Video: 1923 Ruston Hornsby steam shovel in action

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  • Earthmovers & Exacavators

In a world of hydraulic excavators, the sight of a 90-tonne steam-driven face shovel digging, slewing and belching white clouds is one that stirs the heart — and the only place in the world you can see a 1923 Ruston Hornsby No.20 SNC (steam navvy crane) in action is at one of Victoria’s Lake Goldsmith Steam & Vintage Rallies.

The team from recently journeyed up to Lake Goldsmith, near Ballarat, to film this beauty in action at the 104th rally and speak to Lake Goldsmith Steam Preservation Association president Trevor Oliver.

Designated No.4, this shovel was built by Ruston Hornsby of Lincoln, England, and used by the Australian Portland Cement Company at their cement works at Fyansford, near Geelong.

A wood-fired boiler drives three engines: a running engine which powers the winch drum and track propulsion; a slew engine; and a boom-mounted engine which drives the dipper arm.

"To operate the machine is very, very physical," Oliver says. "It’s all very heavy levers on eccentric cams. It is all cable operated; there are no hydraulics so it’s all very mechanical … very primitive.

"Working the machine would be very hot and very dusty," he adds. "Working it for 10 or 12 hours a day you would certainly want to be a very fit man."

The current operator of the Ruston Hornsby is Phillip Hayes, who calls himself the machine’s custodian. He was kind enough to allow us to clamber over the shovel to make this video, and fireman James Honeysett was kind enough not to swear at us when we got in his way.

The machine would have had a team of four working on it when operating on site, Oliver says.

"It had an operator driving the machine and operating the bucket, it would have two on the boiler and another man who would be running up and down all the ladders and everything, manually oiling it while it was working."

If that wasn’t dangerous enough, that poor bloke also had to turn the 90-tonne monster by throwing a pin into the track gear to lock the track and pivot the machine!


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