Nevil Shute Norway Foundation



Model Engineering and Keith Stewart.

I had not realised until I read Julian Smith's biography[9] that Shute was a keen model engineering enthusiast, although I should have realised it from reading "Trustee from the Toolroom". As in all of his novels he writing is drawn from his own experience; he can write about lathes and milling machines and workshop methods etc. not just because he is an engineer and has seen machine tools in workshops but because and has got his hands dirty using them. Just at what stage he took up model engineering I don't know, although Julian Smith says he had been an enthusiastic model engineer for many years. Perhaps, in a sense, he was like Sol Hirzhorn in "Trustee" "He had never formed a thread on a bolt but knew how it was done". In another sense perhaps model engineering was a relaxation from writing novels in his later life, as the writing of novels had been a relaxation from his engineering job in his earlier career. This is the "down" in Shute's engineering - the other end of the engineering spectrum from his R100 airship work. This is "hands on", making detailed and intricate parts and assembling them to make real working models of petrol engines etc.

Keith Stewart is Shute's alter ego. He is the little man of humble origins who through self improvement and study can hold his own with the engineers of Ferris Hydraulics in discussing the waste heat from the proposed installation at the lumber plant. Keith has risen from the bottom up through his own efforts and interests to the point where he can act as a consultant on a large scale engineering project. He is the epitome of the definition in quoted at the beginning of "Trustee" 'An engineer is a man who can do for five bob what any bloody fool can do for a quid'. This is, in another sense, true of the R100 airship team. They were also doing for five bob what the fools at Cardington were doing for a quid and Shute makes it clear that he thought some of the designers at Cardington were fools. Why else would they have fitted an engine for going in reverse which would only be needed for a few minutes in every trip?

Incidentally, if you have read "Trustee" and ever wondered what a Congreve clock looks like I have included a picture of one (Fig.7). This is from a firm advertising on the Internet and you can buy a kit from them and put it together yourself. I guess they provide all the parts for it so you won't have make them from scratch as Sol Hirzhorn and Keith Stewart did but this might offend the engineering purists amongst you ! Indeed such a project for amateur engineers would have been very difficult and intricate if you imagine they had to cut all the gear wheels and spindles for them and ensure they all fitted correctly. Even with detailed instructions to follow in the "Miniature Mechanic" experienced model makers would have encountered snags. No wonder poor Keith Stewart's correspondence was heavy!

Going back to the clock illustrated, with each clock is a copy of Sir William Congreve's original patent of 1808 so you won't even need to look it up in the Patent Library [10].

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