Walter Dedman of Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, thinks nothing of hauling one of his trio of rare English oil engines to antique equipment shows around the province – despite their heft. The two biggest ones even have their own specially made, deluxe flatbed trailers, on which they’re permanently mounted for travel and display.
Walter’s biggest engine is a 500-hp, made in 1927 by Ruston & Hornsby Ltd. in Lincoln, England. Its companions are a 1949, 132-hp Ruston & Hornsby, and a 7-hp Blackstone, also made in England.
Neither brand was ever sold inside the United States, Walter says, and only one agent for each was in Canada: Laurie & Lamb in Montreal sold Ruston & Homsbys, and the Canada Foundry Co., Ltd., in Toronto sold Blackstones.
Both of Walter’s Ruston & Hornsbys are cold-start engines that use airless atomizers. He says many U.S. engines had to be heated to start and that was not always a practical situation as far north as Canada. Also, these engines ran on oil, the most economical of fuels for the time.
500-hp Ruston & Hornsby
The 500 dates to 1927 and was installed in the winter of 1927-28 in a pumping station operated by the city of Kitchener, Ontario. ‘It was not used a lot,’ Walter explains. ‘Its purpose was to supply water to the city of Kitchener when normal power was down.’
Walter has had the engine since 1968, having saved it from being turned into scrap – but he’s known of it since he was a child. ‘I was born in 1931,’ he says, ‘and when I was a kid, my uncle lived not far from Kitchener. He took pigs to Schneiders, a packing plant there, and sometimes I would go with him. Along the way, we’d come to this building, with the lawn mowed and the bushes all trimmed, and I used to look at it and wonder what was in it.
‘This engine was in it. The engine was moved with horses from the railway station to that site, and the building was built around it.’ To move the engine to his place, Walter had to remove one of the building’s brick walls, take the engine out piece by piece, and then replace that wall.
Originally, the engine came with a 375 KVA, at 2,200 volts, AC General Electric (GE) generator, plus a 14 KVA, DC exciter. ‘In the late 1950s,’ Walter says, ‘they changed everything in this country from 25 to 60 cycle, and this engine became obsolete then.’ Kitchener city workers took the generator out and sent it to GE to be converted to a 60 cycle and changed the pump motors in the pumping house, but the smallest (pump) was 600 hp, which the engine couldn’t run. In addition, Walter adds, the big Ruston & Hornsby engines were guaranteed, but for the guarantee to remain valid, detailed statistics had to be kept, and that rarely happened.
The 500 is a four-cycle, water-cooled engine, with a 20-inch bore and 28-inch stroke. The left side of the engine, with the valve train, shows the movement. ‘Usually,’ Walter explains, ‘the rods are called ‘push’ rods,’ but these aren’t. They’re all ‘pull’ rods. When it comes around and pulls the spring, the valve opens.’ Walter plays it safe and always carries a couple of spare valves when he’s on the road. ‘I carry them because it’s these valves that can cause the problems, because of the heat.’
The intake valve is on the left side, and the exhaust is on the far side. Red lights signal any problem with oil pressure. The engine was designed to run 24 hours a day, and it can work at as much as a 10 percent overload for as long as one hour out of a 12-hour shift.
The engine was under cover all its life, so Walter only had to clean it well and repaint it. He runs it up to 160 rpm, although its ‘work speed’ was 214; ‘It has lots of torque,’ he says.
132-hp Ruston & Hornsby
The 132-hp Ruston & Hornsby came from Woodstock, Ontario, where it was purchased originally by a man named Norm Schell to run a hammer mill that made alfalfa feed pellets. It’s also a four-cycle, two-cylinder, water-cooled engine, but unlike the 500-hp machine, this one came to Walter in sad shape.
He got it 20 years ago, in pieces, but complete, and started restoring it about 1990. ‘The first time I had it out was in 1995, and it was all done.’
The crank shaft was really rusted, and it was necessary to clean all four journals. Walter cleaned the journals with strips of emery paper, pulling them back and forth by hand, which took days.
The engine was made in 1949 and sold brand new in 1951. By that time, Walter says, its style already was obsolete in Canada. The belt on the engine is actually a matched set of 15 separate belts that turn as one. He says if the engine had been introduced 15 years sooner, it would have had a single flat belt about 24-inches wide.
Like the 500, this engine is air started, and very quiet for its size. Walter still has the original compressor and fuel tank, which hang on the wall of the trailer, along with a little tank for gasoline, or ‘petrol,’ which was used to start the compressor engine. Today, Walter uses a mix of gas and oil.
His Blackstone was made before 1910 and appears to have been ‘the Cadillac of engines’ in its day: all the bearings, for example, have bronze bushings.
This engine came out of the basement of an estate building at Campbellford, Ontario, close to the Trent Canal, which runs from Lake Ontario to the Georgian Bay. There, it was hooked up to a stand of batteries, ‘so they could read the (news) paper at night.’
The Blackstone required new rings and new bearings, and a good clean up too. ‘This engine has no ignition or injector,’ Walter explains. ‘It is heated with an oil lamp to start, and when it starts, the engine diesels. The fuel is sucked in as the engine turns, and dieseling keeps the engine running.’
Taking either of the two bigger engines on the road poses special challenges. Walter knows the safe routes well and uses the special trailers, built with safety in mind. The trailer on which the 500-hp engine sits is equipped with two rows of eight tires each, and the 16 tires are capable of carrying 65 tons. Two complete sets of air brakes provide adequate back-up should one set, or a part of it, fail.
The 132-hp engine’s trailer is 12-feet wide with two axles on the back and an oscillating plate on the king pin, so there is no twist on the truck. In the front of it, Walter has a tiny apartment, so he can stay with the engine at the shows.
Hydraulic feet on both trailers lift them up off the ground, so the flywheels can turn freely; the one on the 500-hp engine weighs 15 tons. That engine also lays in a concrete bed on its trailer.
Hand-painted signs, done by Walter’s son-in-law, John Jetter, are attached to each trailer to give pertinent statistics on each of the impeccably kept machines. At shows, Walter’s habit is to start whichever engine is on display once every hour. ‘A lot of people like to see them started,’ he says. ‘Once you know how to start them, they’re going as quick as your car is going. They’re quick.’
Credited with both ‘pure determination’ and ‘guts’ by fellow Canadian collector Sherwood Hume for taking on such a project as the 500-hp Ruston & Hornsby, Walter says simply, ‘You’ve got to do something in your spare time.
– For more information about Walter’s engines, contact him at 3 Cant St., Cambridge, ONT, Canada N1S 2R5.