Mike Hand Books

Ontario Industrial Histories

Category: England

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.

Lancaster Bomber Airfields

As a boy growing up during World War Two in the east of England, we saw many things that at the time we did not consider important, but looking back to that time, we now realise would never be repeated.

Lancaster

Location of bomber bases in Lincolnshire

The British government, during the first years of the war, saw the need for bomber bases that were able to reach into Germany. They built quite a number of these bases throughout the county of Lincolnshire which was situated on the east coast of England. By the end of 1942, some 25 bases had been established, 15 of which were within a thirty mile radius of our home.(see map) In addition, within this radius were two large airfields built as Air Training bases, Cranwell and Manby, the latter being within three miles of my home. As this placed us almost within Manby airfield circuit pattern, we became extremely familiar with every plane operated by the RAF as they flew endlessly over us. Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancaster bombers, Mosquito fighters, and many others we soon could identify just by their sound.

Lancaster

Lancasters heading to Germany

Fifty years later, this allowed me to instantly identify a Lancaster bomber approaching my home in St. George, Ontario in the late 1990’s before I could see it, when the Hamilton Warbirds took their newly rebuilt Avro Lancaster for its first flight. When this plane flew to England in 2014 and toured with the only other airworthy Lancaster in the world, they spent time at several of these old bomber bases, Waddington near Lincoln and Cranwell, ten miles further south and now surviving as one of the RAF’s major training colleges.

Lancasters

Model made by author in 1980

I remember several times during the latter part of the war, seeing the evening sky filled with hundreds of Lancaster bombers massing from all these bases, fully loaded for their attack into the heart of Germany and heading for the coast on one of their “thousand bomber raids”. Many times over the years have I wished that I had had a camera to record this never to be seen again sight that is still etched in my memory. Frequently we would be wakened in the early hours of the morning as, one by one they straggled back, some fighting to stay airborne until they reached their home base, their engine noise sounding much different than when they had departed hours earlier burdened down with their bomb load. Losses were high, and one base about fifteen miles from us recorded the loss of around 140 Lancasters from their field alone during this period.

Scampton, the base immediately north of the city of Lincoln, housed the squadron of Lancasters that achieved fame for their daring raid to destroy the dams at Essen, and earning the name “Dambusters”. When I served my engineering apprenticeship in Lincoln from 1947 to 1952, some of the pubs we frequented had signed photos on the walls of many of the dambuster crews who had been regular customers, and we heard many tales from the bar keepers of their “exploits” while unwinding in town.

Lancasters

Kirton former Lancaster base

Most of these airfields were closed after the war’s end, but the outlines of the runways from which the bombers flew can still be identified in most. Satellite photos clearly show these runways, some still with weed filled concrete surfaces, but most just as outlines showing in the disturbed earth that they were there, a memento to the time when the sleepy farm country in Lincolnshire was anything but.

Ruston Industrial Gas Turbines

From 1947 to 1952, I served an engineering apprenticeship with Ruston & Hornsby Ltd., a major manufacturer of diesel engines. My last year was spent at the Anchor Street plant, (one of five plants the company had in Lincoln, England) where the newly formed gas turbine division was housed. There, I worked in the tool room, followed by six months in the tool design office. Spending one year as tool designer there after my apprenticeship, I then moved to Canada to work as a tool engineer at the jet engine plant of Avro. Here, the Orenda engines for the  CF100 fighter were built, and the huge Iroquois engine was being developed for the new supersonic delta wing fighter, CF105, under development at Avro’s nearby aircraft plant.
In 1946, the Ruston & Hornsby board decided that the future of industrial power would be with the use of jet engines, the first of which had been developed by Frank Whittle and his team during World War 2 and successfully applied to power an aircraft. The company recruited one of Whittle’s top engineers, Bob Fielden, to head up a new division to develop and produce an industrial gas turbine. Introducing kinematic design concepts to enable the product to withstand rapid changes in load and temperature without deformation or failure, and with a start up time goal of one minute for the engine, work was begun. When I was transferred to that plant, prototypes were already under test and tooling preparation was underway for production of the TA turbine. This engine was coupled to a 750 kw generator (approx. 1,000 hp) and was marketed for use in remote arid areas ( eg. Pipeline pumping) where a variety of basic fuels could be used.
Development was not without problems, of course, and I remember one day hearing the gas turbine engine whine, which was commonly in the background of our hearing, suddenly increase in volume and pitch. It kept climbing to everyone’s alarm until suddenly it was stopped by a large explosion. Rushing to the test pit area, we found that one of the turbines had sped out of control until the generator rotor flew apart and seized the drive shaft. The sudden stop resulted in the turbine blade rotors disintegrating, destroying the engine. It turned out that a drain in one of the burner housings had plugged and unspent fuel had accumulated and suddenly ignited, increasing the temperature and speeding up the turbine. Unable to stop it, the test engineers hurriedly ran to safety and had to watch, helplessly, the destruction of the engine. Needless to say, a design modification cured the potential for any repeat.

Current turbine plant in Lincoln

Current turbine plant in Lincoln

The TA sold successfully in substantial quantities and today, with the diesel engine production long gone, the gas turbine division is the only part of the once huge company remaining. Larger and larger turbines have been developed over the following fifty years until the largest ones now in production have a capacity for 50 MW (approx. 55,000 hp). First produced under the name Ruston Gas Turbine, the operation is now, after several changes in ownership, the gas turbine division of Siemens, a huge power generation conglomerate.
Production occupies what was formerly the main diesel engine plant in Lincoln.

Former Anchor Street plant

Former Anchor Street plant

The Anchor Street plant where it began life was razed some years ago and is now the site of a housing development.

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