Bundaberg model engineer wins Duke of Edinburgh Cup

Retired school teacher George Punter invested 4000 hours over four years and travelled more than 16,000kms to take out this year’s Duke of Edinburgh Cup with his working scale model of a 1913 Saunderson and Mills F Universal tractor
Retired school teacher and model engineer George Punter invested 4000 hours over four years and travelled more than 16,000kms to win this year’s Duke of Edinburgh Cup with his working scale model of a 1913 Saunderson and Mills F Universal tractor.

Bundaberg model engineer George Punter invested 4000 hours over four years and travelled more than 16,000km to win this year’s Duke of Edinburgh Cup with his working scale model of a 1913 Saunderson and Mills F Universal tractor.

The Duke of Edinburgh Challenge Trophy is the highest accolade in model engineering. It's awarded annually at the Model Engineer Exhibition which was held this year at the Doncaster Racecourse in England.

It's the pinnacle for some of best model engineers in the hobby.

To be eligible for the trophy the 76-year-old retired school teacher had to take out the gold award at the 2016 Model Engineering Exhibition in the road-going vehicle category. Achieving this qualified him to enter the Duke of Edinburgh Cup.

George first saw an original Saunderson and Mills F Universal tractor in the Geraldine Vintage Car and Machinery Museum while holidaying in New Zealand years ago.

He spent two weeks taking photos and his own measurements before returning to Bundaberg. He made 220 sheets of drawings, all the patterns and castings, along with the machinery and electronics to create the award-winning masterpiece.

The level of detail is breathtaking, with every intricacy replicated precisely, even down to the rivets on the tractor’s water tank not being in a straight line.

George said this was just like they were when the original was built more than 100 years ago. 

The model engineer may have achieved near perfection with his award-winning tractor, but it has not dulled his passion to keep building beautifully crafted miniature machines.

Model engineer George Punter
Model engineer George Punter works away in his Avenell Heights backyard shed known to him as paradise, this year George won the Duke of Edinburgh Cup for his model tractor.

Walking into George’s backyard, he says “welcome to paradise” as you reach the entrance to a shed that's full to the brim with all the tools and equipment needed to follow his dream.

The workshop is spilt in two areas — the first full of large lathes and drills, along with blow torches to melt down metal salvaged from life-size engines; this is where all the manual work is performed.

The second is George’s thinking space, an office where he is surrounded by cassette tapes of bands such as Fleetwood Mac and classical music, cast-iron miniature trains and cars that were his father’s toys, and hundreds of plans and paper catalogues of engines from around the world. 

It was the middle of the seventies when George and his wife Catherine moved to the Bundaberg Region to pursue George’s teaching career at North Bundaberg State High School, as a manual arts teacher in what was expected to be a short stay of about four years, but it turned out more than four decades.

Inspiration from George's teachings

After retiring 19 years ago George said he still crossed paths with students who were inspired by his teachings and had gone on to pursue careers in engineering and the like.

“When I first started I had a small class of nine students and I designed a petrol engine for them, and fortunately at the time the headmaster gave me a day off so I could make all the castings for all the kids,” George said.

“And with the grapevine being as efficient as it was, numbers went from nine to 24 just like that.

“We couldn’t all make petrol engines so I ended up making little steam engines and then they designed their own steam engines; we had a lot of fun.

“Some of them have gone on to be engineers now.”

After retirement George’s interest grew for model engineering and he soon realised there wasn’t always a tool available for each specific job, so he found the solution was to make his own detailed tool first — a skill which has come in handy for his next major project.

More detail in model engineer's next project

Just metres away from his Saunderson and Mills tractor, which has travelled further than most people, George is busily undertaking the construction of a magnificent 1970s Queensland Rail shunting locomotive.

Inside the 1970s Queensland Rail shunting locomotive created by model engineer George Punter. George won this year's Edinburgh Cup.

On this train the finer details include features on the inside too, with the driver’s compartment fitted out with levers and gauges exactly the same as the working model, all hand cut and painted to scale by George.

And there’s also tricky ventilation louvres, which George said he had no way to cut in to the metal, so he made his own tool to trim and folded the metal perfectly in no time.

But that’s not all, when it comes to making sure every details is exactly right, the retired teacher has even mastered the art of mixing paint colour down to the right pigment to match.

George said his mind was constantly ticking and he often wakes at 2am with a solution to a problem he’d been having, and keeps pen and paper on his bedside for this purpose.

As the grandfather described the complex workings of the old-time engines he said to replicate it he’d have to find out what was inside by pulling the items such as injectors apart and using a positive to negative sand mould at a scale of 1:8 to recreate it.

Model engineer George Punter is making a miniature QR locomotive.
This 1970s Queensland Rail shunting locomotive is a work in progress for model engineer George Punter.

“It takes quite a long time to get your head around all this,” he said.

“You have to think from positive to negative, back to positive for the model’s shape.”

Although it may have taken years of long hours and hard work, the model engineer said the end result was worth every minute, as a working miniature model of either a train, tractor or boat with all the details of the original was created without a blueprint design in sight.

When asked if George ever thought he was born in the wrong era or a few decades too late, he replied: “I’m just glad to wake up each morning and follow my passion now”.

As each year passes George has also moved with the times and said he is now aided by technology with engineering programs on his computer and the use of his 3D printer for some parts.

“I used to do all of this on my drawing board and now I’ve learnt how to have 3D models on the computer screen, it’s marvellous,” George said.

“I would encourage anyone, at any age, not to go into a vacuum when they retire. Do something like this and keep your brain active and keep going.”

With his brilliant mind, George may have been able to lead a life as an engineer, but he said there was definitely one decision he never regretted and that was living the life as a teacher and mentor to the young.

George said he was proud to now be recognised along with other model engineers who had won the Duke of Edinburgh Cup in the past.

Bundaberg Regional Council divisional representative Cr John Learmonth said George is a very talented man.

“I am sure many people would be amazed at what he does,” Cr Learmonth said.

“I can appreciate his talents more than most as I have an engineering background and still dabble in my workshop, nothing like George though!

“People like George are treasures in our community and should be recognised.”

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