The Great Buffalo Hunt

| May/June 1984

75 Moor View Road, Woodseeats, Sheffield 8, England

I am a gunmaker and one day a customer called to collect a repair. He was a steam buff. I have always been a globetrotter and was planning a trip to New Zealand so he told me if I found any cheap engines to go ahead and organize shipping and funding and we would go halves on profits. I gave it little thought until later following a lead of engines seen in the South island, I began an extraordinary career (a somewhat wild career) as an engine hunter. I found scores of engines but none were allowed export if over 60 years old which, of course, covers 99 percent of the iron monsters. I should explain that I write of steam traction engines.

The long and short of it being I found and settled the price on a 3-speed single crank compound Burrel no. 2686 of 1904 and was baulked by the ruling. So I went to Australia and I gained the impression that engines litter the bush. It isn't quite that way, but a large number of traction engines worked late and survived in numbers and portables were very common. However, they all have owner seven if the claims are tenacious ones at times.

But cheerfully confident of finding a 3-speed Road Loco for 30/- or abouts, I hiked a lot of back country miles. However, things weren't that simple...typically you'd get a lead. If from a casual source, it would probably turn out to be years old or the engine in question would belong to a collector buff or else a farmer or 'cocky' as they're called down under, who would concede he had no need for it but 'it didn't eat much grass.'

Alternatively, the lead might come from a buff and while he may have let slip a GEM of a lead, he may just as likely or more so, simply passed on a lost cause lead he already knows isn't worth following up upon. Choose from whatever source, I will look in like Sherlock Holmes and follow any possibility...after all sometime or later, you must catch an owner in a selling mood and you at least know the position and the engine concerned as almost invariably the owner would be happy to let you look over it.

My at-first extraordinarily ignorant, but progressively more educated eyeballs, would scan boiler thickness, completeness, restoration needed and/or if warranted or feasible at all and so I came to know engines and began to get an affection for them. But most rewarding would be the contacts and people I met, for steam and black gunpowder are from an old world with old values and attitudes and I rarely met an owner that (if he had any regard for steam at all), wasn't what I would assess as 'one of nature's gentlemen'.