Cango Caves Crossleys

 Most engine enthusiasts in the Cape know that there were generator engines outside the mouth of the world-famous Cango Caves at the Ostrich Capital, Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo. In fact, many actually remember hearing them running! But until recently, nobody knew what had happened to them. Even well known Cango Caves historian Dr Steven Craven, who I have known for many years, couldn't help. He has written much from his detailed research on the Caves' history, on which he has done a second Doctorate. A paper he delivered goes back in history to 1899 when electrification of the huge caverns was first mooted, and covers all the deliberations until the purchase, from Mangold Brothers of Oudtshoorn, of two engine-driven generators in 1928. We knew that two unspecified engines were delivered to the Cave on the 5th or 6th March 1928 and that in April of that year, the Municipality advertised for an 'Electrician Driver' who would be required to operate 'two 20kW Crossley crude oil engine (sic) 220V DC sets'. Then, after the Caves were connected to the Escom grid on 24th October 1963, we have a reference dated 19th December 1964 which says that 'the two generating sets, both DC, will be sold'. There is no reference to the amount of money received.

Brass plate attached to one engine, showing the supplier.

We all supposed they had been cut up for scrap. That was until Derick Kleynhans went on a hunting expedition to Aberdeen in the Eastern Cape, to the farm 'Waterkloof' of Koos and Suzanne Lategan. Koos has been asking successive hunting parties whether they knew of anybody who could show him how to commission the engine his late father had bought from the Cango Caves, had it set up, and it never ran. Rumour has it that it did in fact run once, that it wouldn't govern and that the project was abandoned as being dangerous. Well, he eventually found the right people!

Looking back, considering all the faults that the small team of Stationary Engine enthusiasts found, it was a good thing that it didn't run! But first, Derick had to organise the team, and that could only be after the close of the hunting season, so that there would be accommodation available for us on the farm.

The accomodation on the farm for hunting parties sleeps 14 people in a restored Homestead

We also had to get our Annual Show behind us, and yet be before our busy seasons on the farms! Aberdeen is 700km from Elgin where I live and even 500 from Heidelberg (Cape) where Derick lives and where third team member Peter spends a lot of time. Andries from Colesberg is closer at 250km. This meant I had to sneak off work on Friday, early enough to ensure arrival in Aberdeen before dark. Why? To avoid running into any Kudu which are known to wander into the road after dark. These horse-sized antelope cause serious accidents! On the way, we stopped in Willomore and were much taken by this pedestrian bridge:

All riveted construction, and the sign in the middle says, No Loitering on the Bridge!

This gives one an idea of the countryside found in those parts:

Getting late, but nearly there! 700 km behind me since mid morning.

We stopped quickly in Aberdeen where we were much taken by the Victorian buildings.




Aberdeen's Victorian Court-house.




Another Victorian house in Aberdeen.


We went on to the farm without delay, it’s just 16 km outside the town. By then the sun was just setting.




Sunset on Waterkloof, Aberdeen, Eastern Cape.


After settling in, we went to the engines and discussed tactics for the following day. Both engines are there, consecutively numbered Crossley OE 117s, one is all set up and the other is in pieces outside and incomplete. The serial numbers are 100943 and 4, and they are rated at 35  39 BHP at 310 RPM. Patrick Knight tells us that these engines left the Openshaw factory on 12th January 1928, going to Blane & Co Ltd, Johnnesburg destined for Mossel Bay. Where Blane & Co come into the story is a mystery, but Mossel Bay is the sea-port closest to Oudtshoorn.




Engine plate from the incomplete engine outside the engine-room.





From left to right, Stationary Engine Magazine subscribers Peter Boast and Derick Kleynhans; Andries Pienaar, Deutz collector, farmer and wind-pump expert, then John and Koos Lategan, our hosts.


We decided that the first and most important job was to check the alignment of the main bearings. Once that was done, we could split up our tasks according to our abilities. By 6.15 next morning, we had my Ruston Crankshaft Alignment Gauge between the weights of the crank and were disappointed to find that there was a total deflection reading of 7 thou.




We had brought shimstock, but by the time we'd worked out which way the tool worked, our worst fears were realised. The outrigger bearing was too high, and there were no shims to remove! In vain hope we slacked it off and washed out underneath the bearing and tightened it down. No difference! So that was the first reason why it is a good thing the engine never ran! The manual Koos has with the engine gives a maximum of 3 thou. We dismantled and removed the lower half of the bearing liner and did some measurements. Then to our dismay we realised that to get the lower bearing housing out, we would have to lift the crankshaft and flywheel high enough to clear the studs! The roof is corrugated iron on a flimsy frame and we reckon there's at least two tonnes in the flywheel and crankshaft. There was nothing for it but to use a combination of jacks and blocks under the flywheel and crankshaft.




Two farm staff members and Koos Lategan look on as Derick removes the outrigger bearing housing, after the crank and flywheel had been jacked out of the engine.


With the housing out, the only method we could think of to remove metal was a belt sander. Derick was away a long time, but came back satisfied that he had taken off about a millimetre from the bottom face of the housing and he checked for flatness with straight-edge in all directions.




The underside face of the outrigger bearing housing showing how Derick had sanded off about a millimetre of metal.


We cut a shim thinking that he had taken off too much, but when we checked, he'd sanded off just the right amount to give us a nil reading top to bottom. The fore and aft adjustment is done with setscrews, so it wasn't long before we had a total deflection of less than one thou.




Reading top to bottom, front to rear inside a thousandth of an inch. We were happy!


Meanwhile, Andries was busy with the lubrication system. He couldn't get the two-plunger pump to deliver, despite its being fed by drip oilers. After removing and stripping that, he found ball valves assembled wrongly, so that it couldn't pump anyway! This was soon corrected and we had oil at the sleeve and big end oiler banjo. Another reason why the engine would have been damaged if it had run!




Peter making a gasket for the inspection cover of the air receiver.


Peter is our Gasket Man! There was a leak on the air receiver inspection cover needing a thick one to be made. There were several more to make in the course of the day. As usual, I was assigned the fuel system. This is identical to that of the Crossley HD10 which we've just set up at our museum in Villiersdorp. We experienced the same problems: leaking gland packings and stuck valves. The system is very straightforward, change-over valves between distillate and crude, and simple gravity operated mitre valves for in and out with a cam-operated plunger between. Governing is performed by the wedge-controlled unloader valve at the fuel injection pump which also has a gland. From our experience, we had brought some 4mm teflon packing which was perfect for the injector. The injection pump plunger just needed some adjustment. We even found the original C-spanner for that! There was another problem with the fuel system. The fuel tank had been installed and connected with 1" steel pipes, much higher than the 'tundish', the funnel into which the excess fuel is pumped. If the fuel tank had been anything more than nearly empty, it would have overflowed at this funnel! After some measurement, Koos was dispatched to saw off the pipes and cut new threads. The engine could simply not have worked like this!




Fuel tank installed higher than the 'tundish', the funnel into which excess fuel is pumped to return to the fuel system.


We all worked without a break until 2.30 pm, by which time we reckoned that we were ready to turn the engine with a belt from a pulley we'd brought along for the Ford tractor on the farm. We stopped first for a delicious meal brought up by our hosts, cooked over hot coals, boerewors (farm sausage), ‘vetkoek’, stuffed with curried mince, and all the trimmings!




Delicious spread laid on for lunch!


We were feeling well pleased with our efforts so far. However, we were yet to be disappointed!




Setting up the Ford 7600 tractor with the belt pulley attachment we had brought along.


We used a gas torch to heat the glow plug. While cranking, smoke came out of the inlet valve. The sealing of the valves had concerned us all along, so we didn't waste any time removing the inlet valve assembly, then after removing the exhaust rocker and spring, that valve also.




Peter using the spanner which was with the engine. You can't get a ring spanner on.


Once again, Koos was dispatched to the farm workshop to cut a thread on a rod to screw into the head of the exhaust valve so that it could be lapped in.




Derick doing it the easy way! Lapping the exhaust valve in with an electric drill.


Once the two valves were assembled, we thought there was nothing to stop us. We heated the glow-plug again, the tractor was started up and the engine turned.




Gas torch on the glow plug. Somebody had even polished the Mangold Bros plate!


More smoke from the inlet valve! How could this be? There can only be two reasons, the engine turning backwards or the valve timing is out. The first was easy to check, inlet follows exhaust. So it had to be the latter, why didn't we check before? The valves rocked far from TDC! With the cover off we could see the marks on the skew gears, it had been assembled 8 teeth out! Who was this person who installed the engine? The story goes that he was a Ruston mechanic. Maybe to discredit an opposition product?




Derick checking his timing marks after re-engaging the teeth.


From our experience with the HD10, the easiest was to back-off the side shaft on its studs, turn it and re-engage it correctly. It was the work of a few minutes, rather than trying to remove one or other gear. Now we were back in business! After only a few minutes of turning with the belt from the tractor we could declutch the pulley. First the engine died away. The second time, it continued running!




Crossley OE 117 Serial No 100944, running for the first time since 24th October 1963 at the Cango Caves!


I don't know who was the most pleased, the repairers or the owners! By this time it was 4pm. We allowed it to run for about two hours, oiling, feeling temperatures, generally enjoying the sound and sight. When we were working on the exhaust valve, I noticed that there was no oil feed to the exhaust guide. There was, however, a nipple for a pipe connector. I remembered from the HD 10 that one of the pressure oil feeds was for this, and that there should be a drip feed oiler for the big end banjo. Andries, the lubrication man, checked in the manual and confirmed it should be the same on this engine. So while it was running in, he changed it over, and he fitted an extra oiler found amongst the spare parts, for the big end. By now, the Party Line was buzzing and the neighbours were turning up to see and hear the old engine running!




Wolseley engine, Crossley compressor and air receiver with control valve.


On Saturday evening over a huge and delicious meal cooked over an open fire, we discussed the way that the Lategans were to start the engine after we'd left.




Entertainment area at the hunting accommodation, built-in ‘braai’ where Peter demonstrated another skill, cooking meat to perfection. Derick is demonstating yet another skill, on his guitar!


We were taking the tractor pulley home; besides, once the engine has started the belt is dangerous to remove. We discussed the dangers of charging the air vessel from the engine, if you don't get all the operations right. They have a Wolseley engine coupled up to one of the original compressors, which can just make 8 bar (120 PSI), which is not really enough according to the manual we were studying. We could but try, so that was our plan for Sunday morning.


But on Sunday, there was first business to attend to!




A two-holer! Ah! But the view from the Throne:




There had been a light dusting of snow on these mountains all day Saturday. Sunday was a lot warmer!


From the manual, I made a simple set of instructions like this: Pump up (the air receiver with the Wolseley); Heat up (the glow-plug); Oil up (the engine, including the small container on the big end); Turn the engine by hand to just past TDC on firing stroke (for this I made them a pair of marks on the side shaft and bearing); Open up (the valve on the air receiver); Prime up (the fuel system: first with bleed valve open till fuel is seen flowing out of the pipes at the tundish, then with the bleed valve closed, two sharp pulls upward, then bleed valve open again); Exhaust roller to the left (for half compression); Air start lever down (into the 'start' position); Close up (the fuel bleed valve); Watch for firing, and move exhaust roller to the right and insert pin; Lever up (air start valve, to middle 'work' position); Close up (the valve on the air receiver); Enjoy!


We tried it and it worked. The air pressure dropped from 8 to 6 bar only for this operation. We made Koos and John do it themselves until they were familiar with the procedure.




Apprentice engine operators, John and Koos Lategan, very happy to be able to start their engine after having it there all these years!


There was still a chore. Derick had previously made a deal for an International U4 in the scrapyard, so that had to be loosened off from the chassis it was fixed to and loaded, a good weight on his bakkie (ute, pick-up). After a look around the surrounding farms, it was time to start the 6-hour ride home, feeling elated that we had not only brought the engine back to life, safely, but also that the owners can start it at will, any time, just to enjoy!




International U4 is a heavy load for the bakkie!



On our trip around the neighbouring farms, we were treated to a demonstration of this Sunshine header, almost in showroom condition:




On the same farm, during World War 2, a group of Italian Prisoners of War worked, one left an interesting memento:




In the gaps below the horizontal line of the swastika are the letters POW.


Back on Waterkloof, there was time to explore an old Mill House, which must have had an overshot, or perhaps breast-shot water wheel:




The hole for the axle-tree to pass through has been bricked up and plastered over, but we know the signs!




The building is kept in good order, but unfortunately in Koos’ lifetime, he has no recollection of any milling equipment inside, the only other evidence is a runner stone at his house, a kilometre or so away:




Runner stone made of some volcanic rock, judging from the bubbles in the matrix.


On the way home we spotted a lorry cab which might just fit my Albion FT37EL




Could this cab fit my Albion? There is little rust, and only a few bullet-holes!