Cat in a Milk Churn Repair

This Roullet & Decamps automaton “Cat in a Milk Churn” only needed a clean. It was clogged with old oil and bits of loose fur. The only challenging part of the job was removing the mechanism from the churn, its a very tight fit. It actually required the Stop/Start knob to be unsoldered to allow it to be removed. There is a similar fiddly removal process for the Rabbit in a Cabbage automaton which uses the same mechanism.

Cat in Milk Churn Automaton
The Mechanism with Cat Head Attached

Once out the most important thing for me is to disturb and stress the automaton as little as possible whilst still effectively cleaning it. A simple open spring mechanism like this, will clean well with the plates left together.

Removing the Fly, the musical movement and protecting the Cat fur whilst soaking and manually cleaning the mechanism in clock cleaning fluid are the main features of this method (the musical movements use shellac type substances inside the cylinders and on the dampers so immersion in liquid is not suitable for them).

Automaton Mechanism
Move aside the bearing plate and spring out the Fly

Cleaning the Mechanism
Protecting the Fur with a sealed bag
The Mechanism is soaked and brushed clean in clock cleaning fluid followed by at least two rinses. It is also possible to wind with a key and allow the mechanism to run whilst immersed in cleaner and rinses.

The last photo shows pegging out of the fly pivot holes. The rivetted steel end plate can be moved aside with pliers for this. When moving it back leave it in a slightly different place and the top pivot will have fresh polished steel to bear on instead of a worn pit.

Pegging out the Pivot Holes
Effective rinsing, drying and re-oiling are important to the long term reliability of the automaton. Check condition of the operating strings carefully, bookbinders string is used to replace them if necessary.
If the fur requires cleaning, I lightly hoover the dust away and then use a dry shampoo spray (protect the mechanism). These dry shampoos are effective if left for some hours to absorb the dirt fully, then brush or vacuum the powder away.


* At Your Own Risk * – I have two slightly dubious, but effective dodges for the brave and confident restorer only.

If there is lots of fur clogging the mechanism and wrapped around the arbors, the fleeting application of a cooks blow torch will shrivel this detritus to dust before cleaning.

Second Dubious Tip, (this one was given to me by my Horology Lecturer at College): Drying can be accelerated for some mechanisms by tying a strong cord around a pillar or hole in the movement plate and swinging the mechanism (no cat attached) around your head, bolero style. This spin drying is effective but do it outside and don’t let go. Alternatively use a hair drier.

Next Rabbit in Cabbage or suitable mechanism I get, I’ll post a shock horror youtube of these tips in action.

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