Wallis and Steevens No. 7572: Lady Luck

1917 Wallis & Steevens

Jack C. Norbeck

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P.O. Box 514, Pittsfield, Vermont 05762

The Wallis family of Basingstoke, England were Quakers with many agriculture related businesses which they consolidated in the 1840s under the name of 'Wallis Brothers, Iron founders & Agricultural Implement Makers.' They also traded in coal and slate and owned several barges, carrying freight to and from London.

In the mid-1850s, Arthur Wallis established the North Hants Ironworks, building various types of machinery. He soon took on a partner, Charles Steevens, who was a good businessman, and the company grew and prospered. They sold portables and threshers from other manufacturers and made their own 'horse powers.' In the late 1860s they started building their own portables.

1917 Wallis & Steevens built at Basingstoke, England, now owned by W. Bruce Waterworth, Pittsfield, Vermont. Photo taken at Rough & Tumble by Jack C. Norbeck, author of Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines.

On June 21, 1876, they tested their first traction engine of 8 NHP. (British tractions are usually quoted in Nominal Horse Power which needs multiplying by about 7 to determine BHP.) It was a rugged but sound engine and they gained a reputation for 'blacksmith building.' All their boiler plate was hand worked up to the last engine in 1940. The early engines even came with corks in the oil holes instead of lubricators.

One of the founder's sons suffered badly from asthma and so was sent to South Africa for health reasons. This led to a good deal of business from the diamond mining industry for winding engines and other narrow gauge railway related equipment.

Only one early Wallis engine survives, a 7 NHP traction from October 1883. In 1884 they patented a new design of a single cylinder 'expansion' engine with a complex valve arrangement causing less steam to be admitted at higher speeds without reducing the exhaust opening. This proved to be a good threshing engine and sold well. In 1890 they had started providing rollers for which they were to become world famous. The first roller built worked for over fifty years and survives to this day.

Bruce Waterworth's Wallis & Steevens English engine being squeezed into a Ryder truck (don't ask the weight!). He then took her home to Vermont to be rebuilt.

By 1900 they had produced almost one hundred rollers and three hundred tractions and portables. Only six survive, three rollers and three tractions.

In the late 1890s the government eased some of the road restrictions placed on vehicles and this led to the development of the '3 ton' road tractors with a single 5? x 9 cylinder. A further slackening in weight restrictions in 1904 led to larger tractors and in 1905 the first Oil Bath Compound was built. This was a Wallis patent in which the entire motion was enclosed in a large, light casting with splash lubrication. Cylinders of 4? x 8? were used with 9' stroke and 170 psi. This design, with slight upgrades, was produced until the mid 1920s. Approximately 250 tractors were built, with 17 remaining.

In 1906 they started production of wagons using the same engine and boiler as the tractor and also used the OBC engine for rollers. The quiet exhaust of a compound was more popular for use in towns and around horses. (Co-incidentally, the fourth such roller produced went to Henry Woodham of London who became the second owner of 'Lady Luck.') Wallis & Steevens did a brisk business with tractions, wagons and rollers up to the First World War, at which time a lot of their production went to the War Department. They also produced cast iron cases for mortar bombs. At the end of hostilities, business slumped and the company lost money for a couple of years.

In 1922, as a result of meetings with county engineers and roller clients, including Henry Woodham, at which the problems of tandem and three point rollers were discussed, Francis Wallis came up with a revolutionary new design in which all three wheels were almost the same size, the weight was evenly distributed and the back axle was split so that the road camber could be better followed. The flywheel was removed to give almost instant forward-reverse changes, and double high pressure cylinders were used. This type of roller was called the 'Advance,' the first one going to Henry Woodham. Many of these were built and exported all over the world. By the 1930s Wallis started using diesel engines and gradually phased out steam. The last two steam rollers were built and delivered to the War Department in 1940. Production of diesel rollers continued with fluctuations in yearly production varying from less than fifty to one hundred and fifty units.

In 1966-67 Wallis & Steevens moved to a new works and unfortunately most of the old stock, patterns, etc., were abandoned. Sales were good until the early '80s when, due to a greatly reduced market at home and abroad, the company finally closed its doors. The company had passed from father to son from start to finish.

So much for the brief outline of the company, now for the story of 'Lady Luck.' (Most British engines have names.)

I had long dreamed of owning a steam engine and in 1992 started researching what would be good to buy and what to avoid. As part of my research I went to Rough & Tumble and was surprised to see this nice little English engine sitting in the 'bone-yard'. I made some inquiries, took some photos and heard a few stories. 'Very expensive.' 'Converted roller.' 'No papers, boiler inspector won't look at it,' etc. I spent the next year thinking about it and looking at the photos. I asked my sister in England to go to some shows and get me the name of somebody with a similar engine with whom I could correspond. She gave me the name of Peter Wyatt (#7482 Royal Star of 1914). I owe him a great deal of thanks. He told me that most of the drawings and records were on file at the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University. Peter at one time researched all the remaining OBC tractors and was able to give me the full history of my engine.

During the August 1993 Rough and Tumble Reunion I did a more detailed inspection and got the name of the owner. I wrote to him in Ireland and the next week he phoned me. After a little negotiation the engine was mine. In the fall I removed all the valves, checks, injectors, etc. and rebuilt them over the winter. In the spring of '94 Irenewed all the injector piping and generally cleaned her up. Armed with a copy of the original boiler drawing which also listed all the test pressures, she passed a hydro and inspection and was certified for 150 psi. The only change necessary was to replace the English safety valve with an American one.

'Lady Luck' ran again for the 1994 R & T Reunion at which the cover photo was taken. The belly tanks and boiler cladding are removed for the inspection. Being able to drive the engine revealed a few problems in the transmission (two speed). So, the spring of '95 I squeezed her into a Ryder truck (don't ask the weight!) and brought her home to Vermont to sort things out. It appears that the last 'genius' who rebuilt the transmission put new axles in the differential pinions, but failed to drill grease ways or fit greasers! Needless to say I have a lot of boring and bushing to do and a couple of cracked castings to fix.

The engine had a hard life. Built in 1917 as a road tractor, it was converted to a roller in 1920 for Henry Woodham's fleet. It stayed in service until the early '60s when it changed hands and was laid up. In 1982 a new owner converted it back to a road engine and in 1986 an Irish couple purchased it, brought it to the States and offered it for sale. However, they were unable to get her inspected and so there she sat until I came along. I am very pleased to be owner #6, I just wish I owned a machine shop!!

In closing, I must thank the guys at Kinzers for all their help, especially Ray Herr and Dan Gehman, and Ron Lewis for lending me his Peerless. I look forward to the day when 'Lady Luck' and I can go head to head with Norman in the steam games!