The Story of Mary.

By Ian, Founder of the Canadian Museum of Making.

I’m not one to believe in things like destiny, spirituality, or a higher force. I’m almost certain none of these things exist, but I had an experience when I acquired “Mary” that at least raises a few questions in my mind.

I began this journey when I was little. I was always collecting small things of interest to me and I still own many of them almost fifty years later. In some way I believe they connect me with my past. I don’t have any brothers or sisters, and I have a theory that ‘only children’ don’t retain strong memories of their childhood because they tend to develop as internally-focused individuals, and don’t have siblings to remind them of common experiences.

For these reasons, I think I felt a need to have collect things that would be able to stimulate the memories that brothers and sisters are able to stimulate for each other.

As time passed, the things I collected got bigger and often more complicated. Typically, though, they were mechanical things or tools. I always made quite an effort to get these things and keep them. I was forever on the look-out for weird things: things of unusual design, appearance, or operation which I found particularly appealing. Some of my family worked at machine shops or automobile repair garages, so I was opportunity rich.

The acquisition of the steam engine, “Mary”, is a continuation of the journey. I see these things as art, although I realize that to others the form of this art may not be as appealing as it is to me.

Like the machines I collect, the story of “Mary” is complicated and intricate. It begins with Doug Newell, a genius blacksmith who works with me. Through Doug Newell, I met a fellow in England named Jim Cooper, who is a master of many things interesting. Through discussions with Jim I found out about a 19th century steam engine that had run a small woolen mill near Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire.

The engine, named “Mary” after one of the members of the original owner's family, had been built by SS Stott, a firm founded in 1845. Through later research, I would learn that the engine had been installed in the Carr Parker Mill in Haslingden prior to being moved to Cudsworth’s at Sowerby Bridge. It had been sold for 610 L to Cudsworth ’s in 1895.

The engine had been moved from its original location, and had another cylinder, Tom, added before being moved to the Sowerby Bridge location. The engine had then been used in a family-owned business, Cudsworth’s of Norden, which made a special kind of cloth. The factory where this cloth had been made is now derelict. When I heard about the engine, it was becoming apparent to the family that they would have to do something with the engine. It was located in the centre of the factory, complete, but in danger of being vandalized or of having its valuable brass pieces stolen. During the wars, steam engines like this were often scrapped but, fortunately, “Mary” was saved.

I think the Cudsworth family agonized over this for some time but eventually came to the conclusion that it should be sold. I made them an offer of 7,000 pounds sterling and they accepted it.

After buying the engine, I had it disassembled and shipped to my farm near Cochrane, Alberta, (Map of Alberta) for installation in an underground time capsule purpose built as a home for Mary and the collection of 19 century machine tools that I have been amassing. (Photograph of structure) The only part of “Mary” that did not make the journey successfully was a small brass name plate that someone stole during the moving process. Other than that, the engine is complete, as are the set of period tools used by Mary’s attendant that accompanied it over the Atlantic and across Canada.

After the engine was installed I mentioned to Doug Newell that I would like to try to find some of its original drawings. We both started searching on the Internet. Doug found someone in Holland with a similar engine who was also after some information. We went back and forth a bit and the person in Holland put me in contact with someone he knew, Richard Newby, who had worked in the drafting department at Stotts, the manufacturers of the engine. Stotts had ceased operations in the late 1980s. I emailed Richard, asking if he knew where any drawings might be. He said he didn’t have any but would check around.

Later he emailed me back and said that he had been in contact with Colin Ingram, who had been the Chief Draughtsman at Stott’s and who remembered a fellow from Canada named Geoff Symmons, who had asked for and been sent the old drawings when Stott’s was closed. He said he thought he lived in Regina. Colin turned out to be the person who provided me with the information about the engine’s first installation.

After receiving Colin’s information I went to the library and got out the old phone books for Regina and started looking for Geoff Symmons. No one knew the correct spelling, and I couldn’t find anything close. I decided to hire a private detective agency, Back Track, to see if they could find him. I had kind of forgotten about the whole thing when about six months later they phoned me and said they had some information. Somehow they had found someone who was a retired CPR train engineer, who was a member of the local steam train enthusiast club. I was to call him. When I did he said he knew Geoff well, that Geoff had died some time in the 80’s. I was about to give up when I asked if he knew where he had worked. He said it was “some oilfield outfit, like J supply or something.” I asked if it was J&L Supply and he said yes.

Amazingly, J&L is owned by Ron Carrey, who is an old friend of my Dad. I asked Dad to call him and see if he knew anything about the drawings. Ron, it turns out, is a legendary collector and my Dad said he thought Ron might have saved the drawing or would know where they might be. Unfortunately, Ron wasn’t there when my Dad called.

Then I remembered that my friend, Wayne Veldhoen, lived across the road from Ron Carrey so I asked him to contact Ron for me. The next morning I was out at the farm looking at the project and up comes Wayne’s truck. He has someone with him, Ron Carrey. They get out of the truck, with an arm full of drawings, come inside and there it is, the original drawing for the valve gear in my engine, dated 1895 and the bill of sale for 610 pounds.

It turns out that, when Geoff died, Ron acted as his executor and kept the drawings and a model engine that he had been working on at the time. The model was for an engine similar to mine. It is hard to imagine the number of coincidences that must have taken place for all this to have come together. The engine had traveled more than 5000 miles from Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, to Cochrane, Alberta, and the original drawings and bill of sale had ended up less than fifty miles from the engine’s final stop, in the house of a friend of my father’s.

That’s as close as I get to believing in destiny.