Messers, Charles Burrell and Sons of Thetford, Norfolk, England built over 4,000 steam road engines. In 1974, we here at the Museum of Transportation in Boston became the proud owners of Burrell tractor #3540. 3540 rolled out the doors of the factory on January 22, 1914 and went to William Oakes, a haulage contractor in Hollington, Staffordshire where it was christened 'Gladstone.' Gladstone passed to another owner in 1918 and another in 1950. In the late 1950s, Mr. Geoffrey Roberts of Osterville, Massachusetts spotted Gladstone chugging down a street in England. Conversing with the driver, Roberts mentioned how he'd love to take the machine home to the United States. The driver returned with a 'Why not?'
Gladstone spent the next 14 years puffing around Robert's house on Cape Cod pulling out stumps and scaring the daylights out of innocent motorists as he blasted the whistle and popped out from behind a row of trees and steamed across the street.
In 1974, Gladstone was donated to the Museum and has been on static display since. By 1977, Richard Friedman, museum mechanic and vehicle restoration specialist, and I decided it was high time Gladstone was put back in service as a living exhibit. The first step was to do some historical research. Gladstone was build to conform to England's Heavy Motor Car Act of 1903 which permitted traction engines of five tons unladen weight to be operated at no more than five miles per hour by one man. Previously, at least two men were required, by law, to run the machines. We found that Gladstone had spent most of its life as a threshing engine, hauling the thresher from farm to farm and operating the machinery on site. As a road engine, Gladstone boasts several distinctive features. In addition to the normal rear water tank, holding 70 gallons, there is also a belly tank of 60 gallon capacity greatly increasing distance between water stops. A 1/8' plate is fitted under the engine to protect the firebox when fording streams. All valve gear is provided with covers to disguise the moving parts from easily frightened horses. This is also the rational for the solid flywheel as animals could not be disturbed by spinning spokes. There is no provision for a water pump and the engine is simply fitted with an injector on each side. Lubrication is provided by both a feed into live steam and a mechanical lubricator working off the valve motion. A great deal of this historical and technical information was provided by the Road Locomotive Society in England who sent us copies of the complete original specs for engine 3540 including everything from parts listings to paint scheme.
While we were waiting for the information from England, Freedman carefully lubed and freed all working parts. We turned her over briefly on compressed air. As the engine reciprocated, we found, to our delight, that we could operate her on less and less air pressure.
It was decided it would be easier to work on Gladstone in our warehouse and out of its exhibit environment so, with the aid of a large tractor-trailer unit, she was taken out of our building in Brookline, Massachusetts and moved some five miles to our storage space. Here, a group of volunteers removed the steering chain drum, chains, belly tank, and stripped the lagging from the boiler. Larry Vaughn, president of the Klendall Boiler and Tank Company in Cambridge was approached to retube the boiler. While the original tubes were still serviceable, it was decided to make the boiler as new as possible. Vaughn was aware of the limited amount of funds available for the restoration process and he generously agreed to retube Gladstone at no cost. Vaughn's men removed the old tubes and replaced them with 1' ones. As the original tubes were 1', it was necessary to shim the replacements at the tube sheets. Eventually, the crown and tube sheets may need to be replaced but, for the time being, experts feel we are completely safe to run Gladstone at the 100 lbs. pressure we plan to. Originally, she ran on 200 lbs. but Roberts tells us there's more than enough power at half that. Boiler inspectors, particularly in Massachusetts, are not known to be an extremely flexible lot and, as Gladstone's double-lap seam British boiler does not carry an ASME stamp, we're doing all we can to convince our inspector that no safety precaution is being neglected. After all, the Boothbay Railway in Maine had to redo the boilers on their German-built locomotives because, as the boilers were completely serviceable, a Maine law dating from WW I forbids the use of German boilers in that state!
Richard Friedman, Museum mechanic and restoration expert, checks the movement of Gladstone's reversing lever. Notice the 3-speed gear setup. The number '3's on the canopy brace and the side of the tractor is to aid with canopy replacement once removed. (W. Litant photo)
Richard Friedman checks tightness of high-pressure side of Gladstone's engine. The canopy has since been removed and a new one is being built.
The next step was to deal with Gladstone's canopy. I brought in Jed and Andy Dixon of the Albany Street Woodshop in Boston. The Dixons crawled all over the machine measuring here and scratching off paint there. They determined the top was constructed with oak sides and ribs with yellow pine boards for the roof. Currently, the top is covered with shingles but should be canvas and white lead. Jed and Andy felt the canopy was too far deteriorated to save so they agreed to donate the construction of an exact duplicate. Richard removed the canopy and he and I delivered it to Albany Street. The new top is promised this spring.
There is still much that needs to be done. We have little idea regarding the condition of various bearings. The three-speed transmission needs inspection and possible work. We are sure there will be numerous details we haven't even thought of that will turn up during the restoration process. Eventually, we hope to have her steaming through the streets of Boston pulling floats in parades and partaking in the Museum's Annual Antique Machinery Meets. It's a long and involved process, but as many of you well know, the knowledge that we are turning a cold, rusting, and fading piece of transportation history into the living, steaming, and whistling example of motive power she was built to be 65 years ago, makes it all worth it.
You'll hear from me again as work progresses!
Richard Friedman, mechanic and restoration specialist whose work is described in this article, works a total of seven days a week. He spends four days in Connecticut as a machinist at a vintage sports car restoration shop, Thursday nights he drives five hours to the boat he lives on in Boston Harbor, and then works Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Museum where he is in charge of repair and restoration of Museum vehicles. In his free time, he works on his 1949 HRD-Vincent motorcycle.
Bill Litant, the writer is employed full-time at the Museum as public relations/special projects coordinator. He got bitten by the steam bug when he read 'Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel' as a little boy. He is a railroad and street-railway buff and writer. He helped bring a 1906 steam-roller to the Museum-next on the restoration list. Involved with antique British motorcycles also, he heads the BSA Owner's Club of New England.