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
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
Above: Pouring the main bearings
Above: This photos show the new main bearings
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 'firstname.lastname@example.org'.