A British engineer brought his interest in steam with him when he moved to Long Island, and is becoming a valuable member of the ranks of collectors in this country.
David J. I. Gray comes from a steam family, since he had a great grandmother who was a Stephen-son, related to George Stephenson the famous inventor. As a boy of ten, watching Aveling & Porter steam road rollers, Gray decided to become an engine driver. He recalls seeing plowing engines pressed back into service during World War II, while overhead Hurricane fighter planes chased a pair of German bombers.
He describes the plowing process:
'One engine was situated at each end of the field, parallel with its partner and joined by a wire cable running from the horizontal winding drums situated under their boilers. In between was a tilt-type plough that was first drawn up the field by one engine only to be drawn back down again by the other. Each engine moved forward a few feet and the operation continued until the field was completely ploughed, furrow by furrow.'
He joined John Fowler & Company, one of the outstanding names in steam engine manufacture, as an engineer in 1949. In the mid-1950s he was in New Zealand, returning then to England.
He attended his first rally as a spectator in 1959 with his son, Stuart, aged five. The British rallies were in their infancy, but growing in popularity. By the time Stuart was 15, the two were regular visitors and participants.
'In 1970,' he writes, 'we became the owners of our first engine, an Aveling & Porter 10-ton road roller, maker's number 10346, built in 1922.' This engine is a piston-valve; two-cylinder compound and was in need of some basic restoration in the form of new tubes, fire box repair and a new chimney and brass top, new boiler lagging plates and lagging. This completed, it was then painted and striped in the maker's traditional colors.'
Next purchase was a road roller living-van, built about 1896 with iron wheels, and a 200-gallon water cart presumed to date to about 1916. Father and son joined steam groups including the National Traction Engine Club.
After that came a Fowler traction engine, no. 14910, built in 1917 for the Ministry of Munitions, possibly utilized for gun or ammunition road haulage. Civilian use included threshing, and heating a tomato grower's greenhouse. David believes there are only four road locomotives of this design in preservation today. Stuart and he have put countless hours into dismantling, reconditioning and finally rebuilding. When David came to the United States in 1978, Stuart continued the work. It is shown on our cover.
The Fowler road locomotive was shown for the first time since restoration, at a rally last September. David was on hand to see it. It is now restored to its original specifications, and original color scheme, as far as possible.
One of his most impressive finds was a British-built road roller which he discovered while on a business trip in Italy. It was standing in the corner of a railway yard at Pescara, a town on the Adriatic Coast. It was an Aveling & Porter, but not further identifiable. He did extensive research, and established that this engine was No. 8766. It had been shipped by Aveling & Porter in 1916 to the British War Office for dispatch overseas; it had been bought in 1919 as war surplus by the Italian State Railways.
After a year of negotiations, he arranged to buy it and have it shipped to England. His son, Stuart, arrived in Pescara in May, 1975, 'armed with a few tools and no ability to speak Italian.' The story continues:
'Within two days he had removed the canopy and chimney, had hired a crane and a railway flat wagon, had supervised the loading, had taken care of all export documentation, and seen it off in the first stage of its return to the U.K.' By June 5, its voyage ended in Gray's yard.
Gray and his son examined it and figured out what would have to be done to restore it, but Gray's professional work and restoration of other pieces intervened. He and his wife moved to Long Island before the work could be started, and now another steam enthusiast has taken up the project.
So far as David can ascertain, there is no American steam traction engine in Great Britain, and he would like to remedy that situation. He is looking for a Case, a Peerless or a Russell which he would buy and take back with him to England.
He has joined the Rough and Tumble Historical Association and travels several times a year between his home and R & T headquarters at Kinzers, Pennsylvania. He makes films of the engine preservation movement, and shows some of these at Kinzers.