The magnetos had returned with the dope-resisting paint, and one morning I set about fixing and timing them. I had not had much to do with motors, and this was another chore that scared me beforehand. However, after I had locked the doors, and, sitting on a petrol-case, had mastered the principles of the operation, it turned out to be easy. It was only a matter of marrying a cog wheel on the magneto to a cog wheel on the engine, so that a spark was produced when the piston was in a certain position. Then came the fun – we had to test the motor.
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I went off to find Ted Austic, the island’s star cricketer. I had no trouble in coaxing him away from his task of building himself a house, and he sauntered along with a peaked cap on the back of his head and a vast curl in front overhanging his forehead. Hammering long spikes into lengths of wood he made a horse, a frame for the engine as used for sawing wood. I climbed up with a gallon tin of petrol, and balanced it on a rafter of the cargo shed. This represented the petrol tank in the top wing of the seaplane. A long rubber tube led the petrol from the tin on the rafter down to the carburettor. The engine horse stood on the edge of the pit inside the cargo shed, so that the revolving propeller should not strike the floor. I laid an earth-wire from each magneto to the metal of a screwdriver, and gave Roley the screwdriver to hold, and told him to earth the current if the pace grew too hot. ‘Now listen, Chicko, he said, ‘are you sure this is all right? Everyone seems to have urgent business somewhere else suddenly.’
‘If I yell “earth!” bang those screwdrivers down as if your life depended on it, I said.
I pulled over the propeller with a distinct respect. At each fresh swing without the least sign of life, the less I liked it. It might catch on fire, or it might fly to pieces, it might explode. Suddenly, with a crackling roar, it started at full throttle. ‘Earth!’
I yelled, and jumped for the back of the stand. Whatever Roley did, it had no effect. The engine roared with enough pull to fly a plane at 90mph. The wooden stand jumped and danced madly on the edge of the pit.