Mike Hand Books

Ontario Industrial Histories

Category: engines

Hornsby Engine History

Last week, I drove to Kippen,  some 40 miles north of London, Ontario where the Sad Iron Engine Show was having its annual get together. Turning into the driveway of this lovely farm, its location marked by an old engine at the entrance, I drove through into a grassed parking area. As I climbed out of my car, I could hear the soft chuff-chuff of Wayne McBride’s 9HR Ruston & Hornsby engine as it ran smoothly off to one side, and was welcomed by the host, Brian. In and around the various buildings which included a large maintenance building with an extensive machine shop adjacent were at least 50 engines of varying sizes, several of which were running. The variety of makes were almost too numerous to list but Crosley, Gould Shapley & Muir, Tangye, Lister, Otto and Dudbridge were some of the names among them. Across from the 9HR was a very old (circa 1900) Hornsby – Ackroyd engine wonderfully restored,

Hornsby Ackroyd engine

and inside the adjacent building, a Hornsby engine of similar vintage, both of which were running smoothly.

Hornsby engine

The latter engines got me thinking about the history of the Hornsby engines. Richard Hornsby began manufacturing agricultural equipment as early as 1815 in Grantham, England and by 1854 the company was making portable steam engines. By 1877, with these and threshing machines added to the product line, the company , now incorporated as a public company, was employing some 1,500 men with the factory covering 17 acres.

Herbert Ackroyd Stuart, a Yorkshire engineer, and his partner, Charles Binney, took out two patents covering the admission of air into the vaporiser and the timed point of ignition.  The vaporiser had a contracted neck and the fuel oil was injected into the vaporiser during the suction stroke.  Ackroyd Stuart was not, however, an experienced businessman so he offered the manufacturing rights to his engine design to a suitable manufacturer.  Richard Hornsby & Sons Ltd. took the rights in 1891 and produced their first Hornsby -Ackroyd engine to this design in 1892.This pioneer oil engine was an immediate success and Hornsby felt the need to bring in a new administrator, an engineer by the name of David Roberts who immediately recognised the potential of the oil engine. He soon stopped production of steam engines and threshers to concentrate production on the oil engine. Over the next few years, with continuous improvements to the engine, horsepower grew while the engine size was reduced with the increased efficiency. The reputation and world-wide sales of this engine grew rapidly and by the time the patents expired, Hornsby were well equipped to meet all coming competition and continued to grow. Enormous quantities of Hornsby engines were sold in all parts of the world.  (One installation powered the generator for the first transatlantic radio transmission by Marconi)

By the First World War, Hornsby had developed a vertical oil engine specially for submarine use and  the Admiralty ordered large quantities of it, along with gun mountings and ship fittings of all kinds. The company put all its skills at the government`s command, and its sales oversees were largely neglected. When the war ended, Hornsby were in the position that war manufacturing was at an end and they had meanwhile lost all their export engine sales. The company found itself looking at having to start all over again. Management made the decision that they would have to amalgamate with some firm in similar business and with a good reputation.

In the city of Lincoln some thirty miles to the north of Grantham, the large firm of Ruston & Proctor Ltd. had entered the oil engine business in the early part of the 1900`s. In 1857, Joseph Ruston had joined with Messrs Burton and Proctor to form a new firm known as Ruston, Burton & Proctor to manufacture agricultural equipment and steam engines. Forward thinking Ruston began to build engines for stock and push sales harder. The pace of activity was too risky for partner Burton and he demanded to be bought out. Ruston, not to be dissuaded, agreed and the firm became known as Ruston & Proctor. By 1860, sales had grown and the company was winning awards for its traction engines and threshers. When partner Proctor decided to retire, Ruston bought him out and became sole proprietor. By this time, marketing had been extended to cover most of the world with a product line that included steam rollers, steam tractors, locomotives, stationary engines for electricity generation and power driven pumps, and Ruston himself travelled worldwide promoting his company’s products.

When the 35 mile long Manchester ship canal was built, it used 71 of the newly developed Ruston Proctor steam navvies to perform the monstrous task of digging. By 1889, when the company was incorporated as Ruston & Proctor Ltd, over 1,66o men depended on it for a living. When Joseph Ruston died in 1897, his company employed over 2,550 men and was well known world-wide for its products. Ruston had been building engines for some years that ran on coal and lignite gas and when the Ackroyd patents expired in 1904, they were quick to begin utilising and further developing the Ackroyd engine designs. By the end of World War One, during which they were a huge war supply manufacturer, and during which they had maintained their engine customer base, they were in a good position to renew peace time manufacturing. Firmly believing in the oil engine as the power unit of the future, they were quick to respond to R. Hornsby and Sons Ltd. outreach.

Ruston Hornsby Main engine factory circa 1945

Hornsby shareholders received new stock in the newly formed Ruston & Hornsby Ltd., incorporated in September 1918. R & H products in the first years following this were predominently oil engines. After the change, the Ruston oil engine was built at the Ruston works in Lincoln and the Hornsby engine was built in Grantham, with a huge demand that was difficult to meet. New engine development continued at an increased pace and they began to be used to power a new mechanical shovel which was soon in great demand for new construction projects, and in shunting locomotives for the railroads. A new plant for the latter was established in Lincoln, followed in 1930 with another new plant for the growing excavator business which was now known as Ruston Bucyrus after a joint venture with Bucyrus Erie of the US, with Bucyrus providing the initial engineering and Ruston supplying all the oil engine power units. By 1950, the product line also consisted of the venerable horizontal oil engines, and a full line of vertical diesels from small single cylinder models to huge multi cylinder engines for power house and marine propulsion service.

Small to Large Engines

 

In 1847, after working in a wagon shop in Woodbridge for a couple of years, young English immigrant, John Abell was keen to have his own business. After building his own shop from logs, making his own lathe and tools, he then made himself a steam engine for power and was in business. With an inventive mind, he built a ditching machine for the local farmers and soon was building steam engines for sale.

Early Abell steam engine

In keeping with his thinking, his first steam engines for sale were an unusual design. The cylinder and piston were built inside the boiler, with the crankshaft and flywheel above the boiler. His rationale? With the cylinder inside the boiler, all the parts could expand at the same rate maintaining the tolerances for better operation. Admittedly, it was not a big engine, but he advanced from there and within twenty years had over 100 employees making threshers and reapers as well.

Abell Toronto plant 1903

After unsuccessfully fighting with the local railroad for better access and service for shipping of his products, he closed his factory after forty years in Woodbridge and moved the complete business to Toronto. Here, Abell built a huge new factory and was soon shipping threshers and steam traction engines all over Canada.

Abell plowing engine

His plowing engine was one of the largest in production in North America, and true to form, was a little different to his competitors. The two front wheels were mounted close together on a turntable, with a worm gear drive to steer. It proved much easier to steer than other traction engines.

From small engines to huge engines, John Abell always maintained his independent thinking.

Ruston Engines

engine

Ruston horizontal engine

Like many, I love to wander around the steam shows looking over the frequent displays of venerable old Ruston and Hornsby horizontal diesel engines, many thousands of which were built and shipped to all corners of the world in the first half of the twentieth century. I ‘m always fascinated by the smoothness with which they run, and almost hypnotised when I look at the rim of the huge spinning flywheel, so accurately machined that it appears stationary.

Spinning engine flywheel

My memory inevitably takes me back to when I served an engineering apprenticeship with that manufacturer in their multiple factories in Lincoln, England back in the late 1940’s. I can still see in my mind’s eye, the huge Bullard vertical lathes on which the flywheel castings, up to 72 “ in diameter, were machined on the perimeter and then at the centre for the crank shaft mounting.
As part of my training, I worked on many of the machines used to make various engine parts. One of my early assignments was the machining of the huge piston castings for the horizontal engines in preparation for the finish grinding. The castings were so heavy – the pistons were up to fourteen inches in diameter – a hoist was needed to lift them into the lathe.

Horizontal engine pistons in machine shop

As the core of the casting mould was not always central, first operation in the lathe was to measure the variation in wall thickness and offset it in the four jaw lathe chuck so that when machined on the outside, the walls of the piston were of equal thickness all around. If the core was out one quarter of an inch, it meant that the first roughing cut on the outside could be as much as half inch deep while minimal on the other side. After machining down to within .020” of finished diameter, the piston ring grooves then had to be cut. If the centring of the piston was not done accurately enough, one could find the ring groove tool penetrating through the piston wall on one side – a sure way to bring the foreman’s wrath down on one’s head. The final operation was to machine the convex shape of the head to match a template, honing one’s skill at simultaneously moving the cutting tool in two planes to obtain the right shape.

engine

Side shaft gear cover

The engine side shaft operating the valves on the Ruston horizontal engine is driven by two to one ratio spiral helical gears on the end of the crankshaft. The gears are enclosed in a cast-iron housing, three pieces bolted together. One of my jobs for a while was to machine the end cap hole and the shaft bearing hole after the housing parts had been milled, drilled and bolted together.

As I look at the restored engines, I often wonder if I am looking at pistons or gear housings that I machined myself many years ago.

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