Steam Trucks and Steam Wagons

Steam trucks (or steam wagons) are a decided oddity in the U.S. but in Australia examples of the breed still survive

| May/June 2002

Traveling in the U.S. last fall, I discovered that most people I talked to had little knowledge about steam trucks (or steam wagons, as they were called in the early days). Indeed, most people had no idea what steam trucks or steam wagons looked like.

There were, to my knowledge, two main types of steam wagons built: the over type, i.e., the engine on top of the boiler; and the under type, i.e., the engine underneath the chassis.

The second photo in the photo gallery shows my Aveling & Porter number 7758 when new, Sept. 2, 1912. Aveling & Porter, Rochester, Kent, England, were well-known steamroller and traction engine builders, and in 1909 produced their first steam wagon. They made a total of 291, with the last steam wagon leaving the works on Jan. 14, 1925. Two models of steam wagon were produced – a three tonner and a five tonner. The one in the photo is the F.G.P. type built to carry five tons. When new it was ordered with end tipping, a steel-lined tray and 1,000-gallon (Imperial) water tank. It was imported by Noyes Brothers of Sydney for the municipality of Goulburn, 120 miles southwest of Sydney.

It was sold in 1937 to Perc Apps, who removed the boiler and used it to steam chaff. It fell into disrepair and was bought in 1969 and restored by 1971. The original wheels were steel but rubber tires were required to run on roads after it was restored.

My other steam wagon is a Sentinel, made by Alley & McLennan of Polmadie, Glascow. Alley & McLennan made steam engines for many years, and they were famous for their steering engines for ships. They also had a valve factory. They constructed their first steam wagon (a three tonner) in 1906 and exhibited it at the Brewer's Exhibition. It had a vertical boiler at the front, the engine was placed beneath the frame and it had duplex cylinders with a displacement of 6-3/4-inch x 5-inch.

The steam was controlled by a sliding camshaft running in an enclosed crankshaft. Sentinel maintained this arrangement (with the exception) with the vertical boiler and the totally enclosed engine until the final few left the works in 1950. In 1915 the wagon side of the business was separated and a new factory was built at Shrewsbury, Wales, where all the wagons were built from that date.