Water and power
From the earliest days, water power has been of crucial importance to all the activities in Bergslagen. It was water power harnessed from water-wheels that drove the drainage pumps in the mines, and the pithead hoists. Water power was also used to operate the bellows in the blast furnace and the hammers in the forge. The availability of water also determined where various operations were sited. Many of the rivers and falls that turned the water-wheels were surprisingly small, particularly when you realize that it was these small rivers that formed a power base for many large industrial installations.
It goes without saying that the mining operations had to take place where the ore was to be found, and therefore could often not be sited by water—which would have been the ideal. Instead, a draught engine, an ingenious reciprocating-action wooden-pole system, together with a cable-way, was used to transfer the power mechanically from the water-wheel to the mine. The system of wooden poles could be several kilometres long.
The end of the 19th century, however, saw the advent of electricity and hydroelectric power, which increased the power that could be harnessed from rivers and falls. Initially, only the smaller, local falls were used, but then an important advance was made: the introduction of the higher-voltage three-phase system which enabled electricity to be transmitted over greater distances. The world’s very first three-phase transmission system provided power to the Grängesberg mine.
In the 1890s, electricity started to be installed in the rolling mills. The first works to be fully electrified was the Hofors mill as early as in 1894–5. This was followed soon afterwards, in 1899, by the Horndals works, which received power from Näs. The large ironworks at Sandviken also purchased its power from Näs. Power from Nedre Semla, Västanfors and Övre Semla went to the Fagersta works, partly so that a large new cogging or blooming mill could be installed.
Water and transport
Water provided another vital function: a means of transport. Quite late on in the history of the mining sector, it was simpler to transport goods by water, on the lakes and waterways, than through the often near-impenetrable forests. Transport was either by boat or, come winter, by sleighs over the ice. The construction of canals and locks, to link together the different waterways, also became increasingly common. Many of the country’s canals are to be found in Bergslagen. One of the oldest, dating from the 1630s, is the Norsbäck canal.
The Strömsholm canal, constructed in the Kolbäck valley, linked lake Barken, and thus the county of Dalarna, to lake Mälaren. The Bergslag canal (or Filipstad Bergslags canal as it is also known) was constructed in the 19th century and ran as far as Kristinehamn on lake Vänern. The harbours at Kristinehamn and Borgåsund on lake Mälaren were the principal outlets for goods from Bergslagen.
The Strömsholm canal
The idea of cutting a canal and building a system of locks on the Kolbäck river to solve the transport problems facing the smelting houses was first mooted way back in the past. The Strömsholm canal was built in 1776–95, and was later reconstructed in 1842–60. It runs between lake Mälaren and the northern end of lake Barken, and comes to an end in Smedjebacken.
Apart from the Göta canal, which traverses Sweden from Gothenburg to lake Mälaren, the Strömsholm canal was the country’s principal waterway for shipping freight. The 26 locks on the Strömsholm canal are 3.5 metres wide and thus 2 metres narrower than the locks on the Göta canal. The overall difference in the water level over the 100-km length of the canal is 99.4 metres. At Hallstahammar, the rise and fall is an awesome 50 metres. The Skantz lock at Hallstahammar is the central point of the canal. It was here that the lock tolls had to be paid, and also where the canal’s chief engineer (whose official title was Mekanikus) built his home in 1790.
Trångfors power station, Hallstahammar
The power station was built by the Hallstahammar company in 1898–9, based on plans drawn up by a firm of consulting engineers, Qvist & Gjers, of Arboga. The station was later sold to Metallverken in Västerås, and is still operating today under the Vattenfall company. The only toll or stamping station remaining on the Strömsholm canal is here as well.
Lernbo power station, Smedjebacken
The power station at Lernbo was built by the Grängesberg company in 1898–9 and was the largest in Sweden when it was commissioned. It was located where it could harness the fall between lakes Leran and Hillen. Towards the bottom of the fall, the water is channelled through tubes into the station itself. These were originally built of wood and steel, but today are all steel. Two electric sluice gates are mounted at the top of the tubes.
Under the supervision of an architect, Sigge Cronstedt, the power station was enlarged in a number of phases. In 1899, it was equipped with one tube which drove two generators; a second tube was added in 1903, together with two more generators. The fifth and last generator was installed in 1907. A number of minor conversions were subsequently completed and, in 1944, the entire station was rebuilt and equipped with new powerful generators. As a result of the new capacity, a surge tower was built in 1947 to prevent the tubes from bursting in the event of a sudden stoppage of the turbines.