2019 Created by The Old Machinery Magazine

It let go with a BANG!

May 18, 2019

My dad, Tim Keenan, has been interested in mechanical things since he was a little chap. We spent many happy rally days when my brother, sister and I were young in England, taking our stationary engines out to rallies all over the south of the country on summer weekends.



He still has quite a collection of engines in his home workshop and spends quite some days tinkering out there, when not writing engine stories for TOMM.


When I came to live in Australia with my family, my brother followed. Fortunately, our dad has taken the opportunity to visit us here many times over the last decade and we have all continued the family rally tradition, attending many interesting events.


Just recently, I moved up to the Mid North Coast of New South Wales from Sydney, to just south of Port Macquarie. We were out on a tour around the district we happened to visit, just by chance, the small town of Kendall. As many readers know, small towns often have areas in a park or similar, which have interesting items of old machinery on display that have usually worked locally.


So it was at Kendall, I spotted a large flywheel in a fenced off compound near the centre of the town and said to dad, “That looks an interesting bit of machinery at the side of the main road”. I stopped the car immediately and he was out of the car in a flash to have a closer look. Dad reported back that it was the remains of a Ruston Hornsby heavy oil engine of some size. I knew full well that this famous British engineering concern is my dad’s favourite. The camera came out and numerous photographs were taken of all parts on display, despite it raining heavily at the time. It was evident to even my untrained eye that the engine had, at one time, suffered extreme damage.

The R and H engine is a Class H (later the HR) horizontal heavy oil engine of some size. From the display noticeboard the following details were given: The engine was shipped from the Ruston Hornsby works at Lincoln, on the 6th December, 1927, by sea to their depot in Sydney, and would have arrived in Sydney possibly in early 1928, in purpose-built wooden crates. These engines were often shipped in several crates in dismantled form, owing to their weight and size. This engine was a single cylinder type, and according to the display board, it was of 52bhp, with Build No. 13425.


My dad, on reading this build number, immediately said, it is one digit short - it should be six digits, so more enquiries were needed. One of the first things he did was Email his long-time friend, Ray Hooley, keeper of the R and H records, who lives in south Lincoln, in the UK, to ask him for further information from the Works build books. He kindly checked his records for this engine and it is likely this engine’s full Serial Number is 134253, which went to Sydney on the 9th December, 1925, and was a Mark 10H size. There were 10 engines shown which had serial numbers beginning with 13425- for this period. If this engine was of 52bhp it would have been a Mark 9H, so there is now another mystery.


The remains of the engine on display are cleverly mounted on two separate steel stands, one for the flywheel and outrigger bearing assembly, which stands vertically, 8 foot in diameter, with the usual baring slots in its inner rim for baring over to the starting position. The broken crankshaft is still fitted to the flywheel. The piston sits on another frame, still with its six main rings and one oil scraper ring, and complete conrod. Lying horizontally, both do not seem to have suffered any damage - together they are 6 foot long. The piston measures a 25½ by 13¼ inch diameter.


^ A view of the outrigger bearing assembly with its two driving pulleys. 



Perhaps, an interesting point here, relates to when Ruston’s fitters, or ‘outworkers’ as they were always called, were sent out from the Works to service these engines, and it was considered good practice to replace the first or top ring on the piston and move the other rings down to the next groove of the piston, to maintain compression and to slow wear in the engines bore. It should be noted here that the Mark H cold staring oil engine was first offered by Ruston Hornsby and Co. Ltd. in 1919, and continued though the next decade, with many refinements added, until around 1930 when it became the type HR (R standing for Revised or modified/uprated as the years continued). Many hundreds were manufactured and shipped out worldwide, as they were well-known to be a very reliable engine for many applications.


The Ruston data sheet I have states, “Before each engine left the Works at Lincoln, it was built up in the Engine Test Pits, a full test run was carried out to their satisfaction on load, for such a time as was necessary to ensure that it would carry the same load continuously for 12 hours and this load would not be exceeded for the daily working load for the engine in order that the best fuel economy would be realised and there would be a margin to meet temporary overloads”. After these tests were carried out, the engine would be dismantled and packed in specially built packing cases and shipped to the agent who had placed an order for it.


The conrod is still connected to the opposite side of the broken crank camshaft skew gear. One wonders what damage the main crankcase and cylinder suffered. One thing is certain the Ruston never ran again. What replaced it we shall perhaps never know!


It is known that this engine was originally installed into a large ice works in Sydney, almost certainly to drive a ice making ammonia compressor, similar to a Werner, which were manufactured in Richmond, Melbourne in some numbers, for the meat and fruit store trades - at this time, there were great frozen meat exports to England. Then in 1938, it was removed from that facility and transported up to the Mid North Coast to a place called Heron’s Creek, where it drove a large sawmill at Boyd’s road, and was in the ownership of one, Harry Rose. In 1951, Jack and Melvyn purchased it and the sawmill operated under the name of Boyd Bros. Around 1955, they bought the mill outright, and the complete sawmill and engine was moved to Blackbutt Road, Herons Creek, where all machinery was reinstalled and put back to work.


^ The Ruston cold starting oil engine - front page of a 1929 catalogue. 



Sadly, in 1975, the engine had a catastrophic crankshaft failure when it let go. It would have certainly given the lads in the sawmill quite a shock when this happened. Why this occurred is unknown though there could have been several reasons, with the first being that the concrete foundations had moved with the weight of the engine over time, causing things to become out of line. These engines always have an outrigger bearing on the flywheel side to take the huge weight off the flywheel, and it is also fitted with two driving pulleys. If it becomes out of line, or out of true, it puts great strain on the crankshaft, especially near the webs, causing it to crack and thereby let go.


Or perhaps, the engine ran away when its governor failed? The Class HR engines have very heavy counterweights fitted to the crank webs for steadier running. Interestingly, the engine conrod and piston do not seem to have suffered any damage at the time of the accident. These engines, owing to their size, were supplied by the maker with a compressor and air tank for the purpose of starting, which generally sat near the engine. The single engines were built in twelve sizes from 18 to 140bhp, and for two power types, industrial or electrical applications. It should also be noted that these engines were also offered with double cylinders in eight sizes from 76 to 280bhp, in the same two power types as previously stated, with all in the horizontal format, as per data from the R and H publication No. 5772, issued in December, 1929. 


 ^ From a catalogue, this R and H cold starting oil engine is similar to the remains of the engine at Kendall, NSW. 


Perhaps, the best restored HR twin cylinder engine I have seen in Australia, is in a purpose-built engine shed at the Lake Goldsmith rally grounds, near Beaufort, Victoria. It is a joy to see, and it is clear that many hours of work have been put in to make it an outstanding Ruston Hornsby – it is a credit to all.


Also on display in the same compound, was the remains of a railway loco boiler, manufactured by the famous American firm, Climax, of Corey, Pennsylvania. It is a B class engine, with Build No. B 1375, built over 100 years ago, I would suggest? The class B was built in sizes from 16 to 60 tons. There are two locos of this make in preservation in Australia.


Also shown in Kendall is a rare heavy convict leg iron said to be circa 1830s. Port Aquamarine was one of the first towns in NSW to have convicts in the early days of colonisation. This little accessory would not a have been a nice thing to have strapped to your leg, day in and day out, I am sure.


It was a lovely day out with my dad and my own little ones. He was in his element looking at the remains of one of his favourite engines, even though it was sadly damaged. It had a working life of 47 years, not of course a record for a Ruston Hornsby engine of this type as we know, but she had had a ‘fair go’!





The Old Machinery Magazine wants to hear your thoughts, stories and opinions - send a message to news@tomm.com.au to say hello! 





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