The Joys and Falls of Powell Engine Power

Josephine Robert’s nephew acquires a Powell engine – along with all of its quirks.

| September 2017

  • The Powell engine was a heavily built and rather over-engineered engine with a big cylinder head and large exhaust valve (claimed at the time to increase efficiency).
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Powell Bros. of North Wales was famous for its barn machines and farm implements, but just before World War I the company decided to build their own engine. The engines were never sold in vast numbers. Few survive today, making them something of a novelty on the rally circuit.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Damian Roberts had a lot of teething troubles with the Powell engine and it took him awhile to work out what adjustments were needed.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Even now that Damian has learned the engine’s traits and funny little ways, he still finds his Powell is a more high maintenance and temperamental engine than the Lister engines that he also owns.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • The “dependable oil engine”? There have been times when Damian has laughed wryly at seeing those words!
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • The Powell engine is a Welsh-built machine, but there was one little bit that came from the U.S.!
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • The Powell engine was a rather over-engineered machine. To use it to power anything large, it would need to be fixed onto a permanent base (not a trailer), as it shakes around too much.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • The Powell engine badge.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • The handbook claims the engine will last 15 or 20 years with practically no repair charges. Damian’s engine is now not far off 100 years old, and as for repair charges incurred, well we can’t say, but I expect it has caused its owners a few grey hairs over the years.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • The Powell guarantee. I would love to know how many engines were returned!
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • The handbook shows an example of a layout that would work for the engine.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Taking the engine to shows has meant that Damian has been able to meet other Powell engine owners and compare notes.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Damian has neighbors nearby, so he avoids running the Powell for long periods outside his home as it is extremely noisy.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts

Readers of previous Farm Collector articles might recall meeting my nephew. Damian Roberts is a stationary engine enthusiast and owner of two Lister stationary engines previously featured in Farm Collector. He’s now bought a far more rare engine: a Powell.

Any self-respecting stationary engine enthusiast living in Wales will have heard of Powell engines, as Powell was one of only two manufacturers in Wales ever to produce an engine. Apart from Powell, the only other Welsh company producing engines was Williams of Rhuddlan, and their engines are more rare than hen’s teeth. Given that Powell didn’t produce engines in huge numbers, engines from that manufacturer are also scarce today.

It’s often the case that the rare and collectable machines are those that were never particularly good in the first place and weren’t produced in vast numbers. The Powell engine is no exception. Although Damian has wanted a Powell since he first found out about them, he is the first to admit that they aren’t the best.

“They have a reputation for being really cumbersome and very sensitive to adjust correctly,” he says, “and there are some common faults that really put people off. So whilst the engine attracts a lot of attention at shows, it seems that not every collector wants to actually own one!”



Roots of iron dating to the 1700s

The roots of Powell Bros. go right back to 1784, when a Mr. Richard Jones set up an ironmongery business at No. 6 Town Hill, Wrexham, North Wales. The business was then passed on to his son, John Jones, and then to John Jones’ nephew, Evan Powell. Then, in the 1870s, two sons of Evan Powell, namely John Evan Powell and Robert Jones Powell, formed Powell Bros. Ltd. and began producing agricultural equipment with the help of their sister, Mary Powell, who acted as the company secretary.

The brothers expanded into a site near the Great Western Railway station, which then became known as the Cambrian Works and became Wrexham’s most successful foundry. Adverts in 1879 state that the company was selling chaff cutters, root pulpers, mowers, horse gears and oil cake mills.