Museums, Art Galleries and Botanical Gardens

ID #1260

Stutterheim Stationary Engine Museum, Stutterheim, Border, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

The largest stationary engine museum in South Africa, where all exhibits are operational. Since 1997 these machines have been restored to their former glory by a small group of local enthusiasts.

Ron Starkey is a son of the Eastern Cape. He was born and raised in East London. After spending his working life in the electrical industry, he discovered his passion. He now spends his days finding broken down old wrecks and lovingly rebuilds them as gleaming examples of quality engineering. To say his working life is over would be wrong – he now works just as hard as ever. These days however he works for love and not for a salary. Since his retirement to Stutterheim in 1992 he has restored an astonishing number of machines to a state of pristine beauty. He was instrumental in the establishment of the museum where his handiwork is on display.

One such machine is “Maud” named after one of the daughters of WH Allen of Bedford England. Decades ago Maud was taken to Molteno by ox-wagon where she lit up the town for many years. When Eskom electricity arrived, Maud was retired and, but for Ron’s efforts, would have been sold as scrap. Today she has pride of place in the museum, where her gleaming brass nameplate is seen by hundreds of visitors each year. Two other machines, named after her sisters, also did service in Molteno.

One diesel engine made by Blackstone in the UK was used to generate electricity for the Ugie orphanage, bringing light into the lives of deprived and abandoned youngsters. Tut Miles of Tylden near Queenstown bought and used it. When he sold his farm he passed it on to the museum.

By 1997 the museum had been built and 12 engines were mounted in display position. By 2002 the museum had 37 diesel, paraffin, petrol and hot-bulb engines, most of which were donated.

Ron says he has always had a keen interest in mechanical equipment. His work as an electrician took him into the bowels of ships for electrical repairs, but it was the huge motors in such vessels that fascinated him. His love for engines also found expression in old motorbikes. During his apprenticeship he bought his first bike which was given to him in pieces in a sack. That was the first of many. His love is for pre-1960 British bikes such as the 1932 BSA Sloper, the 1951 Sunbeam S8 and the 1959 BSA 650 twin in his collection.

Getting some of the old beauties to work is not easy. Some were built in the 19th century when internal combustion engine technology was in its infancy and the methods to make them run were innovative and curious. Many systems -- like the “hot-bulb” method that requires heating by an external source to achieve ignition – have passed into history. One of Ron’s assistants, Louis Mantile, uses a blowtorch to coax the ancient two stroke steam injection hot-bulb plant into life.  This he does quite regularly, getting results from an engine old enough to be his great grandfather. Built in 1905 by August Mietz of New York, the machine is still functioning efficiently over 100 years later. It pumped water out of the Swart Kei for much of its life to irrigate Border farmlands.

This museum is a tribute to the men who so lovingly and selflessly worked with care and dedication to restore these works of art to their former glory. One photograph of the museum exhibits is attached. However I have included many more in the article on the Museum in the Photo Gallery.

The museum is in Stutterheim, which is on the N6 70-km northwest of East London, which is at the intersection of the N6 with the N2.

Contct:         Andrew Mommsen
+27 (82) 855 9987 mobile

attached files: IMG_5772.JPG, IMG_5774.JPG

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Last update: 2014-02-23 20:01
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.8

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