'Oron', 11 Avenue Road, Chelmsford, England CM2 9TY
In the UK the normal way to sell a steam vehicle has been to advertise it in one of the national preservation magazines, such as Old Glory, or in one of the specialist journals like Rolling, published by the Road Roller Association. However, just recently, the method of auctioneering has come into vogue and, quite surprisingly, one of the leaders in this field is none other than the world famous Sotheby's, which has its headquarters in 34 New Bond Street, London, with fifteen offices across the States with the main one in 1334 York Avenue, New York.
Established in 1774, the name Sotheby's has been synonymous with quality, professionalism and service in the world of fine art auctioneering, so it was something of a surprise to find out that it now handles auctions of collectors cars, commercial, military and steam vehicles and automobile. Moreover each auction is preceded by the issue of a superbly designed and extensively illustrated catalogue which contains detailed descriptions of every sale item together with historical notes and the estimated price range. Indeed these catalogues will most certainly be kept as valued reference books by collectors and museums throughout the world.
A recent auction was held in October 1992, by the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, when over 600 lots were offered up, including several steam vehicles that I was interested in.
One was a 1927 Fowler steam roller, Works #16961, which was initially bought by the Aberdeen, Scotland, County Council and was used on road construction and repair throughout the county. After that it provided the source of power to drive a sawmill and was then used to steam-aerate the soil in a garden nursery. This roller sold for 7,500 sterling.
Another was a 1923 10 ton Arm-strong-Whitworth compound piston-valve roller, Works #10R35. As there are only about seven of this type in this country, it was surprising that it only made 9,000.
Another relatively rare engine to go under the hammer was an 1899 7 NHP Robey general purpose tractor, Works #19435, which was sold for 16,500.
One of the most interesting items was an American 1909 Stanley, Model E-2, 20 HP steam car, two seater, runabout. The catalogue stated that it came from the family of cars built by the twin brothers F. E. and F. O. Stanley. One such car, named the Woggle-Bug, in 1906 reached 127.66 mph at Daytona Beach but a spectacular crash the following year at 150 mph destroyed the car. The steam record has never been broken.
The particular car auctioned was owned for many years by Ken Maxwell, of Tucson, Arizona, before passing to the Harrah Museum in Reno, Nevada, where it was restored. About three years ago it was imported into the UK, where it had additional work done on it, including having a new boiler. It was auctioned off for 17,000.
The highest price at this auction was obtained for another American item, a World War I Riker Open Staircase Double-Decker Omnibus Engine #1045. This was built by the Locomotive Company of America and was known as a Riker to honour the name of the company founder Andrew Riker. This old bus, which had been making celebrity appearances at several UK rallies, was sold for 48,000.
Early in 1991, Sotheby's auctioned the Norman Ball Transport Collection, in the Isle of Wight, and this also included two steam rollers. One was an Aveling & Porter, 8-ton machine built in 1929, Works #12502, and the other was a Wallis & Steevens #7745, made in 1923.
A 1930 Foden Sun Type steam tractor #12846 was on offer, and this was probably the rarest of all the Foden products to survive, as only three were ever sold. it was made in an attempt to maintain the farmer's interest in steam traction, and it was claimed to be able to haul loads of 12 tons or plough 12 acres a day.
Also auctioned was a pair of steam ploughing engines, Works #15226 and 15227, both built by John Fowler of Leeds in 1918. These engines were not used for direct traction ploughing but were used in pairs, one either side of a field, taking it in turns to haul a plough back, then forth. I was particularly interested in this pair of engines, as I had just researched their history from the time of manufacture through all the various owners, up to the present day.
Haleson steam motor cycle, reg. #3562, 206 cc, built 1903. Hash steam generator, paraffin fired. Single cylinder, poppet valves, operating at pressure up to 1000 psi. Maximum speed 30-40 m.p.h.
In 1917 the Agricultural Machinery Branch of the Ministry of Munitions placed a large order with Fowler's to enable food production to be increased, as the United Kingdom government feared a famine due to the enemy blockade. This particular pair was delivered to a farmer in Leicestershire on October 8th, 1918. By the time they reached this auction they had had eight different owners. The previous one had, in 1983, used them to dredge a lake. The same principle as for ploughing was used except that one engine would do the actual dredging and the other one would then haul back the empty dredge ready for the next pull. This job took four months to complete, mainly during the winter months, and on average 70 tons of mud and silt were moved over a distance of 300 yards.
At the auction a lot of interest was shown in these engines, and they were sold for 44,000.
Pat Freeman is the Publicity Officer for the Road Roller Association of Great Britain and would be pleased to answer questions on rollers. He will also answer any queries on steam ploughing. Cost of joining the RRA is 10 sterling per 12 months, and includes the journal Rolling four times a year post free. Send queries or remittances to him at the above address.
Stanley Steam Car, 10 HP, Registered No. 7831, built in 1908. This car was imported to England from Florida in 1987. It is shown here at the 1992 Great Dorset Steam Fair, as is the motor cycle shown above.