Take a Step Back To Steam

By Len Hopcroft

After many years of collecting and restoring oil engines, I at last had a chance of restoring a steam engine. While walking past the local baker's shop that was being demolished, I noticed a small boiler. I asked one of the workers what they were going to do with it, and he said it was as for sale. After a negotiation that involved bottles of whisky and slabs of beer, I was the owner of a boiler. While loading it, one of the workers came forward with all the gauges and brassware. He said "If I'd known you were getting it, I wouldn't have taken them"

On getting it home, I gave the boiler a clean-out and it appeared to be in good condition. The safety valves had been set for 40lbs psi; I decided to make arrangements to have it properly inspected by a boiler inspector.

My next problem was to find an engine. I rang a mate, Robin Knight, at Portland, Vic., who had a vertical engine that he agreed to sell me: I soon had the trailer on and was heading for Portland.

The engine was made by C.A. MacDonald, 63 Pitt St., Sydney. On close inspection, I found it was in bits, and very rusty, and the slidevalve pushrod and crosshead were missing, along with all the white bearing metal - apparently melted out for another job during the War. Robin said the man he had purchased the engine from had told him it came from a flour mill in Melbourne.

Above: The crankshaft being machined

Above: Making the mould to cast the main bearings.

The engine was bigger than I'd wanted - 7ft bore x 8" stroke and it stood over 6ft high. I decided to buy it, as I thought it may be a very rare engine. After looking over Robin's extensive collection of oil and gas engines we loaded the MacDonald on and headed home.

On the way, I showed the engine to Alec Conner at Boundary Bend, Vic., who used to drive a steam engine on a pump there, and also on the paddle steamer the 'Etona' when I was a boy. Alec was so interested in my intention to restore a steam engine that he gave me a steam lubricator and lots of valuable advice.

On arriving home the first thing to do was have the parts sandblasted. I then found the crankshaft was very badly rusted. I solved this by machining the main bearing journals on my lathe, but the big end was more difficult. I made a big end out of redgum. then glued some 80 grit wet / dry emery onto the redgum.

I bolted this to the conrod and on the shaft then. holding the rod by hand, turned the lathe on slow speed. I kept pouring kerosene oil on the wooden bearing, and tightening the big end bolts every few minutes. The result was a reasonable crankshaft grind.

Above: Pouring the main bearings

Above: This photos show the new main bearings
in place after being poured.

Next, the big end had to be re-metalled. This was a very easy job. I welded a piece of pipe just smaller than the crank pin to a steel plate, then placed the bearing on it, bolted together with some shims in place. I then poured the white metal and machined it to size on the lathe.

The main bearings were more difficult. I turned a piece of 3" to the size of the turned shaft, levelled the engine with a spirit level, put the pipe in place in the bearing housing, levelled it, then made wings of 18 gauge steel to separate the bearings. I bolted the bearing caps on these wings, then tacked the wings to the pipe with weld. The engine was laid on its side and the bearings poured. The result was almost perfect bearings that needed very little scraping to fit the shaft.

The seat of the slide valve was very rusty. It took me two days lapping by hand, and roughing up the high spots with a small stone in the electric drill, then lapping and blueing, until I had a good seal.

The new valve rod and crosshead had a round bearing, and a square one, which I machined from some square steel (see photo below left). I then fabricated the bearing caps and assembled it all on the engine and poured the crosshead bearings. Approximately 10kgs of bearing metal was used in the whole job.

A new piston rod was then machined. I had some luck - two new piston rings hanging on the workshop wall were just right. It was then assembled and painted.

The time had come for testing and 30lbs of steam was raised. It started for probably the first time in over 60 years and ran perfectly.

The small boiler just managed to keep it running. A visitor said it reminded him of his days working on paddle steamers.

He then mentioned that in about 1951, while removing the steam engine from the paddle steamer 'The Ranger', the engine was accidentally dropped in the Murray River at Robinvale. That engine was never recovered. I have decided that I will try to locate and recover it, but that may be another story.

I would like to thank the following for their help in restoring this engine. Robin Knight, Wayne Rutherford, Alec Conner, Hugh Ginn, Bert Knight, Don Wilson and last, but not least, my wife, Maree, for her patience and help fitting the big end bearing and pouring the crosshead bearings.

Does anyone have information on this C.A. McDonald steam engine, manufactured at 63 Pitt St., Sydney NSW?

If so, please contact Len Hopcroft, Robinvale, Vic 3549 Australia. Phone: (03) 5026 3411, or email 'hoppi@iinet.net.au'.


Above: The new valve rod and crosshead
of the C.A. McDonald steam engine

Above: After many hours of restoration on, the steam engine
is now fully operational