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Blackstone Safari - April/May 2003


At the invitation of the Cape Vintage Engine & Machinery Society, I travelled to South Africa to track down some of the Blackstone engines exported to that country. My main targets were the Heritage Fair at the Sandstone Estate, the site of last year's Great 400 Working, near Fickbserg:the Stationary Engine Museum at Stutterheim, near East London, and the Arthur Prescott Stationary Engine Museum near Johannesburg. In between, I hoped to have the chance to see what individual collectors had in their sheds, it did not have to be exclusively Blackstone

After being welcomed at the airport by Koos Naude, my first stop was the Tramshed Shopping Centre in Pretoria, where an Aveling & Porter road roller complete with Blackstone OPH engine is preserved [1] Then, across the far eastern side of the country to Komatipoort. Here Herman Nel gave me full access to his wonderful collection of American automobiles. Over seventy fully restored and road-worthy motor cars tell the story of their mechanical and styling development, and he isn't finished yet. Almost as many vehicles wait their turn for the Nel "treatment".

  [1] Aveling & Porter, OPH Engine [2] 1-1/2 - 2hp Box Type Blackstone.

Amongst all this mechanical opulence I found a little 1-1/2 - 2hp Box Type Blackstone engine, No 180345, manufactured in 1931 [2] This little cutie has been fully restored by Thys Jonkers who is arguably the best engine restorer in South Africa. I was later to meet up with him at his workshop; a quiet man who prefers to 'do' rather than 'talk'. Herman and his wife Marie were most welcoming and generous hosts even to the extent of taking me for a day trip into the Kruger National Park. The journey with them from Komatipoort to Sandstone was exciting to say the least. We suffered two front tyre blow-outs and a rear puncture but eventually did arrive in one piece.

  [3] Blackstone Vertical Petrol.   [6] W H Allen 2-Cyl Hot Bulb.

Although the Sandstone show was not a big as last year's Great 400 there was still plenty for an old iron enthusiast to see. Steam railway engines and steam traction engines, tractors of every kind and plenty of stationary engines were all busy doing whatever it is they do. Sadly only four Blackstone
engines, but that was more than at many UK rallies. Herman Nel's Box Type, two petrol verticals, one restored by Thys Jonkers, No. 168265, 1929, [3] and a 17 hp hot bulb on a trolley. No. 143410, 1921. [4] The latter first sold to a customer in Yeovil and imported recently by the Sandstone Estate. Not a bad haul.

  [4] 17hp Hot-Bulb No 143410.   [5] Blackstone TP N0 TPG61J278.

A six hours drive took me south to Stutterheim, north of East London, to find the Stutterheim Stationary Engine Museum. The museum was founded a few years ago by Ron Starkey, who still operates it with one part time helper. It has a well laid out display of about thirty engines. I was particularly interested in the big SI engine No. 171383 of 1929 that had come from the Stutterheim power station, and the even bigger TP. No. TPG61J278, 77 hp at 420 rpm. [5] This engine was originally installed at an orphanage at Ugle for electrical generation. The SI crank was out of the engine so it couldn't be run, but Ron did get the TP started. What a satisfying noise that made. I imagine the orphans would have got little sleep.

As good as it was to have the TP running the star that afternoon was the big two-cylinder vertical engine by W H Allen & Sons of Bedford. [6] A hot bulb engine it is rated at 70 hp at 325 rpm. It had been installed at Molteno power station in 1928 where it and associated 50 KVA alternator was transported by ox-cart. The gas fired hot bulbs flamed like two volcanoes and the exhaust beat was deafening. What a monster!

Ron and his museum are well worth making the effort to visit.

  [7] Kings Valley & Breede River.   8) Blackstone OPH Diesel.

The next morning an early start saw me on the road heading towards the Port Elizabeth and the Garden Route. No time for relaxation, or for exploration of the railway centre at George, as I had to get to Robertson for my next few nights accommodation. Robertson is in one of the many great wine-growing areas of the Cape. My host here was Johan Stemmet who took time from work to take me around the area; to a brandy distillery, a winery and an ostrich farm. In the Kings River and Breede valleys he showed a me number of disused pump houses where the original engines still stand. These are generally National, Ruston and Blackstone diesel engines dating from the nineteen-fifties. [7 & 8] On the last day of my stay with Johan we drove into Worcester the main town of the area. In one of the local scrap yards we found an old Lister Blackstone ERS engine that is used as a stand-by against the frequent mains power supply cuts. [9]

The Kleinplasie Open Air Museum on the edge of Worcester warranted a longer visit than we could spend. There is a wide range of agricultural machinery of all kinds and makes, main line railways, road vehicles and a host of exhibits recording life in South Africa from the first settlers to the present. Another must for a future visit.

  (9) Lister-Blackstone ERS.  [10] 1925 Blackstone SFC 152643.

And so on the road again to stay for few days with Arthur Wilding at Groot Drakheim: A surveyor by profession but a collector of old machinery by inclination. Among his vast collection of old iron rescued from the scrap man is very nice Blackstone SFC portable No. 152643 from 1925. [10] Yet to be restored, it is complete and even now carries some original paint and lining. Arthur very generously took time off work to show me around the Cape area; Simonstown Naval Base Museum, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the Huguenot Museum at Franshoek and the new waterfront development at Capetown. All this gave me a chance to brush up on my much neglected South African history and geography.

I took an over-night bus from Paarl to Klerksdorp where I met Koos Botha and his father George. Farmers turned engineers their business is the
restoration of Lister engines. This is not for the fun of it, although they are also collectors, but a serious job of work. The engines are still used extensively for borehole pumping in outlying areas. The mains electricity supply is prone to interruption so these engines ensure a water supply for irrigation and for humans and animals. George and Koos are known as Die Lister Manne (The Lister Men). Although primarily concerned with Listers they have recently rescued a pair of Lister Blackstone ERS engines that they are going to restore and put to work in the their machine shop. While I was with them they brought in another ERS that a local man wants rebuilt. This one had been installed in a grain silo and was recovered complete with generator and alternator. Another job for Die Lister Manne!

 [11] OLSI 12-1/2hp No 171109.   [12] SP No SP37101.

The last stage of my journey was to Johannesburg to visit the Arthur Prescott Stationary Engine Museum. Arthur, who is now in his middle eighties and still retains his Yorkshire accent, is recognised as the first in South Africa to save and restore stationary engines. Over the past twenty years or so he and his fellow members of the Rand Society of Model Engineers have built up a fine collection of engines, some of the quite rare. It is fitting that the collection should be named after him. Included in the collection are two Rider Ericsson hot air engines, of 1879 and 1890. I was pleased to see that there are two Blackstone's in the collection: An OLSI 12˝ hp No 171109, 1929 [11] and an SP No. SP37101, the latter formerly used by Koppies Town Council. [12]

This is but a brief résumé of the three weeks I spent in South Africa. I must have travelled nearly three thousand miles through this beautiful country; most of it in isolated places off the tourist routes. I may not have found as many Blackstone engines as I might have hoped, but I saw many amazing sights and met some very welcoming and generous people. That was the best of all. To everyone I met, and especially to everyone who kindly provided accommodation during my visit, I extend my grateful thanks.

© Michael Key 2003


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