The Davy Press

”The Forger who operated the 1500 ton Davy Press was a highly respected man, for the metal he formed was worth a lot of money. If the metal ‘burnt’ or over heated it would be a costly blunder. Even the weight of the tools was enormous, to pick a tool up and put it underneath a press was hard toil and hard work. There was a gang of five people and a man driving the overhead crane. It was tough going.”

Richard Butcher, Eveleigh blacksmith1 

The furnace man heated the immense iron billets for hours until the precise forging temperature was reached. The crane operator carefully hauled the billets to and from the furnace and press throughout the forging process. The press operator was responsible for lifting and lowering the Davy's powerful ram. A gang of assistants gathered the required tools for the job, fixed billets into the long-handled holders with huge spanners, fastened loads to the crane sling and positioned work pieces in the press. The head forger was the general, commanding his troops with absolute authority.

Feel the intense 1,100°C heat of the glowing billet searing the skin. Hear the urgent instructions barked by the head forger to his straining crew, the crane and press operators against the incessant hiss of steam. Imagine the slow but irresistible 1500-tonne squeeze of the press torturing smoking billets into immense locomotive parts and workshop components. 

Team work at the Davy Press was intense and demanding, and its operations required a high degree of precision to produce quality components. Legend has it that during demonstrations of skill at Eveleigh, the Commissioner of Railways' gold watch would be placed into the Davy's maw whilst the operator lowered the ram to rest harmlessly on the watch's glass face. But Eveleigh was also known as the birthplace of some colourful stories.

Beside the Davy, observe the weighty stacks of blocks, dies and anvils, the adjacent furnace, and racks crammed with swages, spacers, punches, tongs and spanners. Note the pile of long-handled billet holders, the heavy overhead crane and its assorted carrying chains, hooks and slings. 

The Davy Press was essential to the manufacture of locomotive piston assemblies and wagon chassis, together with miscellaneous components punched and pressed into the Davy's assorted dies. It turned out the hefty steam hammer shafts and crane wheels that kept Eveleigh's Workshops running too. 

Richard Butcher, an ex-Eveleigh blacksmith recalls:

It was hard going. The work there was very hot. When the five ton ingot of steel came out of the furnace, the core was glowing red and white heat. In that era, you were sooks if you wore any protective clothing, so your clothing would be actually on fire. It’d be smouldering while you were doing the work and there’d be hot pieces of steel lying around your feet.2

Strewn across the workshop’s floor lie the products of the Davy Press' labours in various stages of completion – steam hammer shafts, crane and carriage wheels, assorted swages, punches and dies, sinuous locomotive beams, unworked iron billets and offcuts. Can you spot them? 

“A giant Davy high-speed forging press has been added to the machine wonders at Eveleigh Railway Workshops. It is the biggest and most powerful press in Australasia. Its installation makes New South Wales independent, as far as heavy forgings are concerned. No longer is there an excuse for importing this class of work.”

Sunday Times, 19223