Ronaldson & Tippett Equipment Story

By Staff
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David Ronaldson
2 / 9
3 / 9
4 / 9
H. John Tippett
5 / 9
Prototype 1910.
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First 18-30 Super Drive.
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Lighting plant shop.
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Type CF Diesels to W.A
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Travelling Chaffcutter. Dave Ronaldson in the saddle, 1907.

Ballarat Engine and Machinery Preservation Society Sent to us by
Greg McNiece MC Box 7, Eastern Mail Centre Victoria, Australia
3110

Ballarat Engine and Machinery Preservation Society member Neil
Wright has been an avid collector and historian of Ronaldson Bros,
and Tippett equipment and memorabilia for many years. The following
writings compiled by Neil give a brief history of the development
of their machines and equipment. Neil is indebted to the following
sources of information used in these writings: The late E.J.
Tippett, Peter Ronaldson, Hugh Sloane, Graeme R. Quick, Peter
Willcock, Jim Morgan, Shulz Bros., Jim Smith and Bob Wright. This
article is reprinted with permission from the RonaTip Rally,
organized and promoted by the Ballarat Engine & Machinery
Preservation Society Inc., in whose souvenir programme it
originally appeared in 1994. Mr. Wright is working on a book about
Ronaldson and Tippett.

The Early Years, 1903 – 1928

Undoubtedly, Ballarat’s heavy industrial base owes its
foundation to the post gold rush mining boom. The era of deep lead
and quartz mining saw great demand for pumps, engines and
specialized machinery and with this numerous foundries emerged to
meet this need. Many were destined to rise and fall with the mining
boom. The Victoria, Phoenix, Union and Soho were foundries destined
to be long remembered as the pioneers of the developing heavy
engineering sector. With time comes change and another chapter was
about to unfold. The waning fortunes of the mining days were giving
way to the increasing prosperity and subsequent expansion of the
district’s agricultural and pastoral development.

When the last remaining mines closed down in the early years of
the 20th century, the incessant hammering of the quartz stampers
had been replaced with a new sound, the exhaust pipe ‘bark’
of the internal combustion engine. Oil engines were fast coming
into popularity with the man-on-the-land as were motor cars
infringing on the realm of horses.

It was around this time1903 to be precise when a sequence of
events would culminate in the establishment of what would become
one of Ballarat’s premier manufacturing industries that of the
Austral works of David and Adam Ronaldson, shortly later to become
RONALDSON BROS. & TIPPETT LIMITED.

Around the turn of the century, David Ronaldson commenced
engineering studies at Ballarat School of Mines, later entering
into an ‘apprenticeship’ with his uncle James Smith,
possibly better known as the Jas. Smith Machine Works, still
trading to this day. The Ronaldson Brothers were raised on the
family farm at Smeaton, more than likely this rural background may
have fostered Dave’s interest in agricultural machinery
production. The link with Jas. Smith’s was to place him in a
commanding position for the challenge soon to be faced by the young
engineer. Dave’s field of expertise extended into machine
design, ironically this led to his ‘falling out’ with
Smith’s, it is claimed. A dispute developed over increased pay
in consideration of his design capabilities, leading to his
dismissal from the firm. This was actually to become the turning
point of Dave’s career.

Dave had entertained the idea of establishing his own business,
however the lack of an established market identity with its
subsequent lack of established clients were the preventative
factors. Some time later in disclosing the idea to a sympathetic
Creswick Road fodder merchant, he received the first order for the
fledgling company of D. Ronaldson and Company, a
‘leviathan’ chaff cutting plant for John Stewart (located
on the present day site of the Returned Servicemen’s Bowling
Club), also of the Newlyn chaff milling concern.

A small factory of 1200 square feet floor space was built in
April, 1903 on Creswick Road near the intersection of Howitt
Street, which was then largely open country. From the very
beginnings the trademark ‘AUSTRAL’ was emblazoned on the
factory wall, this gesture of Ronaldson patriotism would remain
synonymous with the company for almost the next seventy years.
Early production was primarily devoted to chaff cutter,
agricultural machinery and horse works manufacture. Around this
time David’s older brother, Adam, joined the company the
partnership of Ronaldson Brothers was formed. Adam was a mining
engineer locally and overseas.

Ronaldson & Company machinery was designed along similar
lines to that of Smith’s products, some with superior
improvement under the skillful hand of Dave Ronaldson. In some
instances conventional practice was discarded, this being the use
of agricultural drive chain replacing gear drive; possibly this may
have been an economic consideration also. Another improvement also
incorporated in their chaff cutters was the ‘patent knife
holder’ which permitted easier and quicker changing of the
knives. Some production efforts were aimed at securing a share of
the mining machinery market, with the exception of small orders for
plunger pumps, this was not realized at that stage.

In the month of June, 1904 the first engine was built. This was
in response to increasing numbers of imported oil engines, which
had convincingly assured the viability of locally built engines.
The main thrust of their marketing strategy was to offer a much
simpler engine than that of the imported class, which, in their
opinion were much too complicated. (This was not an aspersion of
the user’s intelligence!) Early engines were of the vertical
surface ignition (ignition by blow lamp heated hot ‘bulb’)
with belt driven governor and A Frame open crankcase. Designs
varied to the horizontal type and transportable types were offered
along with saw bench coupled units and the much larger twin
cylinder engines. Generally the power available was from 3.5
horsepower to their largest vertical engine producing nine
horsepower. Evidence suggests that Dave’s first engine design
was based on the English Petter oil engine. The Austral horizontal
engine is strikingly characteristic of its Petter counterpart, with
the belt driven governor and gravity fed fuel system.

Developments in 1905 saw the introduction of John Tippett to the
company. Originating from a family farming background at Scrub Hill
near Dean, the Tippetts are reputed to have operated the first
Fowler steam traction engine in the district used in their contract
harvesting threshing. Jack had sought off season work in the
Ronaldson factory shortly later becoming financially committed.
April 1st, 1905 saw the evolution of Ronaldson Bros. &. Tippett
Pty. Ltd. Prior to their partnership with Tippett, the Ronaldsons
were agents for Aveling Porter steam traction engines and steam
rollers, John Tippett therefore had not influenced the decision to
market this product range.

The simpler type engines were produced in total of 300, although
disappointingly hampered by combustion problems. The actual point
of ignition was untimed and this led to numerous problems:
‘gumming up’ in the words of the late E.J. Tippett, being
common. Undaunted by this setback, the Austral was earmarked for
major redesign. The justification for this was based on recognition
of the qualities of ‘the more complex English engines,’ the
over simplification of the Austral could be improved with the
inclusion of features found in the more successful engines. The
clever adoption of a timing valve a feature of the Blackstone
engine overcame the combustion problems: in fact revolutionizing
the ‘hot bulb’ oil engine. Unfortunately this landed the
company in litigation proceedings with the Blackstone patentee, the
saving grace was in the fashion of which the timing valve had been
adapted, horizontally as opposed to vertical in the Blackstone.
Similarly the patents, it is claimed, did not exist outside of
Europe.

From this point the Austral side shaft oil engine gained
increasing popularity and an estimated six thousand were built
between 1908 and 1928, the range of engines expanding to include
benzene (petrol), crude oil (compression-ignition) engines and the
Bosch injection vertical diesel engines.

THE RONALDSON BROS. & TIPPETT TRACTOR

The first tractor construction originated in 1910. The prototype
five ton ‘Austral oil tractor’ was fundamentally a
combination of the accepted (steam) traction vehicle albeit powered
by their 20 horsepower single cylinder kerosene fueled engine,
offering the convenience of the newly emerging internal combustion
engine. Unfortunately this early attempt didn’t go into
production, possibly owing to its poor power to weight ratio.

Further tractor production was not considered until 1924,
consistent with their popular belief that tractors were not
economically justified for the man on the land, in a time when
horses were still considered an excellent and economical source of
farm field power.

Increasing numbers of imported tractors prompted the company to
survey farmers in the Mallee Wheat belt as to their opinion of
tractors. Overwhelming acceptance of tractors as established by the
survey, hastened their move to full scale production. Another fact
revealed by the survey was the multiple use of the tractor, in many
cases doing belt work normally powered by the company’s main
stay the stationary engine.

The first ‘tractor’ went on the drawing board in July
1924 and was designed by Dave Ronaldson.

The 18-30 Super Drive was built along the lines of the American
Illinois Super drive and in the early stages of production, was
very high on imported component. During the production life of the
Super Drive, the use of the imported Wisconsin 4-cylinder water
cooled engine persisted until the last machine rolled off the
assembly line. Ironically the same engine was used in another
company sales line in the light Brockway truck.

Adapting what was primarily an American ‘bred’ tractor
to Australian conditions proved more difficult than expected, early
models experienced overheating in our harsh inland heat. A larger
and a more distinctive radiator, was fitted to overcome this
problem.

The ‘Super Drive’ Tractor was reputed as having the
slowest multi-cylinder engine on the market, developing full rated
power at a low one thousand revolutions per minute. An advanced
feature of the tractor was its super drive transmission, claimed to
be years ahead of the opposition. R&T engineers had suitably
modified the engine to permit the operation on the cheaper heavy
fuel oils and kerosene, by means of a patent manifold vaporizing
arrangement.

An actual total of around 450 tractors were built between 1924
and 1938 when production was discontinued. The depression years saw
many of their tractors repossessed, rebuilt, renumbered and resold,
as due to the absence of finance companies, they were sold by the
firm ‘on terms’. This, it is claimed, almost ruined the
company financially. The renumbering of such units may offer part
explanation as to a production figure anomaly when sales were
boosted by 200, or this may have been to enhance sales volume
artificially.

A large unrecognized promotional event was launched in 1927 when
a field demonstration was conducted to emphasize the tractor’s
stamina. For three grueling weeks continual day and night, under
the light of a carbide lamp, the Super Drive worked virtually
nonstop pulling a broad plough over the near entirety of the
Ballarat Common. Only stopping to observe the Sabbath/change oil,
this feat was equivalent to 1500 miles ploughing and to offer some
equitable sizes, the distance ploughed was said to be ‘equal to
the stretch from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Great Australian
Bight.’

Increasing volumes of imported tractors were dominating the
Australian market and in view of this, production was discontinued
in late 1938. This lead R&T to fully concentrate on its
stationary engine manufacturing, achieving the marque of the
largest manufacturer of engines in the southern hemisphere in the
1940s.

AGRICULTURAL MACHINERY

Fundamentally, the firm of Ronald-son & Company was
established to build agricultural machinery in June 1903, although
the advent of engine production was just around the corner.

Dave Ronaldson’s vast experience gained at Jas. Smith’s
permitted him to further improve on these designs. Particularly in
chaff cutters were his ‘patent knife holders’ of great
advantage, enabling quicker, simplified changing.

Long after the company had entered into engine manufacture and
almost to the very end in the late ’60s,
agricultural/horticultural machinery was a vital component of their
production efforts. From 1903 and as late as 1957, chaff cutters
were produced, with an enviable reputation. To illustrate the range
and diversity of their agricultural machinery would require
volumes, but to give some indication of their product range, the
following manifest could offer some depth; chaff cutters, corn
crushers, drag saws, horse works, hay elevators, milking plants,
pumps, pump jacks, rotary pumps, saw benches, shearing machines,
spray plants, sheaf elevators, sheep jetting plants, treadmills,
tussock grubbers, tobacco planters, threshers and wool presses.

The Scrub Hill property of the firm’s co-partner, the
Tippetts, is credited as being the proving ground for some of their
machinery, this particularly applied to their tractors and
ploughing tests carried out at Scrub Hill. Dave Ronaldson is
reputed as having a farm in Invermay and it was here that R&T
mining machinery was sometimes tested along with some of their
early machinery.

LIGHTING PLANTS AND POWER GENERATION

To the reader not familiar with the State Electric grid
development, electricity in many instances was not available in
rural areas well into the ’50s and ’60s. Country dwellers
and farming communities generally owed their livelihood to their
isolation in the vast outback and scattered agricultural areas,
i.e. Wimmera/Mallee.

For these folk, the rhythmic beat of the electric lighting plant
was a common sound of an evening, many rural families placed their
faith in these plants, for the comforts they provided. An
advertising slogan used by Ronald-son & Tippett in reference to
their plants’ As dependable as the sunrise’ would emphasize
the reliance placed on these lighting plants and typifies their
role in rural life.

From the early days of engine construction, R&T kerosene
engines could be supplied with ‘electric dynamo flywheels’,
this feature ensured steadier operation than would have otherwise
resulted owing to the speed fluctuations of ‘hit &
miss’ governing. Early plants were belt driven. With the
introduction of their petrol engines in the 1920s direct coupling
was prevalent. Company policy favored belt driven plants, as this
permitted the engine to be unbelted and used for other purposes,
further enhancing the engine’s usefulness thus attracting
increased sales. Traditionally these home Electric lighting plants
were 32 volt and usually battery charging in varying outputs from
300 watt to 2100 watt for use in larger situations. With company
progression, their plant range expanded, Diesel engines with
automatic start were offered and 240 volt plants underwent
construction on the R&T ‘lighting plant’ shop.

One point reinforcing the quality and reliability of the
Ronaldson-Tippett plant was the lighthouse department’s
preferred use of R&T electric light plants and at other beacons
around the coastline, the importance of this responsibility
undoubtedly was their best testimonial.

Credit is given for the electrification of many rural towns to
Ronaldson-Tippett engineers. Their larger horsepower horizontal
Diesel engines were a licensed copy of the English
‘Campbell’ engines, providing towns such as Avoca, Beaufort
and Gallan with a reliable electric power supply. The first large
scale plant was installed at Ballan, officially unveiled September
20, 1927 by the Victorian Premier Mr. E.J. Hogan. The following
report from the Ballans power station engineer presents an
excellent account of the reliability of which directly reflects
engineering quality for which these engines were held in high
regard.

‘Ballan, Victoria  May 1st, 1938.

‘Dear Sirs,

This is to certify that the Ronaldson-Tippett Type M 33 HP
horizontal Diesel Engine installed here on 20th September, 1927 has
now done over FIFTY THOUSAND HOURS work and is still in good
running condition.

It averages 13 hours running daily for every day of the year and
drives a generator supplying current for 110 houses in the township
of Ballan, as well as 32 street lights, Halls, Churches, etc.

The engine is sometimes on a very heavy load and runs all night
without any attention. The average daily fuel consumption is 10
gallons and one and one-half pints of lubricating oil.

The engine has given every satisfaction in fulfilling every
claim made for it. We have, without doubt, had a wonderful run and
the results received speak volumes for the superior design and
construction of Ronaldson-Tippett horizontal Diesel engines.

Yours faithfully,

(signed) J.F. Boyce, Engineer, Ballan Electric Supply
Company’

The superiority of Ronaldson-Tippett Generating plants was amply
confirmed by the multitude of orders from Australia’s national
services. An outstanding example is recorded in May, 1939. R&T
electrical engineers had been awarded a major contract to supply
fully self contained Diesel generating plants for overland
directional aircraft navigation. These units were installed on a
high mountain peak in the ranges near Yea (Victoria). Reliability
was paramount as these plants had to operate unattended
automatically for monthly intervals.

Consisting of two independently equipped plants, each powered by
CV type 8 bhp single cylinder diesels, functioning to automatically
start at sunset and to shut down at sunrise on an alternating basis
each night. Fail safe, one plant would take up duty should its
partner fail, within twenty seconds of failure. The obvious
importance of this task demanded unquestionable reliability
consistent with the highest standard of quality engineering.

For this aspect, Ronaldson & Tippett was the most respected
name in generating plants.

THE WAR EFFORT

Ronaldson-Tippett’s Ballarat plant played a major role
during World War II, along with other major manufacturers, Southern
Cross and Perry Bros. (Adelaide) also contributing in the engine
manufacture department.

R&T at that time were producing predominantly water cooled
engines and this was to create problems for the military insistent
in their demand for a rugged air cooled petrol engine for tropical
conditions. For a while the type. NR engine was produced, this
consisted of a radiator cooled N type petrol engine earmarked for
use on American Kelvinator Army refrigeration plants. Inevitably
the demand for an air cooled still existed. From this was born the
type N A. R&T engineers took the proven N type and equipped it
with an air cooled cylinder. Other than the two cycle type TY built
in the late ’20s, R&T had not built air cooled engines up
to this stage.

The NA was subjected to arduous testing considered necessary to
ensure its reliability on ‘active service.’ The engine was
operated in the foundry core oven, testing its ability under
extremes. From all reports the NA type earned an excellent
reputation during its war service.

Engine manufacture was not the only role of R&T during the
war. Shell lathes and gun mountings were also produced.

One notable aspect of the war years was development of the
recently introduced multi-cylinder R&T type CK Diesels. Along
with Southern Cross, R&T were pushed into marine engine
production to the order of Major General Steele. The Ford Motor
Company, Geelong, were commissioned to build landing craft. At
first Ford Vee Eight petrol engines were used multiple tandem
coupled. Rigorous testing on Corio Bay pushed these plants to
severe limits. Under these conditions the V8 engines were straining
to maintain pace. In some cases the V8s failed.

The recently introduced 4 cylinder inline 50 horse power diesel
engine was the proposed alternative. Tandem coupled with Marine
Gearbox and in two to three banks, the slower revving Diesels
admirably met the challenge. Smaller twin and single cylinder CK
marine plants were designed also for army use. The CK Tandem Marine
plants were purchased in Ballarat and transported to Ford Motor
Company in Geelong for installation into the landing barges, built
by Ford.

A popular story claims that the CK diesels were remarkably
quiet. Suitably muffled, their stealth made them an excellent craft
for use behind enemy lines in the Pacific. Possibly this could be
attributed to the R&T practice of building slower speed
engines, producing rated power in the low RPM range.

The war effort by Ronaldson-Tippett engines won admiration from
the many who served. More than likely, consistent with an
advertising claim the men returning to work the land once more
would have a first hand knowledge of the reliability, of which the
Ronaldson-Tippett engines were renowned.

THE POST WAR YEARS

The war waged in the Pacific not only provided a tough testing
ground for Ronaldson-Tippett equipment. The reputation of
dependability, although hard earned, had placed the company name in
high regard with the men of the armed forcesmen who would return to
work the land in peace time once more.

The post war period was one of expansion in nearly all aspects
of Ronaldson-Tippett manufacturing. Their multi-cylinder Diesel
(CK), primarily developed and built for the war effort, went into
full production, in later years in some instances tackling
automotive applications in road rollers, along with power
generation work.

1949 was the year of crowning achievement with engine number
50,000, a type ‘N’ petrol engine, rolling off the
production line. This period also became the foundation of
Ronaldson and Tippett’s licensed manufacturing, when the
company entered into the manufacture of Wisconsin air cooled petrol
engines. Other licensing arrangements followed in the later years
with Guldner (German) air cooled diesel engines and Okanagan Turbo
Mist orchard spray units (Canadian). Marketing arrangements
commenced to promote imported Maruyama high pressure spray units,
complementing their already large range of spray units.

The war had created the demand for the air cooled petrol engine
and R&T engineers were to capitalize on the success of the type
‘NA’ petrol engine, with the development of three new
lighter high speed engines, some utilizing the weight reducing
technology of aluminum alloy castings.

1951 must have been considered a very momentous year in the
development of the company with the opening of their new ‘state
of the art’ foundry and plant in Norman Street, Ballarat just a
little further along Creswick Road from the birthplace of the
Austral Works.

Much research and development had gone into the new foundry,
considered to be the most advanced in Australia at that time. A
major benefit of this, was the capacity to supply high grade
castings to outside companies. One Ballarat company to gain from
this was the Villiers Engine Manufacturing Company, who purchased
engine cylinder block castings from the new R&T foundry.

In the twilight years of Ronaldson-Tippett manufacturing, the
Wisconsin range of engines became their mainstay. The last type
‘N’ engine is said to have been built around 1965, although
its place on the production line had already partly been taken by
the Guldner air cooled diesel. These were supplied to the Sunbeam
Corporation under a licensing agreement.

The demise of R&T may have been hastened by the increasing
numbers of cheaper imported engines entering Australia. It has been
pointed out, by Peter Ronaldson, that a well known United States
manufacturer was ‘dumping’ their engines on the Australian
market during the quiet season for their own local market,
competition being practically impossible. This, along with a steady
increase in Japanese engine sales, took its toll. The final blow
came in the early 1970s when international events effectively
terminated production of the Wisconsin engine outside the USA.

The Ronaldson and Tippett Company was then collapsed on the
stock market and sold up seeing the emergence of the Merbank
(Merchants Bank) Corporation. The spoils from this were reinvested
in the Western Australian mining boom of that time.

Sadly, thus ended almost seventy years of manufacturing by this
pioneering company. A sad day for Ballarat and Australia.

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