‘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
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
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
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.