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'Marine Engines' Article

Below is the text of an article written and published in 'Marine Engines' magazine 'Spring 1996' edition.

Overhauling a Ruston & Hornsby 2YC Stationary Diesel Engine for use in a 60ft narrow boat

 By Michael Clarke of Horrues, Belgium

(Click on thumbnails to view a larger and higher resolution image.)

Currently I am between boats having sold my last narrow boat two years ago. Ever since, I have dreamt of building my ideal boat, sixty feet long, boatman’s cabin, traditional engine room, all based on the style of early working narrow boats.

Choosing the engine

One of the main problems had been the choice of engine. My requirement for a vintage water-cooled two or three cylinder diesel engine of about two and half litres capacity was not easy to fulfil. I thought my search was over when Gardner re-introduced the 2LW, but it was perfection at a price. Then I spotted an advert for a Ruston & Hornsby 2YC in need of TLC and refurbishment for a very reasonable price. A quick telephone call gave further information and a deal was struck, without the engine having been seen.

The previous owner had intended to use it in his own narrow boat but had been seduced by a much larger, older and more exotic engine, a Baudouin DB2, which was the subject of a request for further information in the February 95 issue of 'Stationary Engine' magazine.

Work undertaken so far to convert engine for marine use; raised fabricated mounting feet, high level oil sump pump and an adjustable tension fixed length V belt for water pump to replace original laminated 'Whittle' or 'Brammer' belt. Lack of a flywheel housing is preventing further progress.

The Ruston YC range of engines was designed as a heavy-duty, all-purpose power unit available in 2, 3, 4 and 6 cylinder versions for stationary, portable, mobile and marine applications. My acquisition (2YC, serial number 431533) was the industrial version with a front mounted cooling radiator, sold on 4th May 1959 to K & L Steelfounders Ltd., Cranemakers. It had the ideal characteristics for narrow boat use, slow revving, two cylinders, 2463cc, 24hp at 1500rpm and an extremely heavy flywheel. A marine version might have been better, but the industrial unit can be converted for inland waterway use.

On returning home with the engine, I made a further quick examination. The cylinder head had already been removed and the bores and pistons looked in reasonable condition with no signs of wear at all on the cylinder liners, the exhaust valves looked new and the head contained very little carbon build-up. The engine had obviously been stored exposed to the elements for some time as something had nested inside the header tank of the radiator and many external parts were badly corroded. One injector was complete, but the other was badly damaged.

Contact with Ray Hooley (Helpline for Ruston & Hornsby) was most rewarding, and instruction and parts manuals were obtained. Whilst waiting for the post to deliver, the engine was completely stripped, perhaps not a wise move but I was impatient to proceed.

The massive flywheel (approximately 400lbs) took four hours to remove using a home made puller designed to fit. Gentle tightening and hitting the centre bolt with a club hammer many times finally produced results and the flywheel slipped off the taper. In my enthusiasm, I quickly rushed into the house and said to my wife, "I’ve managed to remove the flywheel". Her reply summed it all up I expect for many of us, "So!". Later when relating this to Ray Hooley, he replied, "Wait until you start the engine for the first time and see what reaction you get then!".


The results of stripping the engine revealed many things:

1) the engine had been completely overhauled prior to being exposed for a considerable period of time to the elements;

2) one injector was beyond repair, the other was badly corroded but might be salvaged using parts from both;

3) the starter motor was badly corroded and unrecognisable internally, having been full of water;

4) both cylinder liners although new needed replacing due to pitting from water lying in the bores, having entered via the exposed inlet manifold;

5) the piston rings were corroded solidly into the pistons;

6) after the engine had been overhauled, it had only been run for a few minutes and had fired on one cylinder, not both, due to one of the fuel pumps being incorrectly adjusted;

7) the engine had been badly reassembled, i.e. a missing split pin on an important component, imperial nuts on metric studs, lock tabs not locked, dowels missing, blanking bolts misplaced and a washer sandwiched in with a gasket.

Sourcing the parts

A long list of parts was made and the task of finding sources and prices started. As this was my first experience of working on an old engine and not knowing the availability of parts, I was reluctant to commit any purchase until all items were sourced. First stop, Ruston & Hornsby, now a part of Dorman Diesels owned by Perkins Engines. They were very helpful and, to my surprise, most parts were available, but at a price, except for the injectors. Many phone calls were made in search of injectors, several people said they knew where they could get their hands on some, and would ring back. Needless to say, they didn’t.

At this point, a friend came to the rescue. From the original injectors, he managed to salvage one completely using the best parts from both units and re-calibrated it. The other was reassembled as a semi-working unit but with a damaged nozzle and no in-line filter. He then started the task of making new units from parts from many different injectors. Within two months, I had in my hands, two new injectors, with an almost identical outline, correct spray pattern and release pressure to the Ruston injectors. Now, I was in position to obtain all parts to start the rebuild but I needed to reduce the cost.

Injectors, original Ruston part on the left, new version right, made from many different injectors found in the scrap bin.

New injectors fitted to engine.

At this point, I should mention that I live in Belgium and therefore it is not easy to work at a distance from your sources of supply, but I had two pieces of luck. Firstly, on visiting a local engine rebuilding company to have some machining work undertaken on the cylinder head, I showed them one of the cylinder liners to see if it could be used or reclaimed. They answered "no" to both but suggested that new liners might still be available from Hepolite. They rang a stockist in Belgium but no parts were available.

The next day I rang Hepolite in the UK who confirmed that they had ceased manufacture of Ruston YC liners ten years ago, but unprompted, they said, "I wonder to whom we sold our old stock to, just a minute while I check." A few moments later, they gave me a phone number along with the part number for the liner. I immediately rang and found that three liners were still in stock at a price of £34 each, about £215 each cheaper than quoted by Ruston & Hornsby. Needless to say, three liners were soon dispatched to me.

The second piece of luck occurred when on the telephone trying to locate parts and somebody said, "Have you tried looking in Stationary Engine?" I soon took out a subscription and was amazed to find what was available in the adverts. My only regret is that I did not know about this excellent magazine before commencement of the project, life would have been a lot easier.

Sorting the starter

Most of my problems were now solved and parts were ordered at a price found reasonable by my wife to allow a beginning. While waiting for delivery, the one remaining problem, the starter motor was tackled. It had no markings on it at all, but I thought it most probably a Lucas/CAV 24 volt unit. At rear end of the unit there was a steel cover enclosing the commutator/brushes and relay assembly. This had been full of water for many years and the inside of the starter motor was in a terrible state, barely recognisable.

I had been quoted a cost in excess of £1000 to refurbish the unit (an unreasonable price!) and so decided that nothing ventured, nothing gained, i.e., if I couldn’t salvage the unit, then I would have to adapt a modern equivalent unit to fit. So with not too much hope of success, the unit was slowly stripped.

With patience, every piece finally came apart. The relay assembly was carefully cleaned and eventually made to work. Measurements made on the coil confirmed that the starter motor was in fact a 24 volt unit (normally only fitted on six cylinder versions of the YC range). A careful study was made of all the parts and it appeared that if replacement brushes and brush springs could be obtained then I might have a reasonable chance of rebuilding a sound unit.

Starter motor, is it a Bosch or CAV/Lucas unit? Note - output terminals were changed during rebuild.

A visit to the local car accessory shop (in Belgium) with the remains of the brushes and springs resulted in the following tale. I placed the parts on the table in front of the proprietor and he said something in Flemish. Realising that I did not understand, he repeated it in French and then finally in English, "These parts are old, I haven’t seen these items for many years." I thought, this sounds bad news and/or expensive! He then continued, "Sorry, but I don’t have these parts in stock, but if you return after 3 o’clock this afternoon, I should have them by then." In fact, it took three days, but it was a surprise to me that they were of Bosch manufacture. Since then, one local Bosch agent who examined the starter motor has confirmed it as being Bosch, and a Lucas agent in the UK, as being Lucas. I believe it to be of Lucas manufacture because I saw an identical unit with Lucas markings, on an engine in Corfu! This is one mystery still to solve.

The engine waltz!

After arrival of all parts from the UK, the engine was quickly rebuilt without problem. The valve clearances were roughly set and the fuel system was primed and bled of air prior to adjusting both pumps for injection timing. At this point, I thought that it would be a good idea to make sure the oil was circulating and oil pressure could be obtained before rotating the engine to many times whilst making all the necessary adjustments and checks.

+/- 400lb flywheel. Two thoughtfully placed threaded holes on the flywheel periphery for fitting an eye bolt to attach to lifting gear.

Left side view as a stationary engine. Notice the trolley upon which the engine was first run by mistake.

I set the decompression lever and applied power to the starter motor. Within three or four revolutions of the flywheel, oil pressure was obtained and suddenly, unbeknownst to me the decompression lever released and the engine burst into life. I was bending down with my ear next to the exhaust ports when it started and not only was I shocked, deaf and covered with soot, but had to react quickly to find the stop lever as the engine rocked and waltzed across the barn on top of a wheeled trolley dragging the starter batteries with it. How it didn’t fall over in the several feet it travelled, I will never know.

Setting it up

Calibration and adjustments of the fuel pumps were not difficult but messy and tiresome as it had to be repeated a number of times before I got it right. I was surprised how sensitive the adjustments were, but once right, the engine runs reasonably clean and even. The method described in the instruction manual of removing the manifold and feeling the exhaust temperature from each port with your hand and then adjusting each fuel pump rack position had me chuckling with amusement at first, but I found it surprisingly accurate. A difference can be felt with just one quarter of a turn on the rack screw. I had experimented with several other methods of making the adjustments but found I could not better what was recommended in the manual.

Close-up view of manufacture's engine plate.

Right side view as a stationary engine.

The engine has now been fully assembled back into its stationary engine role but I have made no attempt to paint it at this stage for two reasons. Firstly, I need to partially strip the engine to convert it for marine use with as much polished brass and copper showing as is the custom on traditional narrow boat engines.

The conversion will involve quite a number of changes and additions such as engine and gearbox oil coolers, a flywheel housing/gearbox adapter, alternator mounting, different mounting feet and engine mounted instrumentation and water header tank.

Secondly, the official colour for Ruston YC series engines is a deep bronze green that is very similar to the green used on most narrow boat installations, but, unfortunately, it is not a colour that I favour. My preference is for a deep blue but I am afraid I might upset the "purist", so I am waiting till the last moment before finally making up my mind.

It has been very interesting and satisfying working on this project. All my previous experience has been on relatively modern petrol engines, tuned to the limit for rallying. To work on an engine that can be completely stripped down to the very last nut and bolt with nothing designed on the ‘throw away’ principle has been a welcome change. For example, it was a novel experience to find that the fuel and oil filters were designed to be cleaned and reused. I was surprised at the relative ease that spare parts could be obtained and really enjoyed the detective work required to find them and other necessary information.

I am now at the stage where my wife thinks that now the engine is up and running, that’s the end and therefore I have stopped getting "how much more are you going to spend on this engine?" But then, I haven’t mentioned the price of a marine gearbox or instrumentation, etc. necessary for the conversion. Hum, think I should do some work on the house first!

Page last updated 12 January 2002

© Michael Clarke - 2009