The International Steam Pages


My Other Steam Engine is a Marshall too

Click here for a survey of Ruston engines found in Burma.


Our first few days in West Bengal were spent in a rural backwater, after which we transferred by train to what passes in this part of the world for modern civilisation. We had the name of a knowledgeable contact, we had acquired an English literature master's student, Kuntal Gosh, as a local guide who duly eventually found us a hotel which was brand new and with full facilities for just Rs 400 a night (roughly U$10). Unfortunately, somewhere along the way I had also acquired the unwanted company of several billion hostile bacteria which made the journey uncomfortable and left my lunch on the railway track and me with barely enough energy to make it to the bathroom to part company with most of the rest of them. Such are the perils of travelling in the sub-continent, you sometimes question your sanity, but always, if you persevere, then the Gods will indeed smile on you. And so it proved yet again.

Not surprisingly, I passed on dinner and a late start was prescribed. Breakfast was a delicate nibble at some biscuits and I did consider finding a scientific supplier to look for a rubber bung. Our contact duly appeared, late as predicted, but not badly so. He spouted a short list of known steam operated mills which were duly recorded and fixed us transport at a sensible price. We were in business and we headed out of town to be greeted with rice mill after rice mill on either side of the road. I should explain that the number of rice mills in West Bengal as suggested to us varied between 300 to more than 1000. Fine, except that while in Burma, a black, smoking chimney is a clear indication of an incumbent steam engine, here it tells you nothing. Most mills need a boiler to process the rice into a par-boiled state in which it can be exported, so they all have them. In any area, at best maybe 50% or so of the mills have steam power. Hence, inside knowledge is essential to avoid frustrating and fruitless waits at mill gates and maximise the time available inside steam mills. Kuntal not only knew his W.B. Yeats, T.S. Elliott and many other authors and poets from my best forgotten English literature 'O' level days, he (left below, with our driver) also initially showed a refreshingly quick ability to learn from us what was wanted and how to extract information from every available source. Like all other guides before him, though, he found it increasingly difficult to cope with our single minded obsession to get 'bangs for bucks'. By the time he left us, I think he was heartily glad to get back to the gentle pace of academic life and for the last few days he spent more time asleep than awake. 

12" Marshall after 12" Marshall left us smiling but aching for more. Finally we pulled into another mill whose owner looked rather more suspiciously at us than normal. To make matters worse, his mill was 'between shifts' and he also had a 12" Marshall, well maintained but in gloomy light. Slowly he melted. "Actually, I've got another mill 10km down the road, with a far more interesting engine. It's a Marshall too, of course," he told us. "But it's a 'KC class' compound engine. And, by the way, the two mills next door have Ruston compounds as well...." And to show us that he knew what he was talking about, he presented us with photocopies of parts of a couple of Marshall's catalogues which he had bought in a second hand bookshop in Calcutta. There were more data on Marshall's products within it than we had managed to turn up in the two years since we started to find their engines in Burma. He was clearly another engine enthusiast as he had a larger Marshall 16" engine under wraps which he was about to install. His other Marshall is, of course, described elsewhere but the two Rustons (shown below) were absolute gems, neither was working on our first visit which made still photography easier, but both were warm having worked a morning shift. It was definitely a case of needing a revisit as we desperately needed to see them working for the video record. To be accurate, we were told the first engine was a Ruston on the 'say so' of the owner who had been told this by the agent who sold it to him. There are similarities but the engines are significantly different, the second in particular has twin eccentrics on the low pressure cylinder, just why is unclear as the second one has no purpose and cannot be adjusted. In both cases the engines appear to have Hartnell governors which are slightly different from those on Marshall engines.

Even a massive traffic jam going back to base could not spoil what had been a marvellous day, and, maybe best of all, the bacteria seemed to have lost their virulence; as has been said many times about India, 'happiness is a dry fart'. And despite, the taxi driver turning up 45 minutes late (for which he lost the cost of his lunch) we got back next morning before both of the mills finished their shifts. The video should be wonderful but we never look at it until it is safely captured on the hard disc back home.

The first mill 'next door':

The second 'mill next door':


Stationary Steam in India 2006 - introduction

A Reason to Return - a brand new steam powered rice mill in a green field site. 

Marshall Heaven - we always go the extra mile to bring you working stationary steam.

Just Another Marshall (Part 2) - too bad it wasn't working!

Just Another Marshall (Part 3) - drop valve action...

Make Mine a Robey, Please - as common as in Burma.

Many Happy Returns - unexpected returns to old gricing spots.

All I want for Christmas... - anything but another bloody Marshall.

The Loose Ends - the bits and pieces that ask as many question as they answer

Robert Clive's Sugar Mill - well, it's not quite that old.


Rob and Yuehong  Dickinson

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