Old British Engines in Steam

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Wallis & Steevens HO6139, No. 2357, built in 1896.

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'Oron', 11 Avenue Road Chelmsford, England CM2 9TY

The November/December 1991 issue of The Iron Men Album contained an article by Thomas G. Downing entitled 'Where Is the Oldest Traction Engine That Is Still Running?' and has prompted me to take a look at the British scene to investigate the ages of some of the steam engines that appear on the current rally fields.

I take as a starting point the 1991 Great Dorset Steam Fair which had nearly 200 full size engines in steam (there were also over 60 working steam models), and it had a special section devoted to the products of Marshall, Sons & Company of Gains borough whose first self moving traction engine appeared in 1876. In steam in this section was the oldest Marshall engine in existence, which left the factory on the 25th of November 1886. The buyer was Mr. Seward of Peters field, Hampshire, who worked it until 1933, when it was laid up. It was not touched for the next 47 years, until it was bought by Mr. Fagg of West Sussex who has restored it to full working order. It's a single cylinder machine No. 14242.

Also present, in steam, were three other Marshall traction engines of that era: No. 14421, also built in 1886; No. 15391, built in 1887; and No. 17287, built in 1889. This latter engine is named the 'Farmer's Friend' and it was presented to Canon Bagot by the Church of Ireland in 1889 as a retirement gift. It is owned by J. Rochford & Sons of Wexford and is the oldest engine in Northern Ireland.

In the Showman's Engine section there was an 8 NHP Burrell No. 2072 that was built in 1898 and is thought to be the oldest original double-crank compound showman's road locomotive in preservation.

The oldest engine in the wood sawing demonstration was the Burrell 7 NHP general purpose machine No. 1426 built in 1889, closely followed by an 1894 McLaren No. 547.

In action in the steam cultivation section was the oldest ploughing engine in existence in Britain, the 12 NHP Fowler No. 1368, which was built in 1870. Another very interesting exhibit in this section was the Howard Double Drum 'Farmer's Engine' which was manufactured in 1876. This was made by J & F Howard Ltd. at their Britannia Works at Bedford, and is easily distinguished from the other ploughing engines as its drums are mounted at the rear of the engine instead of under the boiler. It is a dual purpose engine, as it can be used for roundabout ploughing using a self moving anchor and, with a slight alteration, it can be used as a traction engine. It was not in steam as it was only recently re-imported back into Britain from the Henry Ford Museum at Dearborn and requires renovation. This will be carried out by its owner, Richard Vernon of Cotesbach near Coventry. There is only one other Howard engine in this country, No. 201, which was brought back from Australia in 1982 and was completely restored in 1983. In the same year that the first mentioned Howard was made, a Galloper, on show in the Fun Fair section, was built by Savages of Norfolk. It was then powered by two ponies walking around it, but in 1913 it was returned to Savages who converted it to steam operation.

McLaren WF1684, No. 1652, hauling about 85 tons at the Dorset '91 show. This engine, built in 1919, was made for the War Office to pull 49 mm guns.

Aveling & Porter No. 3319, built in 1894. Members of the Road Roller Association are cleaning out its tubes and are getting ready to light the fire.

At the 1991 Bedfordshire Steam Preservation Society's 23rd Annual Traction Engine Rally at Roxton Park, the oldest Burrell engine to survive was in steam. It was built at Thetford, Norfolk, in 1877 and carries No. 748. Another Burrell at that rally, No. 1522, was celebrating its 100th birthday. Also in steam was the oldest Wallis & Steevens roller to survive. It was built at their Hampshire factory in 1896, and its engine number is 2357. In my article 'British Engine Clubs' which also appeared in the November/December issue, there was a picture of a boiler from a Wantage General Purpose traction engine. This was made by the Wantage Engineering Company; that company was started in 1826 by John Austin of Wantage, but then passed through several other owners and at one time was known as Gibbons & Robinson. In 1972 a Richard Hesbrook was looking for a steam engine that would not cost him much when he came across one in a scrap yard which was in a very derelict condition but nonetheless he bought it. During these last twenty years he has completely rebuilt it and is now the proud owner of the only traction engine No.959, built in 1891. This engine made its rally debut at Much Marcle, where it was the center of attraction.

Recently the Road Roller Association held a Steam Roller Driving course at the Leicestershire Museum of Technology. Course members were instructed in how to prepare and clean the roller, how to get up steam, then how to steer it and finally how to drive it. The roller used during this course was nearly a hundred years old, as it was built in 1894 by Aveling & Porter at their works at Rochester in Kent. It is a 12 ton single cylinder machine, No. 3319, and in spite of its age gave no problems to the trainees.

Aveling & Porter No. 7920, built 1913, with Tage Blom and Uno Gren as the crew, rallying it for the last time before taking it to Sweden for the Rubens Museum.

This article has not attempted to be in any way comprehensive about the 'oldest engine still running,' but does give an insight into the ages of some of the engines still to be seen in steam in Britain.

Incidentally, Thomas Downing mentioned Tore Blom in his article, and I was pleased to meet Tore recently when he arrived from Sweden to visit friends. I had already met his brother, Tage Blom, in 1990 when he was here to take back to Sweden a 1913 Aveling & Porter steam roller No. 7920. This is now in the Rubens Museum in Gotene and it is the only working steam roller in Sweden.

Should you wish to join the Road Roller Association, of which I am the Publicity Officer, please write to our Membership Secretary Mrs. Alison Arrowsmith, 7 Worcester Close, Lichfield, Staffordshire WS13 7SP. Also do not hesitate to write if you think I may be of help with any queries on the British engine scene.