn Bridge’s 125th anniversary, including a live Brooklyn Philharmonic performance, a firework’s display and the construction of a temporary faux-telectroscope connecting New York with London via a live video link.

Construction:

The bridge was designed by John Augustus Roebling, although unfortunately he was unable to see out its construction. His foot had slipped into some pylons right at the beginning of the project, crushing his toes and as a result they had to be amputated, leaving him unable to walk. Later he caught tetanus from the injury and this was the cause of his death.

John’s son, Washington Roebling, continued the project until he too suffered problems as a result of construction. This time Washington suffered decompression sickness as a result of working underwater for extended lengths of time and not being exposed to pressure first. The symptoms were severe and by communicating with his well-learned (particularly in mathematics and bridge engineering) wife Emily, the couple were able to complete construction on the bridge that took a total of thirteen years.

Construction on the Brooklyn Bridge also cost an estimated £15,100,000, weighed 6620 tons and spanned 6016 feet in total length. 27 construction workers died during its construction, not including John Augustus Roebling.

The Brooklyn Bridge was opened on May 30th 1883, allowing 150,300 people to cross it in those first 24 hours alone. At this time the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, and very first steel wire suspension bridge to have ever been built. It is perhaps because of these dimensions and feats that the Brooklyn Bridge has been named as one of the seven wonders of the industrial world, and also as a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

How to Get There:

Luckily, New York is one of the most metropolitan cities in the world, and therefore has a large commercial airport that almost any medium commercial airport will fly to internationally. The distance from this airport (John F Kennedy Airport) to the Brooklyn Bridge is just under 20 miles, so it’s very easy to travel there as soon as you land.

We recommend you rent a taxi to take you to your accommodation for your stay, and then take another taxi, rented car or rented bicycle from there. Remember, you can walk across the bridge, so it’s worth looking at bus timetables and taking a leisurely stroll from one end to the other.

Where to Stay:

There are hundreds of hotels in the New York – Brooklyn area, which means visitors have a huge amount of choice here.

On the Manhattan side of the bridge you could try the Wall Street Hotel, which offers very modern luxury rooms at around $240 per night.

On the other side of the bridge and closer to JFK airport, however, is the Howard Johnson (also known as the ‘HoJo) hotel, which offers budget to mid range rooms for around $135 per night. There are also other Howard Johnson hotels in this region, such as the one in Long Island, or one in North Bergen.

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Bell Rock Lighthouse, Scotland

Background:

For centuries sailors who sailed around Arbroath, Eastern Scotland were terrified of becoming shipwrecked on what was known as ‘Bell Rock’. This rock was actually an underwater reef, invisible from the surface of the water until the Bell Rock Lighthouse was built upon it in 1807.

Its construction wasn’t finished for three years, but once it was standing, the Bell Rock Lighthouse began saving lives of fishermen and sailors in the area (estimated at six ships per winter season). At 115 feet tall, the lighthouse is hard to miss and can be seen from buildings on land. It warns ships to this very day, that there is a rock below that extends 1427 feet in length under the surface of the water. It was lit on February 1st 1811; well over 200 years ago, and was capable of an intensity of 1,900,000 candela. This incredibly bright light reached up to 34 miles out to sea.

The Bell Rock Lighthouse is not just a conical shaped tower, either. Inside its Aberdeen granite walls are five compartments, not including the light room that stands upon its summit. This also contains glass panels and light reflectors, to increase the range of the light that was once emitted from it to warn ships who come close.

Apart from when a helicopter crashed into Bell Rock Lighthouse in 1955, the lighthouse has been operating since its construction over 200 years ago. It is is still in use today, having had no alterations or repairs to its structure.

Construction:

Robert Stevenson, a young Scotsman and ambitious architect designed the original Bell Rock Lighthouse, but had his plans dismissed by the Northern Lighthouse Board on the basis that the reef was too dangerous to build such a large structure upon, and that it would cost £40,000. However, when the HMS York struck Bell Rock in 1804 and lost over 400 of its crew members, the Northern Lighthouse Board awarded the job of building Robert Stevenson’s Bell Rock Lighthouse design to John Rennie; a revered and most respected British engineer at that time.

To this day it’s uncertain who should take credit for the Bell Rock Lighthouse design and construction, considering Robert Stevenson still worked on the project, but only as Rennie’s assistant. They based their eventual design on John Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse which had already been standing for 50 years.

The seas around Bell Rock were so harsh that construction could only take place in summer, in two hour bursts during the day before the workers had to retreat back to calm(er) water. Rennie was barely seen during this time, only having visited the rock twice, and the rest of the time Stevenson and the 60 construction workers fought through their seasickness and the awful conditions they built under. After a while of trying this system, the team decided to build a beacon house on the rock, so that they could reside there and not have to keep sailing to and from Bell Rock. The project, in total, cost around £61,339, which was the original budget, plus 50%.

How to Get There:

As you can imagine, visiting the Bell Rock Lighthouse itself is not recommended, as it marks the spot where thousands of sailors have died. The seas in Arbroath are very choppy, even in the calmer summer months, and the risk of being smashed against the huge Bell Rock reef is simply too high.

You can, however, get close to the Bell Rock Lighthouse by joining a fishing trip in a large boat. To get to Arbroath you will need to fly to Dundee Riverside Airport, and then catch a taxi to Arbroath for no more than £30 ($49).

Where to Stay:

The Rosely Country House Hotel is one of the best hotels to stay in, in Arbroath and is located on Forfar road. This Victorian style luxury hotel has single bed and breakfast rooms starting at just $73 per night, or double rooms from $97. This is great value for the quality of stay you will enjoy, even though you will need to call a taxi or rent a car to get to the center of Arbroath.

The Inverpark Hotel, on the other hand, is located right on the coast where you may be able to get a room with a view of the Bell Rock Lighthouse itself.

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SS Great Eastern
December 212009

SS Great Eastern

Background:

Between 1854 and 1858, construction on the SS Great Eastern (also known briefly as ‘Leviathan’) was ongoing. This gigantic ship was intended for commercial use, to sail from Britain to Australia without needing to stop once to refuel. Her mass was five times as large as the biggest ships around at the time, and no attempt at a ship of these proportions had been attempted until she was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel; a pioneering engineer and ship designer.

Unfortunately for Brunel her first launch attempt in 1857 went disastrously wrong. The steam winches employed to pull the ship out to sea failed and the ship moved only a few feet, killing operators in the process. It was not until January 31st 1858 that a successful launch was made and. Brunel was completely out of pocket trying to make up for the failed launch with his own money.

After its troubled maiden voyage the ship then went on to sail to America in 1860 and made many other voyages for the next five years. By 1865 the SS Great Eastern was being used to lay cable in the ocean and by 1888 she had been used as a static show boat and sold at auction.

So while the SS Great Eastern was certainly not without problems, it was undeniably the most incredible show of engineering for its time, exhibiting a design that was way ahead of its time and dimensions that no engineer or construction worker had catered for in the past.

Construction:

As you already know, the SS Great Eastern transatlantic iron steam sailing ship was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel was a British engineer who not only built ships, but also the Great Western Railway system, plus various tunnels and bridges across the country.

The SS Great Eastern featured six sailing masts (providing 18 148 square feet of sail in total), gas illumination (an incredible luxury at that time), five funnels, a double hull, and twelve watertight compartments. Such a ship had never been conceived of until Isambard’s design in 1854. It could hold 4000 passengers at one time, although on its maiden voyage the total number of paying passengers didn’t exceed 40.

This enormous ship stood at a total length of 692 feet, and the 56 foot paddle-wheels, 24 foot four-bladed screw propeller and five engines that were used to propel it through the water were estimated to provide 8000 horsepower. A man named Daniel Gooch bought the SS Great Eastern at auction for just £25,000 in 1864, even though the materials it was built out of were worth £100,000 on their own.

Today very little remains of the construction, engineering and pioneering design of the SS Great Eastern as it was broken up and the materials reused to reinforce parts of the Rock Ferry on the River Mersey after 1890. However, visitors can still see her top mast which was purchased by Liverpool football club and placed outside their Anfield stadium over a century ago in 1890.

How to Get There:

The SS Great Western no longer stands as a ship today, as it was sold for break up in 1890. It is certainly possibly to visit the site where the majority of its materials were used: the Rock Ferry on the River Mersey, although they are largely indistinguishable as steam ship parts.

The best piece of material to have been saved from the SS Great Western is its top mast which is featured at Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium to this day. To travel here you can fly to one of the main London airports (Gatwick, Luton or Heathrow) and then catch a coach or train to Liverpool. Alternatively you fly directly to the Liverpool John Lennon airport, providing your nearest airport offers this service.

Where to Stay:

If you are visiting the Liverpool Anfield stadium to see the SS Great Eastern’s top mast then we recommend you stay at the Beatles themed four star Hard Days Night Hotel on North John Street, where rooms start at around $163 per night. Visiting the mast alone will not take up a holiday or even a weekend or whole day, so you will want to plan to see a football match or perhaps take a walk around the Tate Gallery.

Alternatively, rooms at the Liverpool Marriott Hotel (city center) start at around $130 per night and include very luxurious and comfortable rooms.

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  • Hoover Dam, USA

    Hoover Dam, USA

    Industrial World

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  • Panama Canal, Panama

    Panama Canal, Panama

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  • First Transcontinental Rail Road, USA

    First Transcontinental Rail Road, USA

    Industrial World

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  • London Sewerage System, England

    London Sewerage System, England

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  • Brooklyn Bridge, USA

    Brooklyn Bridge, USA

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  • Bell Rock Lighthouse, Scotland

    Bell Rock Lighthouse, Scotland

    Industrial World

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  • SS Great Eastern

    SS Great Eastern

    Industrial World

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