A STUDY OF BRITISH STEAM

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William T. Richards
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

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.

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