Worth the Work

| December 2007 / January 2008

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.

“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 identical.”

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.”