Up until the time when Ralph took a break from cars and built a cruising yacht, workshop facilities consisted of a modest shed, about the size of a normal two-car garage, situated behind the family home in Mount Albert. Present facilities consist of a single garage arranged as a workshop, with a car garage occupied by his daily transport, alongside.

Ralph was heard to say that those who have luxurious facilities are inclined to spend too much time in their upkeep, while accomplishing very little in the way of actual work. It is always evident that the important aspects of his work-place are kept clean and in logical order, particularly work in progress. The job in hand being the essence of the exercise.

The average mechanic will often point with pride to a large steel cabinet, containing an endless assortment of hand tools, no doubt sold him on credit, by a representative of an automotive warehouse. Not so Ralph. His workshop contains only a minimum of spanners and other like tools. If access to a particular nut or bolt proves difficult, he makes a special tool to suit. This attitude could be construed as frugal, but think again as one should understand the satisfaction involved.

As a side issue to this, Ralph always takes into account when designing a project, accessibility in terms of serviceability. This for sure is partly due to his ongoing respect for the other person, as well as an appreciation of what is perfect in respect of design criteria.

Ralph draws most of his projects and even if not a qualified draughtsman, he is highly skilled in both making calculations and laying out a design on paper. Typically this is done with the minimum of drawing equipment. It is a indication of his practical outlook, that he was quick to take advantage of a scientific digital calculator, immediately these became available.

All the quite remarkable projects which have come forth from the Watson workshop, owe their existence to one solitary machine tool, his special lathe. Those reading this will well understand the term “special” in respect of an automobile. In like terms, here we have a very special lathe.

The lathe was purchased on a limited budget, very early in proceedings and has been progressively developed to perform various tasks, quite beyond the capacity of the original. This has meant that the machine has become more and more irreplaceable as time has passed. However there is little doubt that sentiment also prevents it ever being turned out into the cold. Always resting on the lathe bed, is an eight-inch Crescent spanner granted similar status. A trophy no less, awarded late 1956 for winning a standing quarter mile sprint event, driving a product of the workshop, his famous Lycoming Special. ( Refer here.)

Forming the cooling fins on a rotary engine cylinder barrel.


Pedestal grinder : - Built and installed to be driven by the electric motor powering the lathe.

Flexible-drive, tool maker's grinder.

Gas-welding plant.

Electric welder, single phase, 100 amps.

Engineer's Lathe : - Make unknown, but of approximately 1938 vintage.

Swing over bed, 6 inches. Maximum between centres, 36 inches. Maximum face plate diameter, 18 inches.

Lathe accessories : - 3 chucks, 2 face plates, together with items specially made i.e., Face plate, Dividing head, vertical slide, tool post grinder and milling attachments. The latter driven from a belt drive assembly, which incorporates a ball-bearing sliding drive running along an overhead shaft.

Machining the crankcase for the BSA rotary valve engine.

The motor on the right drives the lathe by means of the overhead shaft. Note the sliding pulley driving the milling attachment via a second pulley assembly.

Boring the holes in the rotary engine crankcase to take the cylinders using a fly cutter and with the crankcase mounted on a face plate so that it can be rotated.

Machining the exhaust port in a cylinder for the rotary engine.

Cutting one of the ports in a rotary engine cylinder.

Finishing a cylinder bore for the rotary engine.

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