Apt. 1, 1991 St. Laurent Bvd., Ottawa, KIG 1A3, Ontario,
My first recollection of steam power was when my father took me
to Hampstead (London) Fair in 1939. All the electrical power for
the midway rides came from a Foden Showmans traction engine that
drove a generator mounted in front of the smokestack. After the
show, the tractor would pull two trailer loads of rides to the next
1942 saw Britain in the midst of a gasoline and labour shortage.
When harvest time came we were let out of school in order to stook
corn and later when the threshing took place with an
Aveling-Barford tractor we were thrilled with the novelty of a
steam tractor and the belting-up operation. Little did we realise
that we were witnessing the passing of an age. I can still recall
men swinging scythes all day in odd shaped fields that the
horsedrawn cutter could not reach. Their rhythm was something to
watch, and it made mockery of some of todays youth who can hardly
lift a pen to sign their welfare cheque.
Aveling Porter also made a road roller, as seen on your June
cover. These machines were painted bottle green with brass boiler
bands and a brass ornament on the flue door. The local paving
contractor still had two of these rollers in daily use in 1945.
Bertram Mills was the big name in circus around 1946. They came
to Lincoln and raised their great ‘big top’ overnight. It
was the last time, for the following year they used indoor arenas.
It was really an experience to see the roustabouts swing tent peg
mallets and the elephants pulling ropes to raise that great sea of
canvas that was the tent.
One of the midway attractions was the steam swing. Two gondola
cars each seating twenty persons would start their pendular motion
in opposite directions until after four or five swings the gondolas
were swinging through 270 degree arcs. Slow up but belly bopping on
About this time I was apprenticed to Ruston Hornsby, a company
that had progressed through the making of agricultural machinery to
diesel manufacture. One of my first jobs was to tear out pithead
hoisting engines and replace them with oil engines. The polished
mahogony lagging with burnished brass strapping on these old
engines was something to behold. Many of the employees would make
model steam locomotives in their leisure hours. Even to the extent
of making their own wooden patterns and casting the fittings, just
for the gratification of having made a model from scratch. Triple
expansion compound marine units were also a popular and impressive
exhibit when finished.
Regressing to my childhood, I remember that we used to sit on
railroad embankments and collect notebooks full of locomotive
numbers, and could tell you where each train had come from and
where it was going.
Another sport was dropping stones from a bridge into the funnels
of passing tugboats. The crew would be ready for us with fistfulls
of hard coal. We would collect the ‘bullets’ and take them
home to mother who would put them in the combination stove that
heated the house, heated the water and cooked the meals.
Coming to Canada in 1950, I saw two steam plow tractors (Nov.
issue) dredging a manmade lake in a Liverpool park. Proceeding from
Quebec to Toronto in midwinter was some experience. Heat came from
under the seat coils which roasted your backside and left the rest
of you freezing. Twenty years later on a steam excursion I still
had cold feet though the temperature was 80 degrees. Such are
1960 saw the phasing out of steam; but not before the company I
worked for, had to call in a C. N. ‘Northern’ to supply
steam when our 800 h.p. boiler pump was repaired. When I left their
employ in 1971 they were still using an 18′ dia. 36′ stroke
steam engine direct coupled to a vacuum pump for glycerine
extraction. Made in 1914 it is still working 24 and 16 hour shifts
continuously. The only repair was new babbitt bearings and
re-seating of the governor. About this time a contractor was
driving piles into the Toronto waterfront using steam shovels.
These rigs were advertised for sale not too long ago. I wonder who
I came to Ottawa in 1972; one time-heart of the logging
industry. The museum in nearby Algonquin Park features all sorts of
hand tools, axes, etc. and an Alligator. I had never heard of this
animal before, I know you Prairie people have not seen one. The
Alligator had an 8 hp. engine and boiler located in the center of a
stone boat. The crew would attach a cable to a log boom and anchor
the other end to a tree on the distant shore (1 mile) of the lake.
The Alligator would then winch itself and load to the tree and
repeat the process. When there were rapids or hills to cross, the
crew would simply winch the beast over dry land.
An age has passed, but not been forgotten. Have you Yanks
visited Milton and our other Ontario shows? Have you visited Ottawa
Science Museum’s Locomotive Hall or Delson P. Q. railroad
museum? These are sights to see and experience!