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Article by Retired owner of Central Machinery Co. Ltd, Cyril Pack, 1977
Gas Engines

Ruston-Hornsby in Northamptonshire

Early in the 1900’s the boot trade in the county was undergoing great changes. Men who worked alone in their own workshops in the yard behind their houses were then moving into factories, where all operations were carried out. Most of the factories were powered using gas engines made by Crossley Bros, Stockport or Tangye, and driving through shafting and belting, with a 110 volt dynamo to provide lighting.

In 1909 Mr. F. Hawkes, who had much experience with shoe machinery in the Kettering area, joined with Mr. E. Pack who had good experience with Crossley Bros., Hornsby Stockport and Dorman gas engines.

They obtained the agency for Hornsby Stockport in the East Midlands area, and also did the engine and power transmission works on the customers’ premises. The fitters travelled on 2½HP Premier motor cycles, 2 speed and chain cum belt drive. A 3½HP Premier with a wicker sidecar was used to transport heavier tools, and a large tool box was behind the sidecar.

Several larger engines using both town gas and suction gas were installed. New Hornsby gas plants (17HP to 230HP) were added to existing Crossley Bros. and National engines. Some were hand started but others had compressed air starters fitted.

By the outbreak of WWI they had installed about 70 engines, the average being between 37 and 47 HP, which could power a factory to turn out up to 2000 pairs each week.

In 1914 Mr. F. Hawkes resigned. Throughout the war the company mainly worked on maintenance of the machinery used in production of army boots.

An interesting installation in 1922 was a 5 cylinder vertical type VC which had to run 140 hours per week for all three shifts in a leather works with a 100 HP gas engine acting as a reserve power to keep the most important operations going.

A large number of the H type engines were sold. The 12H size of 100 HP at 200 r.p.m. was popular and one of these was fixed on the bed of an old steam engine in a flour mill. This drove the main shaft with cotton ropes across the mill stream, leaving the original water wheel to carry part of the load if required. This job required the service of an ex-Naval man to splice the ropes.

The HR engine (H Revised) superseded the H type and was made in sizes from 5½HP single cylinder up to the 9HRP, four cylinder 264HP at 265 r.p.m. One of these was sold and installed in a leather works in 1934 and is still running 42 years after and carrying the load.

A number of HR engines were sold to replace early gas engines and these were mostly fixed in the same concrete bed with a girder framework, or to which the new engine was bolted. Engines of twice the power of the old gas engines could be fitted in this way and the concrete bed had extra concrete to cover the girder work. These jobs were mostly done in the week of the annual holiday.

Some vertical engines, mostly of the VC pattern 1000 r.p.m. were installed about this time for standby lighting sets as 1939 approached. The outbreak of war in 1939 stopped the delivery of new engines and again it was a case of maintenance and repairs. After 1945, most machinery was being sold with built-in motors and HR engines were supplied with generators driven by Vee ropes. Vertical engines of 4 to 6 cylinders were also fixed direct coupled to generators.

About 1947 an enquiry was received for a petrol paraffin engine of about 12 HP. The owner who had a small timber yard was concerned about the fire risk from his existing lamp starting engine. A deal was made for a new engine and the old engine was found to be the No.101,the first Hornsby Ackroyd engine to be put into service 50 years before. The engine is now at the Lincoln works.

Not many petrol paraffin engines were sold, as the farmers liked Amanco engines and a number of the small starting engines run on Town gas. However, some AP type, OK type and PR type did go into service.

It is difficult to give the exact figure of oil engines sold in the county, but the number is approximately 150 and the total horse power approximately 14,000.


Gas Engines before 1914

From approximately 1900 the bespoke way of boot making had finished and the workers were gathered together in factories where all operations from cutting the leather, to boxing the boots and shoes, were carried out under one roof.

Most activities were drawn by a gas engine (either on town gas or suction gas plant), and practically all of the factories had machinery driven by overhead shafting. It was found that approximately 25 horsepower was required to produce the first 1000 pairs of boots per week and 20 horsepower for the second thousand onwards, including lighting which was mostly by 110 watt direct current dynamo.

The power was taken from the engine pulley through a heavy double leather or balata belt to the main shaft and cross belts to parallel shafts.

Small engines had fast loose pulleys to take the power and large ones used a Crofts 4 or 6 armed clutch. Various makes of engine were in service, including Crossley Bros., Tangye of Birmingham, National of Ashton and Horsby of Stockport. A few of the earlier type engines had tube ignition, but most were throttle governed and had Bosch or Hill Bros. magnetics. The Layer Crossley engines had the open hearth type of gas plant and the Stockport engines had gas plants made at the Grantham works.

All factories had an engineer to start and oil the engine, attend to the machines and belts, and to keep the wheels turning. From 1909 to 1914 approximately seventy Hornsby engines were fitted in this county, including some in cinemas and small flourmills.

It is interesting to note that the makers of army boots were not satisfied with their wages and in 1903 a march to Whitehall was organised by an ex-soldier. The marching song was “We want eight hours sleep and eight hours play and eight hours work for eight bob a day”. [8 shillings then, 40 pence today]

They got an increase to keep the British Army well shod. The local people were used to the exhaust 'bark' of a gas engine, but in a few cases two exhaust boxes (cast iron) were fitted with a U-pipe to lessen the noise.

In general, engines up to 30 horsepower were run on town gas, but engines over that size were fitted with anthracite suction gas plants. These were fixed close to the engine room and were mostly made of timber and corrugated iron with space for the weather to blow away any gas fumes.

The larger sizes of engines had teeth cast in the inner side of the fly wheel rim and a barring bracket was fitted close to the fly wheel to bar it round to the starting position. A small engine of 2½ horse power was supplied and an air receiver to hold 170lbs of air per square inch.. The starting engines had an overhung crankshaft and a con rod and cylinder was fitted to the bed plate to make a separate starting unit.

The writer’s grandmother owned a closing works where the upper parts of boots were sewn together on heavy-duty sewing machines. These were driven by a Crossley gas engine fixed on the ground floor and driving to the second floor. One of the writer’s earliest recollections is of seeing the girls in long black frocks to the ankles and white aprons to the knees coming down the steps for their mid-day lunch hour.

C.M.P. 1977

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