“Why not take the flywheel off?”

Last Summer (2014), I spent many hours trawling the Internet to find replacement parts. I managed to procure: valves, shell bearings, piston rings, gaskets – all brand new in original 1940s/50s packaging. Not so lucky with the water coolant pump, so I combined the best bits from three used ones to build one perfectly good one.

Excellent, so far so good. Next step, crane out the engine and fit the parts. What could possibly go wrong?  Well, I naively assumed that the 250kg flywheel would easily come off after removing the giant woodruff key. The key, it turns out, is a sacrificial lump of soft steel that is not intended to come out easily, if at all. After much tugging and bashing, and colourful cursing the flywheel was partially off and ‘most of the key was removed’. Therein lies the problem. When the time came to refit the starter motor and coolant pump I discovered that the flywheel was not far enough back on the crank shaft for the ring gear to engage – and to make matters worse I had confidently craned the engine back into the boat! The moral of the story is, do not, if you can avoid it, remove the flywheel!

Winter put paid to further rebuilding,  but I’m preparing to resume over the Easter period as I’m off work for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, all the engine parts are stripped and repainted and the brass/copper bits polished. I admire this handywork every day as I stride over the parts scattered all over the floor of the boat!


I’m choked! We omitted to check the exhaust.

At last, the engine is rebuilt; everything is in place and working correctly and both cylinders are firing in harmony. But she refuse to rev beyond tickover and she is still leaking smoke and fumes from the engine block. What could we have omitted to check? We pondered over this question for a few minutes before Stuart casually placed his hand over the exhaust and pointed out that there was hardly any pressure from the pipe. He then placed his hand on the air filter inlet and discovered that the air was blowing back. Eureka! The exhaust is blocked at the silencer and the engine is choked up. It must have been caused by me running the engine when it was labouring on one cylinder, ironically I was running it, often at high revs, to try to burn off what I assumed to be a build-up of coke. In effect I was compounding the problem.

Stuart, Alun and I made several attempts to clear the blockage – blasting it with air, flushing it with water, hitting it with a hammer – but none were successful. A new silencer was the only solution. Two days later the new box was installed. Thanks guys!

And that’s it. Approximately 18 months later (work was intermittent), due to the efforts of numerous helpful enthusiasts, the engine runs beautifully again. Finally, I can go cruising. Happy days! Next task: repaint the exterior.

Head’s down as engine rebuild continues

Good progress this evening! Today I bought a couple of bolts (at 20 pence each I thought it worthwhile to buy a spare) to replace one of the four Whitworth bolts that keep the fuel pump in place. So, first job of the evening attach the fuel pumps and the two fuel inlets. I had to remove the rocker pillars and move the push rods out of the way of the bolt heads in order to attach a spanner. Next, we tightened the head nuts. The torque setting for head bolts on a Ruston Hornsby 2VSH is 110/120 ft LBS. I’ve not been able to find any guidance for the sequence of tightening the bolts so I (Stuart actually) simply worked out from centre, tightening those opposite.

On reflection … a very successful day. Before the next session I have to remove the nasty oil from the exhaust manifold and reattach that section. Then the cooling system needs rebuilding. Last thing this evening I tested the thermostat in a mug of hot water and watched it dutifully open immediately. So I just need to craft a couple of gaskets and we can move on to setting the timing.

Is it possible that I may soon be cruising again driven by two cylinders operating in harmony? Fingers crossed.

Finally, back to work on the engine – shear frustration

After months of frustration due to being too busy with work and study to rebuild the engine, I’m finally back in overalls and up to my eyes in oil and diesel … happy days. I have all the required parts and the luxury of expert-guidance from fellow boater, Stuart – who, with help from his wife, Sharon, has recently completely fitted-out their own narrowboat and restored the Lister diesel engine, all in little more than 12 months! Evidently, when they say they’re going to do something, they do it. Which is very reassuring for me.

Saturday, July 12th 2008 – Thanks again to Ray Hooley I have a new head gasket and 5 thousandth shim. In just 2-3 hours the engine is rebuilt, loosely to ensure that all the parts are available and intact. Unfortunately, one of the bolts required to secure a fuel pump sheared and I don’t have a replacement. I’ve removed the sheared bolt but I have to wait until Monday to buy a new one. Other than that everything else seems to be in order.

When I buy the replacement bolt the engine should go back together without any further problems. Fingers-crossed.

I have a new air filter and fresh oil – Exol Victory 20w/20 (recommended for a Ruston Hornsby 2VSH). It is important to use oil that is low in additives as, I’m told, the additives used for modern high-performance engines can coat the cylinders of a slow-running engine.

Bump Clearance (or Mind Your Head)

In the context of narrowboats the term ‘bump clearance’ could refer to several things: the height of the cabin, the height and width of a tunnel, the distance between the boat and the bank of the cut. Clearly, ‘bumping’ is a common occurrence on the narrow waterways in the North West of England. The evidence is visible in the scratched paintwork of the narrowboats and the scarred and lumpy heads of boatowners.

Bump Clearance is actually a reference to the gap between the top of the piston cylinder and the top of the piston when it’s situated top-dead-centre of an internal combustion engine. The reason I mention this is because I am in the process of buying shims to compensate for having skimmed the cylinder head. I called Ray Hooley for advice. Ray informed me that the bump clearance range for a Ruston Hornsby 2VSH is 0.83mm (min) and 0.95mm (max).

My expert diesel engine fitter friend, James, measured the distance of the pistons at top-dead-centre using a micrometer and discovered that the pistons are actually 0.2mm proud. I have to allow for this when calculating the depth of shim. Another measurement that I have to factor in is the 5 thousandth of 1 inch (0.00508mm) that has been skimmed off the head.

At the moment Ray’s shim stock comprises several @ 4 thousandth but just one @ 10 thousandth.

It’s raining so I’m not doing any work on the engine today.

BMC 2.5 engine (from the old black cabs): Water Pump required

This post is on behalf of my friend, Nick, who has been so helpful to me in the process of repairing my Ruston Hornsby engine. He’s on the lookout for a water pump for his BMC 2.5 (from the old black cabs) that powers his own narrrowboat. Apparently, these water pumps are not so easy to find as water pumps for some of the more common BMC engines.

If anybody has one for sale or knows where Nick can find one I’d be grateful if you could let me know by commenting on this post. Cheers.

When all around you are losing their head

… you’ll be a man, my son.

On Sunday I stripped the engine down and removed the cylinder head, unaided. This is something of a ‘rite of passage’ for me. Until now I’ve merely observed other people at work on my engine. My involvement has been confined to passing spanners and clean rags. I’ve always paid close attention to what’s going on and I’ve learned a lot in the process but there’s no substitute for hands-on experience when it comes to understanding. In the words of Confucius , “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” That’s certainly true for me.

It helps having the correct tools for the job. My previous attempt at removing the cylinder head (after someone else had stripped the engine down) failed miserably. This was entirely due to the fact that I only had an adjustable spanner to remove the heavily tightened, 1 inch (approx.) nuts that hold it in place. No chance. As every experienced mechanic knows, you need a substantial spanner, the correct size, with a long arm for leverage. Better still, a torque wrench.

I borrowed the correct tools from my ex-mechanic friend, Nick. But I’ll definitely be growing my own toolkit from now on. Almost all the nuts and bolts on a vintage engine are old imperial measurements (obviously, I hear you say) so I’ll be scouring car boot sales and flee markets.

Cylinder Head removed and ready to be sent off for skimming.