KENNETH WELLS ENGINES

A site for all interested in researching, building or restoring Kenneth Wells-designed toy steam engines


In 1972, Kenneth George (Ken) Wells (19/10/28 - 24/6/08), the Master in charge of Metalwork at Manor Court School in Portsmouth - now renamed Springfield - authored a series of three books entitled 'Step by Step Metalwork' designed for use in schools and published by Evans Brothers Limited of London W.C.1. The third book contained two most interesting projects, namely the construction of working models of a stationary steam engine and a traction engine. The latter was obviously inspired by the Mamod TE1, which as it happens was voted Boy's Toy of the Year that very year, perhaps the most obvious difference being the omission of a scuttle on the Wells design. The stationary had distinct marine overtones, though to be truly such a unit its vertical engine would have been mounted  facing in the opposite direction.  Despite this reversal, Wells suggested in his notes that it could be used to power a model boat by engaging the protruding crankpin of the flywheel with the propeller shaft!



My own fascination with these "school engines" was sparked by an unidentified TE appearing in Ebay listings, which was clearly not a Mamod but not a million miles removed from the Malins classic. Some research showed it to be a Wells, and revealed how these intriguing little engines came into existence. When some time later another one in desperate need of some TLC was spotted, its charms were not to be resisted, and for the princely sum of £45 + postage it promptly winged its way from Wisbech to Wales, where some three months later it emerged resplendent from the shops having undergone a complete restoration! 


'Step by Step Metalwork 3' is now a rather rare and much sought after classic of its kind, and known to command very high prices when the occasional copy comes up for grabs. So when an excellent copy  was sourced on Amazon for just £19, it speedily joined the TE which had been built by its instructions! With appetite thus whetted, when a Wells stationary then came up for sale, mine was the winning bid. This has now been lovingly brought up to scratch, and mounted on a polished oak plinth. The collection has been supplemented with the acquisition of not only a second Wells stationary but a second and third Wells TE, this last complete with the Wells design of canopy on twisted columns! These three other engines either await or are in the process of full restoration. All five are featured in the Photo Gallery on this site, with some notes on each one.


UP-DATE 6/7/17: a fourth Wells TE arrived today to enter the collection! These engines are just SO irresistible - to me anyway! This has a very neat smokebox/chimney unit, which is not the usual amateur casting but looks like a quality factory-made item; the wheels too slightly differ from the standard Wells pattern, and also look like professionally made items, not cast but milled from the solid. Where these parts hail from is a complete mystery, but they were obviously designed expressly for the Wells TE, presumably to allow a model to be built without the need for self-cast components. (If anyone has any information on a company supplying these items to schools, I'd be delighted to hear from you!) It is as a whole a well-made machine, which should really look very nice indeed when restored! Pictured below and in the Photo Gallery.

UP-DATE 21/7/17: A very special and quite unique Kenneth Wells variant arrived today, purchased from a fellow member of the Unofficial Mamod & Other Steam Forum, who as part of the deal made a new SV for it which is a lovely piece of craftsmanship. Successfully steam-tested before dispatch, this delightful addition to the collection is an overtype steam wagon, the body being closely styled upon the classic Mamod SW1 but with "the business end of things" being unmistakably Wells. The wording 'Slough Grammar' is cast on the front of the smokebox, and the quality of the build is such that it is surely the product of the metalwork teacher there rather than one of the students. It even boasts a reversing lever, something I've never seen before on a Wells. Absent its rear wheels, first job upon receipt was to transplant a pair harvested from a scrapped 1970s SW1 which fitted perfectly; a spacer and a couple of washers were then installed between the front axle and the perch bracket beneath the smokebox, to bring the body into level. (Just as I had to do on the TE featured above). I now very much look forward to giving this lovely but neglected model the TLC it deserves, and getting it all into pristine condition! More pics in the Photo Gallery.

UP-DATE 18/8/17: As referred to in the opening paragraph above, the Wells SE was in essence a marine unit with a reversed engine. I've now acquired a Wells variant which "corrects" this positioning, making it a true marine steam plant. Its engine frame, of the Wells bent steel type, is appropriately angled for a propshaft to be attached to the crankshaft. Boiler and safety valve are of KW design, but with a neat water overflow plug added. The firebox is non-standard, having angled sides with rectangular air holes where they meet the similarly freestyle base; round holes in the long sides of the base allow a through flow of air. Lips at the top of the firebox sides will however need to be removed or adjusted to improve air flow, and a new burner will need to be sourced. It now takes its place in the restoration queue...

Contacts from former students of Mr. Wells:

From Geoff Seymour:

Hi, I was a student at Manor Court School and a member of Mr.Wells metal work classes. Just a few notes you may be interested in, the stationary engine was made first, then parts for the traction engine made. If time permitted the two were combined for marking for CSE exams. Due to the numbers in class, there was never enough time for the turning on the lathes for wheels etc, before end of class. All boilers were water pressure tested by a simple rig that Ken had built. Always interested to see the ends of the boiler bulge a little under the pressure. At the end of class students kept their project in an OXO tin, Kens store room had shelves of them. I never got to see the finished books, but maybe a M.Coates and my self are mentioned as we helped Ken with the photos and our fingers may well be in the pics. Many engines were never finished and I suspect that Ken binned what could not be salvaged or melted the alloy chimney, wheels for the next year's classes. Thank you, good to reminisce.

From David Berlanny:

Hi, I have just found your website after first finding the youtube videos. I was looking for the book but it seems to be very rare. Kenneth Wells was my metalwork teacher at Springfield school and we made the static engine with a cast frame. If you like I can send you a picture of mine and my fathers (he did an evening class!). Shame Mr Wells has passed away i owe a lot to him for nurturing my interest in engineering. Best regards David

From Rick Goddard:

Another former Manor Court pupil here. I've been looking for his books for years. Left Manor Court after the 3rd year ('74) as I ended up with my dad in Cornwall so never got to make the steam engines. Ken must have some influence on me as I ended up with 3 SouthBend lathes, including a monster from 1937. I still have the doorstop he had us make, as well as the tin tray with wired edges. I'd forgotten all about those hundreds of Oxo tins. Now I'm going to have to find one. Currently live in Los Angeles restoring & maintaining WWII aircraft.
Looking at Ken's books has bought back a couple more memories. I think my parents in the UK have the folding stool & the fish shaped fruit bowl contraption. I saw you mention the amateur looking wheels on the Wells TE. That's probably because they were made in the class. Our first casting project was a 1in wide, 6-8in long name plate that was about 3/8thick including the 1/8th in high letters. Now I'm wondering what happened to mine. We also made a round ashtray, I guess they don't include that project these days. I think I also made the boat, trying to recall other projects. I also still have the wooden sledge that was constructed next door in Manor Court woodwork class Rick.
 

The book that started the Kenneth Wells toy steam engine phenomenon:

Kenneth Wells and the other two books in the series:


CLICK HERE FOR THE CONSTRUCTION / RESTORATION RESOURCES PAGE


CLICK HERE FOR 20+ EMBEDDED VIDEOS,  AND 20+ FORUM THREAD LINKS AND TIPS TO BE FOUND ON THIS SITE


CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES AND DETAILS OF MY OWN KENNETH WELLS COLLECTION


CLICK HERE FOR THE KENNETH WELLS PAGE ON THE 'TOY STEAM BIBLE' SITE


CLICK HERE FOR THE WELLS PAGE ON ROLY WILLIAMS' SITE. THIS HAS LINKS TO HIS PAGES ON THE STATIONARY ENGINE WITH A CAST FRAME, THE STATIONARY ENGINE WITH A BENT STEEL FRAME, AND THE TRACTION ENGINE, AS RESTORED AND FEATURED IN HIS STEAM COLLECTION.


Get in touch, using the CONTACT FORM I'd be delighted to hear from you!

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