By Staff
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Dave Rotigel’s 1920 11 HP Austral is a vaporizing oil engine that runs on kerosene.
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The Austral has a lot of visible motion on the sideshaft.
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The flywheels on the Austral weigh in at nearly 800 pounds apiece.
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The nameplate with serial number is prominently displayed on the cylinder.
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The Austral has a lot of visible motion on the sideshaft.
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Dave lights the lamp on the Austral, which heats the vaporizer. If the vaporizer is too hot or too cold, the engine won’t start. “It’s sort of intuitive to get it just right,” says Rob Skinner. “Kind of like baking a cake.”
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Dave admits learning how to get the Austral started on his own took some practice, but now, he’s got it down to a science. Here, Curt Holland of Gastonia, N.C., gets the flywheels moving.

Some engines are worth the hassle. Take Dave Rotigel’s
1920 11 HP Austral oil engine, for instance.

When Rob Skinner of La Habra, Calif., decided it was time to
part ways with the Austral, Dave drove an average of 850 miles per
day for four days from Greensburg, Pa., to buy the engine. Before
he left Pennsylvania, he realized he needed a bigger trailer, so he
bought one on eBay and picked it up in Tennessee on the way. Four
days later, with the 6,800-pound Austral in tow, it was back on the
road for another four days of driving. In all, Dave drove 5,800
miles over eight days. But from the looks of it, the Austral was
worth every mile.

Made by the Ronaldson Bros. & Tippett Co. of Ballarat,
Victoria, in Australia, this particular Austral left the factory on
Feb. 20, 1920, en route to the McLaurin Bros. farm in Rutherglen,
Victoria. There, it pumped water from the Murray River, powered a
seven-station sheep sheering plant and likely operated in other
capacities as well. And while brothers Dave and Adam Ronaldson
along with partner Herbert John Tippett were able to make a unique
engine by appearance, closer analysis reveals some interesting
mechanical details.


Manufactured: Ronaldson Bros. and Tippett Co. of Ballarat,
Victoria in Australia
Serial number: 2629
Horsepower: 11
Year: 1920
Weight: 6,800 pounds
Show RPM: 250
Bore: 8-5/8-inch
Stroke: 15-inch
Flywheel width: 3-3/4 inches
Flywheel diameter: 48 inches
Fuel: Kerosene
Unique features: Vaporizing engine; nearly identical mechanical
structure to English Blackstone engine

“The Austral has some characteristics very similar to those of
the English Blackstone engine, almost to the point that it looks
like the Ronaldson Bros. and Tippett copied it,” suggests Rob.
“While they look dramatically different, the mechanics are almost

Citing an identical governor, and a similar timing valve apart
from orientation (the Austral’s is horizontal, the Blackstone’s
vertical), Rob is convinced the Blackstone was, in fact, the
mechanical inspiration for the Austral.

“I think they did copy it,” says Rob. “Australia didn’t have a
large industrial structure and they imported a lot of English
engines. I think they saw the Blackstone, saw that it was a good
engine and copied it.”

The particulars

As for specifics, the flywheels are around 800 pounds apiece
with a 3-3/4-inch width and 48-inch diameter. The Austral generates
11 HP when it’s up to speed at 225 RPM, with an 8-5/8-inch bore and
15-inch stroke. It starts on kerosene but Dave uses propane to keep
it going. “At a show, 1 gallon of kerosene will last 10-12 hours,”
says Dave. “I use a lot more propane than I do kerosene.”

The Austral is a vaporizing engine. As Rob explains, fuel vapor
is heated by contact with the vaporizer walls and ignition occurs
when fresh air is combined with the hot fuel mixture. “The tricky
part is lighting the lamp and heating the vaporizer,” says Rob. “If
it’s not hot enough, it won’t start and if it’s too hot, it won’t
start. It’s sort of an intuitive thing to get it just right – kind
of like baking a cake.”

“Rob started it a couple of times and then he showed me how to
start it,” says Dave. “The first place I showed it at was
Coolspring (Pa.) later that spring and I had to call Rob to help me
start it again. But after that, I was fine.”

Time to part ways

The Austral is not an easy engine to find in the United States
and this example is one of the finest. “When we got the engine, it
was only missing a few minor parts that I was able to fabricate,”
says Rob. “The water pump needed a little bit of work and a few
oilers needed to be located. I also made a new lamp for it.”

Rob didn’t want to sell the Austral, but one hard-to-miss
characteristic convinced him to do so: “It’s a large engine,” says
Rob. “And since we live in the suburbs, we don’t have a lot of
storage space. It was one of the most attractive engines we owned.
And though not the rarest, it was still (show worthy).”

Still, Rob and his wife, Kelly, felt the time had come to part
with the Austral. And fortunately, a good friend was interested in
taking it off their hands. “Before Portland last year, it came up
for sale,” says Dave. “I wrote Rob and told him I wanted to buy it
– consider it sold.”

“We were sad to see it go, but we’re glad it went to Dave,” says

And despite the hassle, Dave is happy as well. “I wish there
were more around, even though that would probably decrease the
value of mine,” says Dave with a smile.

Contact Dave Rotigel, Greensburg, Pa. at: and
Rob Skinner, La Habra, Calif. at:

Watch the Austral in action on YouTube at:

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