After a very successful weekend at a vintage machinery show in Bunbury Western Australia in February 1997, a customer overheard a chance conversation to the proprietor of a local hardware shop in Perth.. The conversation was between Peter Ogborne and the shop owner about the performance and quality of engines at the show. A customer, later to be identified as John O’Brian, listening to the conversation said he had an engine on his property in Mullewa (400 km north of Perth) and if it was any good it was available.
I guess many of us have heard statements like that and they turn out to be either a dream of untold riches in the owner’s mind or a nightmare for the buyer. To reinforce this statement Peter was told that John had a charcoal sketch of the engine on his wall at home if we wanted to see it. The picture showed a sketch of the remains of a steam engine without its flywheel.
That was the beginning of a great adventure into the uncharted waters of restoration and overcoming the bureaucracy of Government regulations.
Peter Ogborne discussed the encounter in the hardware shop with his long time friend Peter Dymond and they both made a reconnaissance visit to Mullewa in March 1997.
Behind an old shearing shed, in long grass on John O’Brian’s old farm property and looking very sad indeed they found the engine. Chimney and flywheel were gone, the smoke box was hanging limp almost corroded into insignificance and providing a nesting sight for finches. The wheels were embedded into the ground and badly corroded at the contact with the soil. Scattered around in the tall golden grass could be seen the odd fire bar, smoke box door and bits of unidentifiable odds and ends that may belong. The nameplate revealed the engine to be a Ruston Proctor Portable engine serial number 28492.
Examination revealed most of the engine was complete with the exception of the flywheel. The flywheel had been removed by cutting through the crankshaft on the outside of the main bearing. The eccentric and rod for the water pump and one main bearing cap were also missing. All brass work and nameplates were intact. Looking beyond the rust and neglect of 45 years Peter Dymond could see the vision of the engine under steam. A challenge to behold indeed and not to be taken by the faint hearted, or by those without vision.
On return to Perth bits of the history of the engine started to come to light. It had been manufactured in 1904 in Lincoln, England, and had been shipped to Greenough Western Australia in that year. After working at Greenough for five years the engine had been purchased by the O’Brian family and towed by a team of work horses to Devils Creek near Mullewa, 120 km east of Geraldton. Three O’Brian brothers shared the engine, all with their own farms in close proximity to one another. The engine worked between the three Mullewa properties until the early 1950’s driving a chaff cutter.
During the last 40 years the engine had been sold for scrap on two occasions for £14 Australian. In the 1960’s and 70’s scrap merchants combed the country for scrap cast iron and brass. They traveled the country with sticks of gelignite and blew apart many beautiful old machines just for the price of a few pounds. Luckily the scrap merchants who came to Mullewa found it too hard to remove the engine from the property so it remained intact.
In April, six weeks after the first sighting, Peter Dymond organised the recovery team. The team was made up of Peter Ogborne, Andrew Dymond, Ian Studham, John O’Brian (the eavesdropper in the hardware shop) with his grandsons. Transport was supplied by Bruce Cleasby with his vintage Albion 7 ton truck.
The flywheel was the first item to be recovered. When it had been cut off it had been used as a drag pulled behind a tractor to form a bush track. The flywheel was located 15 km from the engine at the end of the track where it been left for 30 years. Back at the farm, the engine was towed for 100 metres to an old loading ramp. Using old timber sleepers found on the farm, the ramp height was increased to the same height as the truck. Under the skilled direction of Andrew Dymond with the aid of chains and a come-a- long the engine was coaxed the last few metres onto the truck. The first stage of the adventure was completed with much relief.
The engine was transported the 350 km to Toodyay, a country town 85 km north east of Perth. Much deliberation by the towns people took place, some shaking of heads by well meaning friends with words of support to Veronica, Peter's long suffering wife of 40 years. Was this going to be another grand uncompleted project or would he succeed just to spite those with little faith.
Shortly after storing the engine in an old stable at the rear of the local supermarket in Toodyay, Peter’s work took him to Indonesia for twelve months. This time was not wasted; in the evenings in his hotel room Peter designed the new boiler and researched the manufacture of some items for the restoration.
On his return from Indonesia the restoration proper started in July 1998. This included -
- A new boiler manufactured by Platts engineering.
- All the wheels, boiler shell and fire box front and door were sand blasted.
- Repairs to the crankshaft. This was done by shrinking on an extension shaft.
- New smoke box outer ring was machined out of the solid.
- Wheel tyres were removed, repaired and re riveted back on.
- A new chimney and smoke box were rolled and fabricated.
- A new smoke stack hinge and spark arrestor were made.
- Missing main bearing cap and water pump eccentric were cast using the remaining ones as a pattern.
- New bronze bearings were machined from the solid.
- New pump connecting rod and piston rod were machined from scratch.
- The governor was rebuilt and all bright steel rods were replaced.
By 21st September 1999 the engine was working under steam. Seen here the boiler is being filled with water and then fired on a rainy day. Long time boiler and engine driver Trevor Ralph in yellow rain coat with Peter Dymond on top oiling up and Peter Ogborne offering words of encouragement.
The story of the replacement Fire Tube Boiler was one of determination and persistence. The existing boiler had reached the end of its life as a pressure vessel and therefore had to be replaced if the engine was to run under steam.
The Western Australian WorkSafe (Government regulative body) do not allow new-riveted boilers to be licensed under steam. New boilers have to comply with the latest Australian boiler code AS1228 class 2 which is for boilers of welded construction. Radical thinking had to be done to conform to the WorkSafe requirements. The existing boiler forms the main support structure for the wheels and motion gear of the portable steam engine. It was not practical to replace the old boiler using the modern standards and not destroy the looks or character of the original machine.
It was decided to manufacture a separate pressure vessel to fit inside the existing boiler shell and maintain the original appearance. Peter Dymond did the basic design while working overseas.
The design was then sent to a certified engineer for calculation and detail of material to be used for manufacture to comply with AS1228.
WorkSafe still needed a second independent engineer to ratify the calculations. When all the voluminous paperwork was filled in, WorkSafe issued a design number and manufacture could take place.
The design had to take into account four major problems.
How to get the steam from the new boiler to the regulator.
How to isolate the existing steam chest from the old boiler.
How to get the boiler sight glasses in the same location as the original.
Accommodate the different expansion rates between the new boiler and the old shell. The new boiler was designed to work at a pressure of 700 kPa and a temperature of 203oC. If we assumed the old shell would reach a temperature of 100 oC then we had to accommodate a differential expansion of 1.2 mm for every 1m in length.
Solving the problem of the difference in the expansion between the new boiler and the old shell, led to the solution of the remaining problems. The design anchored the new boiler to the existing boiler front using the original boiler stay bolts, cut short and welded to the new boiler and bolted into their original position in the boiler front. The new boiler rests on slides and is allowed to grow into the smoke box.
The steam outlet from the new boiler was sited directly under the cylinder. With the new boiler anchored to the shell at the boiler front the growth in the new boiler at the steam outlet would be 0.86 mm at full working temperature and pressure.
To accommodate this growth a flexible expansion bellows was used to connect the new boiler to an isolation plate on the old shell. The isolation plate separated the cylinder from the old boiler shell. This arrangement allowed steam to flow from the new boiler directly into the steam cavity under and around the cylinder and then into the regulator valve. The isolation plate stopped steam flowing back into the old boiler shell.
To install the new boiler the old boiler front was cut off the body of the boiler 100mm from the boiler front plate. The fire box, fire tubes and smoke box tube plate were removed and the new boiler was inserted into the empty shell. The old boiler front was then stitch welded back into position. Boiler sight glasses were positioned in the original position and mounted on short extension pipes from the new boiler front. The lagging covered the welded joint on the existing boiler leaving no visual evidence of the new boiler.
The new boiler was designed with three additional connections to the outside world and allowance for the growth in the length of the new boiler had also to be taken into consideration for these connections. The blow down valve posed no problem as it was in line with the growth of the boiler and could expand freely. The boiler feed water connection from the pump was a different matter and as the pump was mounted on the old shell another flexible connection to the pump had to be provided. The blast steam connection to the stack was easy as the pipe work could allow for expansion and providing the hole in the shell had sufficient clearance there was no problem in that area.
That got rid of the problems with the installation of a new boiler. The only remaining engineering challenge was how to fix the butchered crankshaft. A few enquiries on the possibility of obtaining another crankshaft were quickly dashed as hopeless.
Therefore, back to basic engineering principles. The crankshaft was made of forged steel which is not recommended to be welded. Even if welding had been a possibility the distortion and misalignment could not be tolerated. The cost of manufacturing a new crankshaft was prohibitive. The decision was made to manufacture a short section of the shaft to replace the cut off section and shrink it on to the existing
crankshaft. The crankshaft had been cut off outside the bearing between the flywheel and the bearing. The extension was designed to carry the weight of the flywheel through the bearing and be shrunk onto the crank inboard of the bearing. This design would allow total support of the flywheel (3/4 of a ton) to be taken on the new shaft and the main crank bearing. In the event of a failure of the shrink fit joint the flywheel would still be totally retained.
The shaft extension was made of high tensile steel and had a collar 1 inch thick for the crankshaft to fit inside. The crankshaft was re-ground to suit the new bearing on the non flywheel end and big end journal. The crank was also ground 4 thou oversize to take the shrink fit of the new extension. The collar position was placed on the crank to be under the governor drive pulley. A new pulley was cast and machined with a 5 inch centre instead of the original 3 inch centre. When assembled the collar looked as if it was part of the pulley. There is no visual evidence of the crank repair.
The two large diameter wheels had split the tyres due to the pressure caused by the corrosion between the wheel and tyre where the wheel had sunk into the ground over the years. The rivets that held the tyres in position on the wheels were removed and the tyre split was welded using a special technique for wrought iron. The wheel was repaired where the corrosion was excessive and the tyre was re-riveted back on. Not
easy but fun using a hand blown forge to heat the rivets and a large hand held dolly and hammer. The rest of the restoration was pretty straightforward. The old boiler shell was sand blasted, the piston shaft and all control shafts were replaced with new machined ones. The missing bearing cap and pump eccentric were cast using the one remaining one as a pattern. The water pump and governor were completely re-built.
The smoke box was rolled at the local fabrication shop but the rounded bull nose of the smoke box posed a bit of a problem as there was nobody in Western Australia who had a set of rollers to roll a double curve of that size. Ever resourceful, we machined the bull nose out of a piece of 32mm plate and then welded it on to the inside of the smoke box and the smoke box door outer ring.
The chimney was rolled in two 4 feet lengths with a diameter of 8 inches. The rolled sections were then riveted down the full length using 3/8 rivets. The method of inserting and holding the rivets up the chimney is to remain a trade secret.
A new big end bearing was cast in white metal using the household oven to preheat the bearing; the gas stove was very successful in melting the white metal. During this operation the phone rang and was answered by Veronica. She let out a little squeal into the phone on looking into the kitchen with the remark “he’s melting metal in my kitchen”. Peter owes Veronica a tremendous debt of gratitude for her support and the fact she never said , although she may have thought it, it will never be finished
The restored Ruston Proctor Portable PSC Engine was named Arthur on its first public showing on 10th October 1999 at the Toodyay Agricultural Show. On the second showing at Beverley show in November Arthur was paired with the only other portable steam engine under steam in Western Australia a Ransom 12 hp single cylinder belonging to Tony Breeze.
Peter and Veronica Dymond with Arthur
A shot of Arthur working out his muscles...