I don’t know which runs quieter, the 1910 stationary engine or Ronnie O’Brien with his humble manner as he talks to us about cars, tractors and all types of machinery this week.
You could be forgiven for thinking that you had just landed in the set for the 1960’s television series ‘Heartbeat’ with all the vintage and classic motorcars, tractors abs stationary engines.
Out along the roadside a red MGB GT and behind that a vintage Morris Ten, six-cylinder in the richest of deep blue.
By Brian McDaid
His home competes with space for his ever-growing collection of beautiful examples of motoring and agriculture history of all kinds.
This week out motor column takes to the home of one of the founder members of Donegal Vintage club, Ronnie O’Brien, Kilmacrennan.
Around the late 1970s or early ’80s the late Sammy Cowan and Willie Borland, along with Willie McCauley and Ronnie, formed the vintage club locally in Co. Donegal.
Ronnie recalls that one of the first vintage show the club had was part of the Old Bonagee Show before the Drumbarnett Show became an annual feature.
Made to measure
In his workshop, which once was a precision engineering hive of activity, now sits still even though the old machining equipment is still in place, but demand for that type of work has faded away.
The old Model Bakery, Milford Bakery and Flour Mills and even Courtalls, later to become Unifi, all called on the expertise of Ronnie O’Brien when a machine part failed and a replacement part could not be bought off the shelf Ronnie would be the “go-to man” to make a new part from scratch, to get the wheels of industry moving again.
Giving the experience and skill that Ronnie had gathered over the years and the greatest love for the original machinery that once graced or roads or farmed the land there is no place better for vintage machinery to get that VIP treatment.
Ronnie started his career as a motor mechanic with McMahons Bros in Milford.
Most of his time there wasn’t spend in the garage but out on the road where they went out to the farms to service the old Standard Ferguson tractors that Mc Mahons were the agents for and then Massey Ferguson which were new when Ronnie was a young mechanic.
The servicing was very straight forward for tractors that farmers that looked after their machinery, an oil change for both the engine and the rear end, which in those days used the very same oil type and an oil filter were all that the tractors of yesteryear required to keep them working perfectly.
Ronnie moved from a mechanic to the engineering when he went to work in Belfast before immigrating to England before returning home to Kilmacrennan and setting up his engineering business.
In those years there was a good business to be made servicing the needs of all the industry that was around locally.
Letterkenny had three bakeries baking loaves locally for Letterkenny early every morning.
If machinery failed it had to be repaired right away and with some of the older machinery that parts could no longer be sourced for had to be made from scratch. Ronnie could get a call at any time of the day or night to make parts to get the plant up and running again.
Today things are a lot different the biggest half of the daily sliced bread that goes on the breakfast tables is transported into the county on 40ft trailers from faraway bakeries.
Nowadays the heavy engineering machinery is silent as plant machinery has become more throw away than serviceable.
National Gas Engine Co. Ltd
This engine landed in boxes of pieces in poorer shape than it left Aston under Lyne back over a century ago in 1910 when it was new it was the latest in producing electricity for lighting, maybe for a big stately home.
Bickerton and Bradley were the company that made this beautiful stationary engine weighing in at a tonne.
Ronnie to the rescue is putting life back into this piece of history through a beautiful restoration project which included making a bespoke trailer to transport the engine to shows.
This old engine sounds even human when running at just 300 revolutions per minute, (RPM) or 5 revolutions per second!!
Drawing this station engine to shows Ronnie has a very original Series ll short- wheelbase 2,250 cc petrol powered Land Rover in its 60th year. Complete with overdrive.
Ronnie still has the first vintage tractor that he reconditioned, an American Farmall sitting proudly in the corner of the workshop in its original red.
He also has the cub version of the tractor sitting down the floor from it, which different projects for different people sitting like a catalogue of the history of car, tractor or stationary engine.
Even with his workshop a lot quieter these days, it’s not hard to be drawn into the great account of motoring in Donegal by road or through the fields.
Happy Motoring folks