Back in 1982 I prepared a number of articles for a specialist magazine Vaporising, the journal of the National Vintage Tractor & Engine Club of which I was the secretary of the Glamorgan & Gwent Group. The magazine had a national circulation of a couple of thousand published quarterly. I have recently rediscovered my scripts so have decided to reproduce them here. I have decided not to use the original illustrations, I always felt the ones selected were not the best I had submitted. I have taken the liberty of correcting some errors made at the original transcribing and removed some paragraphs which are not relevant for today’s readers. So, here is the first part of A Collection of Listers.
To most stationary engine collectors the name Lister conjures up an immediate vision of a small angular machine with a flywheel protruding from one end, and a starting handle on the other; the ubiquitous ‘D’ type inevitably to be found hidden away in most enthusiasts’ collections.
My first ‘D’ type, of 1938 vintage, was recovered from under many bales of straw and and lay upside down suffering from years of neglect and abuse. Mice had nested in the hopper and fuel tank, the crankshaft was bent, and all external parts rusted solid and either bent or broken. With much love and attention this engine satisfied my collector’s appetite and for two years travelled all around the southern part of England and Wales with me and enthusiastically exhibited at numerous steam rallies and vintage shows. This was just the beginning of what would in the following years become one of the best collections of vintage Lister engines in this country.
This photograph shows the restored Lister ‘D’ (centre stage) at a rally early in 1977 during the period when I lived in London. This photo also shows some of the youngsters with whom I worked one of which is polishing brass on another of my engines whilst the other supervises!
The firm of R A Lister & Co began on 23rd August 1867 with just two employees setting up initially as a general toolmaker with a small foundry. By 1872 the decision to concentrate on farm machinery had been taken and chaff cutters, grinding mills and cheese presses started to roll off the production lines. By 1908 it was realised that some form of motive power was needed to operate the machinery being produced, so the company of F C Southwell & Co of south London were approached to to supply the first stationary engines. These were soon made at the Dursley factory and were an American ‘Pilter” design made under license. 1909 saw the first ‘Lister’ stationary engine, this strongly resembled the Southwell engine with its fuel tank base and similar governing systems, but this was soon phased out in favour of the more familiar throttle slide governor and external fuel tank. Around 1912 the first paraffin burning engines were produced, these were the K type, M type, P type and Q type, which were variants of the J type, L type, N type and R type respectively. The only petrol type of the earlier engines which appears not to have a paraffin sister was the diminutive 1½/2hp H type.
The first ‘L’ type to appear in my collection was found on a farm at Trerhyngyll in the Vale of Glamorgan, this was located after a tip-off from a friend. Actually I knew the farm well, or thought I did, as for six years I worked at the children’s home sited next door and often took the youngsters around the farm. That was in my pre-engine days! The engine was in poor condition externally and almost solid with old grease and oil. It was originally installed during the 1st World war and worked regularly, driving an Albion corn grinding mill, until about 1945.
When the engine was installed the original exhaust pipe was removed as an extension pipe was to be fitted though the wall to convey fumes outside the building. The original pipe bend was thrown into a corner of the shed and, in 1979 when the engine was removed, was uncovered from underneath a pile of muck and dirt.
To remove the engine we had two options open to us; firstly to take the engine through the window of the shed, the only access readily available, or secondly to shovel a few cwt of manure and miscellaneous lunge from the barn next door to clear a path – we chose the latter.
Restoration was undertaken over the next few months and the engine was running again, after 34 years, on 28th April 1980. The only parts requiring replacement were tow hoses, HT lead and a silencer. Axles and wheels were added to the original timbers for ease of transportation. Some small repairs were necessary to the bottom of the water tank and the fuel tank.On its first trip to a rally the engine gained second place in the stationary engine section for which an engraved tankard was presented.
The ‘L’ type following the fuel tank base model had a semi-open sided crankcase. This had a brass or steel mesh to prevent dirt entering. Around 1919/21 experiments were being undertaken with compression ignition engines using the crankcase of the ‘L’ type. This was not strong enough for the extra stresses imposed upon it so a modified crank case started to appear around 1921 and was used on the ‘L’ type from that date. Incidentally, the same crank case is still used on the Lister 5/1 series which is produced mainly for export.
The same period also saw the changeover from a “flick” magneto to chain-driven rotary magneto. During this time the one piece cylinder head was being replaced in favour of the removable “split” cylinder head type. The ‘L’ type with the modified crank case was thereafter designated type ‘2L’ (to be continued)
The first ‘2L’ to join my collection was first spotted in 1975 in my early engine days. At the time the farmer wanted £20 for the engine which had stood outside for 40 years and was in very poor condition. I felt his asking proce was high and on subsequent visits went even higher. I abandoned the idea for a few years and on acquisition of my ‘L’ type in 1979 went the three-quarters of a mile to see if I could purchase the ‘2L’. To my surprise the answer was yes and I was also steered in the direction of a 5hp tank-cooled Petter ‘M’ engine on a nearby farm.
However, both engines were eventually found to be surplus to my collection so both were passed on; the Petter to Oxfordshire and the ‘2L’ to a friend and engine collector in my own area.
The summer of 1980 saw the first unusual Lister to come and live with my collection, a type ‘2L’ No 32398 5hp fitted with a spherical cooling hopper. The engine was on a colliery farm near Pontypridd and until around 1959 had been driving a corn mill used for preparing pit-pony feed. We had to remove the engine from an upstairs barn but the kind help of the farmer and his tractor fitted with a hydraulic bucket saved the day.
The spherical hopper was designed for the Canadian export market, presumably to compete with the American built ‘Monitor’ stationary engine which had a similar ‘football’ shaped hopper. A few of these found their way onto the British market where short running periods did not necessitate the use of the normal cooling tank. About five examples are know to exist in this country, three of them within 100 miles of the Dursley factory.
There are another two sequels to this story which I may retype one day and post here!