John Langford's Associations
with Paxman Diesel Engines


In early November 2005, John Langford sent me the following account of a succession of encounters with Paxman engines during his early career in the 1950s. Whilst an apprentice with Ransomes Sims & Jefferies of Ipswich, he was employed for a time building and testing Paxman YHA engines for the Admiralty. These were Paxman's first direct injection 7" bore engines which were built by Ruston & Hornsby at Lincoln as well as by Paxman and Ransomes. At the end of his apprenticeship John was called up for National Service which he spent with the Royal Navy. Here he found himself on a Tank Landing Craft looking after Paxman 12TP engines, of which over 3,500 were built during World War 2. After National Service John joined BP Exploration where he worked on Paxman RPH Series 1 and Series 2 engines powering oil well drilling rigs, both on and off-shore. More about this important sphere of Paxman's activities during the 1950s can be found on the oilfield engines page, including a description of the ADMA Enterprise on which John spent time. Lastly, as if all this experience of Paxman engines was not enough, John joined Paxman as one of its Service Engineers.

The story below gives a very human and interesting insight into the life and work of a service engineer in the 1950s. Its authenticity will be recognised immediately by those who have themselves worked on large diesels. For others, here is a chance to get a good flavour of what life was really like looking after such engines at that time. Thanks for your contribution, John!

John Langford's Paxman Diesel Story

Apprenticeship with Ransomes Sims & Jefferies - Paxman YHAs

I served my apprenticeship with Ransomes Sims & Jefferies (RS&J) from 1950 to 1955. In 1953 I applied to work in the new purpose built factory called "C" Department, located at the Ransomes Nacton site. This building was designed specifically to enable Paxman YHA engines to be built by Ransomes for the Admiralty. The factory contained the facilities to machine the aluminium crankcases, cylinder heads and various components of these engines. From these and imported components such as crankshafts and valves, the engines were built and finally tested on one of three Heenan and Froude dynamometer test beds, all under Admiralty inspections at each stage.

I was fortunate enough to work on each of these stages following through to the most exciting, the testing and final acceptance by the Admiralty.

"C" Department was under the management of R (Dick) Staddon, an ex Naval Officer, who was very forward thinking and a very well-liked Manager. The foreman, Bob Cunnell, was equally pleasant. I think that Geoffrey Bone was, or was at a later date, a director of RS&J (Geoffrey Bone was Managing Director of Paxman until 1964. He subsequently became Ransomes Managing Director and then its Chairman - RC note). It certainly was the best place to work within the Ransomes conglomerate.

One amusing incident occurred in the test shop on final acceptance trials during which my job was to operate the loading and unloading of the dynamometer. The 12YHA had completed its 24 hour full load test and was now running for one hour on 10% overload. On that occasion we had the usual Admiralty inspector, a very senior naval officer, accompanied by several staff officers and the usual entourage of RS&J and Paxman directors to watch this exercise. The order was given to remove the load as rapidly as possible to prove that the governor was operating correctly and the engine did not over speed outside the prescribed limits. The dynamometer was operable from either side by a wheel on a long rod and was not marked "On" or "Off". On this occasion I spun the wheel in the wrong direction and the load increased rapidly. The engine started to groan as the load increased. Fortunately the error was quickly reversed and the situation ended well with a few red faces and proof that the engine was capable of producing full load and 50% overload, albeit only for a few minutes. The next day arrows were painted on the wheel of the dynamometer showing the direction of "On" and "Off".

After each test run the Admiralty inspector needed to examine the blade and fork con rod bearing for lubricant delivery and I think we held the record for having all 12 bearings out and on the bench in under 2.5 hours from shutdown, ready for inspection.

The injectors were all manufactured by Ruston & Hornsby, fuel pump by CAV and turbochargers I think came from Napiers. The final 15 minute run was to inhibit the fuel system by replacing the regular diesel fuel with Shell Fusus oil.

National Service with the Royal Navy - Paxman 12TPs

After completing my apprenticeship in 1955 I was called up for National Service and fortunately I had taken steps to ensure this was in the Royal Navy. After basic training and an engineering course I went by troopship to join HMS Bastion in Malta as a junior Engine Room Artificer. This ship was LCT 4040, build for the D Day invasion in 1944. On arrival I found the main propulsion was by four Paxman 12 TP engines driving two propeller shafts. Her sister ship was HMS Redoubt, LCT 4004, and together with LSTs HMS Striker and HMS Reggio made up the Amphibious Warfare Squadron.

In October 1956 we loaded up the ships and set off with many other ships, including HMS Suvla and more LSTs, for a secret destination which turned out to be Suez. We crawled along at some 5 or 6 knots whilst the Daring Class destroyers ran circles around us, but we arrived in one piece and landed our troops and vehicles.

Six weeks or so later we embarked our troops and waddled our way back to Malta. The engines ran perfectly both ways.

On return to Malta I decided that it was a good time to check out the injectors to see that their firing pressures were OK, so out with the twelve injectors and I start to check them out. Down comes the Chief ERA and delivers the biggest roasting I had received up to that moment. In fact I had disabled an engine and the ship could not move in an emergency as I had not told anyone what I was doing or asked permission. Later he did give me a little praise for using my initiative.

Working for BP Exploration - Paxman RPH Oilfield Engines

Returning to England I joined BP Exploration Company and my first posting was to Sicily where BP had two drilling rigs being erected, one powered by RPH 1s and the second new rig by RPH 2s all in the usual format, four on the draw works and one on the mud pump. All these engines were skid mounted, radiator cooled with air starter motors and power was delivered through Vulcan Sinclair fluid couplings. We had a Scammell Constructor flat bed winch truck, the front wheels of which the driver frequently had 10 feet off the ground while manoeuvring the draw works or engine pack onto the truck bed or into their position on the rig. No other craneage was available. The Paxmans ran perfectly all the time, running on very arduous cycles from idle to overload 24 hours per day for months at a time, except for routine maintenance.

After drilling two "dry" holes we dismantled the rigs and despatched them to Malta where the newer rig was erected at Naxxar some 6 miles from the coast. The old rig was not erected but the engines were put to work on other duties. A shortage of fresh water on the island meant that we had to use seawater. One engine driving a mud pump sucked the water from the sea and pumped it into a storage tank just above sea level. The other drew the water from the tank and pumped it uphill to the drilling site at Naxxar. I think the rigs were moved to Libya at a later date.

Next stop was a remote site near Ziguinchor on the river Casamance in Senegal, West Africa, a half day drive from anywhere. BP had a joint venture with the French company CPFS. All the ground facilities, accommodation etc, were supplied by the French with BP supplying the drilling rig. There was strong rivalry between the two nations and when the French Berliot generators failed we had a field day. On the positive side we all learned to appreciate French food.

On this drilling rig we had the old RPH 1s in the standard format but the big problem was spares. For example the water cooled exhaust manifolds had corroded and leaked water into the cylinder(s) through the exhaust valves when the engine was stopped for service. One learned to improvise to keep the drilling rig operating. To restart the engine one had to bar the engine over slowly by hand, allowing the water to pass the piston rings into the sump and quickly use the air motor to start up. As you can imagine this was accompanied by clouds of white smoke and the water in the sump soon evaporated. We did attempt to repair these manifolds but they were too complicated. The engines performed well overall, provided one left a water supply hose topping up the radiator at all times! Apart from keeping an eye on the filters, all performed well. Six months was quite a long time to spend in this isolation.

After some leave I was then posted to Das Island, an island off Abu Dhabi in the Arabian Gulf, and worked on the ADMA Enterprise, a drilling barge. This was a new operation and the power to the draw works and mud pumps was the usual, utilising Paxman RPH 2s. The only difference was the absence of the skids and the radiators as the engines were sea water cooled through heat exchangers. In addition we had two RPH 2s powering two generators for the electrical supply, again sea water cooled. Our biggest problem was keeping the engines cool as it was very hot in the summer months, the sea water temperature was high and the heat exchanger tubes became clogged with sea water deposits at least each month. We had no acid treatment so we had to resort to drilling out the deposits with a normal high speed drill brazed on to a steel extension rod. This worked fairly well; very repetitive tedious work and I remember on one occasion I managed to snag my overalls under the arm on the drill and this ripped out all the hair from under my arm. Quite painful in that hot and humid climate!

Life as a Paxman Service Engineer

After BP I joined Paxman as a Service Engineer and thinking I would be based in Colchester for a few weeks to be updated on the products, we rented a property in West Mersea. On the afternoon of the day I reported for work I found myself on a train bound for Newcastle. Don Macintyre, the Service Manager, had told me "You know enough about our engines so you can oversee the installation of engines on HMS Lion". Hence I found myself on the train en route to Wallsend Slipway. It was winter and bitterly cold and the room I had in a guest house had a gas meter which used to eat shilling coins.

Of interest in this job was the fact that HMS Lion was afloat and the dockyard people heeled the ship excessively to port, ran all the engines and equipment for 24 hours, and then righted the ship. They then had to remove the con rod bearings to prove the oil was getting to where it should and the engine had not overheated. I was not allowed to pick up a spanner as this was the time of great union power and they thought I would be taking someone's job. This operation, which took three dockyard people ten days, was repeated to starboard and then for'ard and aft each time removing pistons to inspect the bearings …

Needless to say I soon moved on and several years later in Dubai I came across LCT 4040 hauling rock from Ras al Khaimer to Abu Dhabi before the ports were built. This was my last connection with Paxman.

Looking Back

In retrospect I do not think we appreciated the technology that went into many of our diesels in the fifties, Paxmans with their aluminium engines and of course the Napier Deltics. In the oil industry the Americans dominated but I think that the Paxman oilfield package was superior to the Caterpillar, GM's Detroit Diesel and EMD, Cummins, and Waukesha engines of that era.

John Langford
November 2005

© John Langford and Richard Carr 2005

Page updated: 06 NOV 2005