By Ian Founder of the Canadian Museum of Making
I’m not one to believe in things like destiny, spirituality, or a higher force. I’m almost certain none of these things exist, but I had an experience when I acquired “Mary” that at least raises a few questions in my mind.
I began this journey when I was little. I was always collecting small things of interest to me and I still own many of them fifty years later. In some way I believe they connect me with my past. I don’t have any brothers or sisters, and I have a theory that only children don’t retain strong memories of their childhood, because they tend to develop as internally-focused individuals and don’t have siblings to remind them of common experiences.
For these reasons, I think I felt a need to collect things that would stimulate the memories that brothers and sisters are able to stimulate for each other.
As time passed, the things I collected got bigger and often more complicated. Typically though, they were mechanical things or tools. I always made quite an effort to get these things and keep them. I was forever on the look-out for weird things: things of unusual design, appearance, or operation which I found particularly appealing. Some of my family worked at machine shops or automobile repair garages, so I was opportunity rich.
The acquisition of the steam engine, “Mary”, is a continuation of the journey. I see these things as art, although I realize that to others the form of this art may not be as appealing as it is to me.
Like the machines I collect, the story of “Mary” is complicated and intricate. It begins with Doug Newell, a genius blacksmith who works with me. Through Doug Newell, I met a fellow in England named Jim Cooper, who is a master of many things interesting. Through discussions with Jim I found out about a 19th century steam engine that had run a small woolen mill near Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire.
The engine, named “Mary” after one of the members of the original owner’s family, had been built by SS Stott, a firm founded in 1845. Through later research, I would learn that the engine had been installed in the Carr Parker Mill in Haslingden prior to being moved to Cudsworth’s at Sowerby Bridge. It had been sold for 610 pounds to Cudsworth’s in 1895.
The engine had been moved from its original location and had another cylinder, “Tom”, added before being moved to the Sowerby Bridge location. The engine had then been used in a family-owned business, Cudsworth’s of Norden, which made a special kind of cloth. The factory where this cloth had been made is now derelict. When I heard about the engine, it was becoming apparent to the family that they would have to do something with the engine. It was located in the centre of the factory, complete, but in danger of being vandalized or of having its valuable brass pieces stolen. During the wars, steam engines like this were often scrapped but, fortunately, “Mary” was saved.
I think the Cudsworth family agonized over this for some time, but eventually came to the conclusion that it should be sold. I made them an offer of 7,000 pounds sterling and they accepted it.
After buying the engine, I had it disassembled and shipped to my farm near Cochrane, Alberta, (Map of Alberta) for installation in an underground time capsule, purpose built as a home for Mary and the collection of 19th century machine tools that I have been amassing. (Photograph of MoM structure) The only part of “Mary” that did not make the journey successfully was a small brass name plate that someone stole during the moving process. Other than that the engine is complete, as are the set of period tools used by Mary’s attendant that accompanied it over the Atlantic and across Canada.
After the engine was installed I mentioned to Doug Newell that I would like to try to find some of its original drawings. We both started searching on the internet. Doug found someone in Holland with a similar engine who was also after some information. We went back and forth a bit and the person in Holland put me in contact with someone he knew, Richard Newby, who had worked in the drafting department at Stotts, the manufacturers of the engine. Stotts had ceased operations in the late 1980s. I emailed Richard, asking if he knew where any drawings might be. He said he didn’t have any but would check around.
Later he emailed me back and said that he had been in contact with Colin Ingram, who had been the Chief Draughtsman at Stott’s and who remembered a fellow from Canada named Geoff Symmons who had asked for and been sent the old drawings when Stott’s was closed. He said he thought he lived in Regina. Colin turned out to be the person who provided me with the information about the engine’s first installation.
After receiving Colin’s information I went to the library and got out the old phone books for Regina and started looking for Geoff Symons. No one knew the correct spelling, and I couldn’t find anything close. I decided to hire a private detective agency, Back Track, to see if they could find him. I had kind of forgotten about the whole thing when about six months later they phoned me and said they had some information. Somehow they had found someone who was a retired CPR train Engineer, who was a member of the local steam train enthusiast club. I was to call him. When I did he said he knew Geoff well, but that Geoff had died sometime in the 80’s. I was about to give up when I asked if he knew where he had worked. He said it was “some oilfield outfit, like J Supply or something.” I asked if it was J&L Supply and he said yes.
Amazingly, J&L is owned by Ron Carrey, who is an old friend of my Dad. I asked Dad to call him and see if he knew anything about the drawings. Ron, it turns out, is a legendary collector, and my Dad said he thought Ron might have saved the drawing or would know where they might be. Unfortunately, Ron wasn’t there when my Dad called.
Then I remembered that my friend, Wayne Veldhoen, lived across the road from Ron Carrey so I asked him to contact Ron for me. The next morning I was out at the farm looking at the project and up comes Wayne’s truck. He has someone with him, Ron Carrey. They get out of the truck, with an arm full of drawings, come inside and there it is, the original drawing for the valve gear in my engine, dated 1895, and the bill of sale for 610 pounds.
It turns out that, when Geoff died, Ron acted as his executor and kept the drawings and a model engine that he had been working on at the time. The model was for an engine similar to mine. It is hard to imagine the number of coincidences that must have taken place for all this to have come together. The engine had traveled more than 5000 miles from Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, to Cochrane, Alberta, and the original drawings and bill of sale had ended up less than fifty miles from the engines’s final stop, in the house of a friend of my father’s.
That’s as close as I get to believing in destiny.
Description of Mary (from ‘Stationary Steam Engines of Great Britain”, Watkins, G., 2000)
Located in R. Cudworth mill , Norden, Rochdale.
Engineer W. Dobson.
250hp tandem compound built by SS Stott 1895.
12 1/2" HP. 24" LP. 3ft stroke. 140psi. Right hand. 68rpm. 14 ft plain flywheel.
Corliss HP, Slide LP.
Horizontal condenser behind rear LP cylinder.
Lumb Governor. [Lumbs of Elland]
Rope drive, 6 ropes, outside engine room.
Some interesting comments from Stanley Challenger Graham from Barnoldswick in Yorkshire who ran engines similar to Mary
“Mary ran 6 days per week for around 75 years. The usual hours, assuming no shift working, were 7am to 5.30 pm with breakfast and dinner breaks, say 9 hours a day. Night shifts were very unusual, but post WW2, when increased production was needed, many small weaving sheds ran a 'moonlight' or 'housewive's' shift from 6pm to 10pm.”
“Mary’s last job at Cudsworth’s was as a standby power source driving an old British Thompson- Houston alternator providing 3 phase power at 400 volts. In the early 1970's there was a period of industrial strife in the UK and non-essential firms were restricted to using mains electric power on only 3 days of the working week. A number of firms who still had steam in reserve were able to keep full production going (if they had the coal in stock). A chap who visited this engine in 1980 was told that this period was the last time she was regularly worked.”
“The bearing at the cross head end is the wrist pin and the one on the crank is the crank pin. Lubricating the crank pin was always seen as a problem because it is inaccessible while the engine is running. The crank pin is a highly stressed bearing and a hot crank pin is the most common problem on an engine, usually because of a lubricating fault or human error. Some bright spark came up with the idea of feeding the oil in through a drilling in the pin itself and feeding oil through this by that wonderful invention, the Banjo Oiler. This gave a better lubricant feed because centrifugal force was always driving the oil out to the brasses in the con rod end and no moving parts to wear. Almost all engines were converted to the banjo oiler and the original hole in the end was either plugged or fitted with a drip feed lubricator.”
“The funny thing is that Loco practice was totally different. Johnny Pickles was once looking at a loco and said that it was a puzzle how they got away with an oil pocket in the rod end bunged up with a cork while it was sprayed with muck and grit from the track bed, while mill engines had constant feed and still got into trouble. I think that part of the problem is that a crank pin bearing on a mill engine has a far bigger sweep than on a loco but I don't fully understand why this should make such a difference. What I am sure of is that a well-fitted crank pin that's getting one drop of oil every six revolutions is safe and that's all that interested me when I was running them. Mind you, like all engineers, I tended to over-lubricate, it's an occupational disease so the drip feed lubricator was belt and braces and nowt wrong with that!”