A STUDY OF BRITISH STEAM

Part of the steam collection

Courtesy of William T. Richards, North Street, Granville, Ohio 43023 Part of the steam collection at Levens Hall, Westmoreland, England owned by Mr. Robin Bagot. Large engine is a 21 ton cross compound Fowler Showman's Engine. Small engine is a 4'' scale

William T. Richards

Content Tools

North Street Granville, Ohio 43023

Elmer, for most of us all of the time and for all of us most of the time, our steam activity is confined to threshing or playing at home and to attending the shows - as time permits. Let me suggest that our steam and farm machinery interest is fine with which to enrich any traveling we do - and it is much better if you do your home-work before you start.

Mrs. Richards and I re-visited England and Wales this past summer and while our trip was not primarily to study British Steam I will confine my story largely to this subject for Album Co-adventurers.

We made the trip in 1968 in order to sail, for the last time, on the beautiful 83,000 ton Queen Elizabeth - the like of which will not come again in our lifetime. My application to the Chief Engineer sounded like the travel was incidental and that my main interest was a visit to the engine rooms. Gentlemen, when you watch 4 - 55,000 H.P. Parson's Turbines driving 32 ton propellers through 27' diameter shafting, you gain a respect for steam power that will stay with you awhile. The twelve water-tube boilers, furnishing steam at 425 pounds and 750 degrees, together with the propulsion equipment is all original after 30 years of service and a few million miles of travel.

I made it a practice to walk those teakwood decks early in the morning to meet, largely people like myself, for whom this was the experience of a lifetime. Three turns of the Promenade deck is a mile and after 5 or 6 laps and watching the sun come up out of the sea, breakfast was mighty welcome. I wonder sometimes if our 'flighty' friends unwittingly avoid real living.

British railroads provide excellent passenger service and are otherwise disappointing. Steam locomotives are replaced by diesels, as with us, and the freight equipment is so outmoded it is pitiful. The 4 wheel cars - or wagons - are about as large as a good sized farm flat-bed wagon and have a capacity of 10 - 15 tons. These wagons are coupled from between the cars with three links of good-sized log chain and many had no brakes that I could see. When you see a cut of cars, it appears for all the world as though boys were playing with over-size toy trains.

We traveled North from London by rented car and witnessed the high cost of combine harvesting. The country was hit by heavy wind and rain when the grain was ripe and we saw thousands of acres down flat - much of it hopeless for a heavy combine. In some fields caterpillar tractors were used to help mired combines. One farmer told me that if you didn't have your own dryers it was no use to harvest as the public drying capacity was inadequate. I am convinced much of those crops could have been handled by the lighter binders and the crop cured in the shock for threshing.

We spent a day at Levens Hall, in Westmoreland, England to see the fine Manor House, Topiary Gardens and the fine Collection of Steam Engines. In all our correspondence I never suspected Mr. Bagot was Sir Robin Bagot - as Earl. They received us most graciously, invited us into the house and saw to it that I ran the 21 ton Fowler Showman's Engine -'Bertha' - when she was moved about the grounds. Most houses and engines in England have names, much as ships are commonly named.

Mr. Bagot has a 4' scale Burrell traction - 'Irene' - on rubber, weighing half a ton and used for hauling youngsters about the grounds. It was cleaned, fired, driven and maintained by two 12 year old boys, who were about as keen and able steam operators as I have ever seen. They were self-designated first and second engineers - the principal difference being that the second engineer had to break coal and keep the fuel bunker filled.

In one room of Levens Hall, Mr. Bagot has 16 engines running on a common oil fired boiler. These engines are small, mostly of a size to drive a lathe for making clock parts or similar light duty. They are an excellent study in engine development covering the period 1920 back to 1820 - to the days of James Watt. Mr. Watt was not the beginning of steam power, however.

In any study of British Steam, it should be noted that Thomas Newcomen built mine pumping engines from 1712 until his death in 1729. These engines were crude, but worked, as evidenced by a Newcomen engine I saw at the London Science Museum which had pumped an English Coal pit over a period of 128 years - from 1791 to 1918.

The genius of James Watt was primarily his condensing of steam outside the working cylinder - whereas Newcomen sprayed cold water into the working cylinder to perform the condensation. This single improvement made Watt's engine twice as efficient, from the standpoint of fuel consumption, as the best Newcomen engines. Mr. Watt then went on to make his engine double acting, to add the crank and flywheel and the fly-ball governer. These earliest builders had to be content with steam pressures of from 1 pound to at most a few pounds. Our high pressure, high speed engines had to wait for better materials and better boiler construction.

From all the Steam Rallies, we were able to attend only one at Church-Stretton, in England near the Welsh Border. Several differences from our Steam Shows are evident.

British engines present a much better appearance than do ours. Many, built as Showman's engines use a great deal of chrome and brass fittings. Then too, all are painted and striped - often in five colors and with triple striping. Most engines are named and a summary of her service is published even to 'steaming pig-swill' where such was the case.

On the traction, British engines were flat-cleated and not comparable to ours in field work. However, on the road the British engines commonly with 2 and 3 speed gearing made good hauling engines. The engine that stole the show, for me, at Church-Stretton, was a Ransomme, Sims and Jefferies owned by I. Jones of Cardiff, Wales. This, the only steel cleated engine present, was driven 115 miles to the Rally and did yoeman service in helping smooth rubber-tired engines and steam rollers on the soft wet turf. One 10 ton roller was moved upgrade back of the Ransomme and when the steering was bad, it skidded the roller into line and brought it right along.

I am convinced that the British gave our early steam engine builders a good working engine - for ship, railroad and stationary uses - in fact most of our earliest steam engines were built in England.

Progress is not a one-way street, however, and in discussion with the London Science Museum Curator, I was able to point out on several early models of Reapers that all grain and grass cutting - in England and throughout the world - rests solidly on the cutting device patented by Obed Hussey of the U. S. A. in December 1833.

For me, and for most Engineers I suspect, it helps a great deal in the appreciation of good equipment to know as much as possible about the people, places and challenges that brought these machines into being. They have not always been ours and they cost a lot of 'Blood, sweat and tears' to perfect.