P.O. Box 514, Pittsfield, Vermont 05762
The Wallis family of Basingstoke, England were Quakers with many
agriculture related businesses which they consolidated in the 1840s
under the name of ‘Wallis Brothers, Iron founders &
Agricultural Implement Makers.’ They also traded in coal and
slate and owned several barges, carrying freight to and from
In the mid-1850s, Arthur Wallis established the North Hants
Ironworks, building various types of machinery. He soon took on a
partner, Charles Steevens, who was a good businessman, and the
company grew and prospered. They sold portables and threshers from
other manufacturers and made their own ‘horse powers.’ In
the late 1860s they started building their own portables.
1917 Wallis & Steevens built at Basingstoke, England, now
owned by W. Bruce Waterworth, Pittsfield, Vermont. Photo taken at
Rough & Tumble by Jack C. Norbeck, author of Encyclopedia of
American Steam Traction Engines.
On June 21, 1876, they tested their first traction engine of 8
NHP. (British tractions are usually quoted in Nominal Horse Power
which needs multiplying by about 7 to determine BHP.) It was a
rugged but sound engine and they gained a reputation for
‘blacksmith building.’ All their boiler plate was hand
worked up to the last engine in 1940. The early engines even came
with corks in the oil holes instead of lubricators.
One of the founder’s sons suffered badly from asthma and so
was sent to South Africa for health reasons. This led to a good
deal of business from the diamond mining industry for winding
engines and other narrow gauge railway related equipment.
Only one early Wallis engine survives, a 7 NHP traction from
October 1883. In 1884 they patented a new design of a single
cylinder ‘expansion’ engine with a complex valve
arrangement causing less steam to be admitted at higher speeds
without reducing the exhaust opening. This proved to be a good
threshing engine and sold well. In 1890 they had started providing
rollers for which they were to become world famous. The first
roller built worked for over fifty years and survives to this
Bruce Waterworth’s Wallis & Steevens English engine
being squeezed into a Ryder truck (don’t ask the weight!). He
then took her home to Vermont to be rebuilt.
By 1900 they had produced almost one hundred rollers and three
hundred tractions and portables. Only six survive, three rollers
and three tractions.
In the late 1890s the government eased some of the road
restrictions placed on vehicles and this led to the development of
the ‘3 ton’ road tractors with a single 5? x 9 cylinder. A
further slackening in weight restrictions in 1904 led to larger
tractors and in 1905 the first Oil Bath Compound was built. This
was a Wallis patent in which the entire motion was enclosed in a
large, light casting with splash lubrication. Cylinders of 4? x 8?
were used with 9′ stroke and 170 psi. This design, with slight
upgrades, was produced until the mid 1920s. Approximately 250
tractors were built, with 17 remaining.
In 1906 they started production of wagons using the same engine
and boiler as the tractor and also used the OBC engine for rollers.
The quiet exhaust of a compound was more popular for use in towns
and around horses. (Co-incidentally, the fourth such roller
produced went to Henry Woodham of London who became the second
owner of ‘Lady Luck.’) Wallis & Steevens did a brisk
business with tractions, wagons and rollers up to the First World
War, at which time a lot of their production went to the War
Department. They also produced cast iron cases for mortar bombs. At
the end of hostilities, business slumped and the company lost money
for a couple of years.
In 1922, as a result of meetings with county engineers and
roller clients, including Henry Woodham, at which the problems of
tandem and three point rollers were discussed, Francis Wallis came
up with a revolutionary new design in which all three wheels were
almost the same size, the weight was evenly distributed and the
back axle was split so that the road camber could be better
followed. The flywheel was removed to give almost instant
forward-reverse changes, and double high pressure cylinders were
used. This type of roller was called the ‘Advance,’ the
first one going to Henry Woodham. Many of these were built and
exported all over the world. By the 1930s Wallis started using
diesel engines and gradually phased out steam. The last two steam
rollers were built and delivered to the War Department in 1940.
Production of diesel rollers continued with fluctuations in yearly
production varying from less than fifty to one hundred and fifty
In 1966-67 Wallis & Steevens moved to a new works and
unfortunately most of the old stock, patterns, etc., were
abandoned. Sales were good until the early ’80s when, due to a
greatly reduced market at home and abroad, the company finally
closed its doors. The company had passed from father to son from
start to finish.
So much for the brief outline of the company, now for the story
of ‘Lady Luck.’ (Most British engines have names.)
I had long dreamed of owning a steam engine and in 1992 started
researching what would be good to buy and what to avoid. As part of
my research I went to Rough & Tumble and was surprised to see
this nice little English engine sitting in the ‘bone-yard’.
I made some inquiries, took some photos and heard a few stories.
‘Very expensive.’ ‘Converted roller.’ ‘No
papers, boiler inspector won’t look at it,’ etc. I spent
the next year thinking about it and looking at the photos. I asked
my sister in England to go to some shows and get me the name of
somebody with a similar engine with whom I could correspond. She
gave me the name of Peter Wyatt (#7482 Royal Star of 1914). I owe
him a great deal of thanks. He told me that most of the drawings
and records were on file at the Museum of English Rural Life at
Reading University. Peter at one time researched all the remaining
OBC tractors and was able to give me the full history of my
During the August 1993 Rough and Tumble Reunion I did a more
detailed inspection and got the name of the owner. I wrote to him
in Ireland and the next week he phoned me. After a little
negotiation the engine was mine. In the fall I removed all the
valves, checks, injectors, etc. and rebuilt them over the winter.
In the spring of ’94 Irenewed all the injector piping and
generally cleaned her up. Armed with a copy of the original boiler
drawing which also listed all the test pressures, she passed a
hydro and inspection and was certified for 150 psi. The only change
necessary was to replace the English safety valve with an American
‘Lady Luck’ ran again for the 1994 R & T Reunion at
which the cover photo was taken. The belly tanks and boiler
cladding are removed for the inspection. Being able to drive the
engine revealed a few problems in the transmission (two speed). So,
the spring of ’95 I squeezed her into a Ryder truck (don’t
ask the weight!) and brought her home to Vermont to sort things
out. It appears that the last ‘genius’ who rebuilt the
transmission put new axles in the differential pinions, but failed
to drill grease ways or fit greasers! Needless to say I have a lot
of boring and bushing to do and a couple of cracked castings to
The engine had a hard life. Built in 1917 as a road tractor, it
was converted to a roller in 1920 for Henry Woodham’s fleet. It
stayed in service until the early ’60s when it changed hands
and was laid up. In 1982 a new owner converted it back to a road
engine and in 1986 an Irish couple purchased it, brought it to the
States and offered it for sale. However, they were unable to get
her inspected and so there she sat until I came along. I am very
pleased to be owner #6, I just wish I owned a machine shop!!
In closing, I must thank the guys at Kinzers for all their help,
especially Ray Herr and Dan Gehman, and Ron Lewis for lending me
his Peerless. I look forward to the day when ‘Lady Luck’
and I can go head to head with Norman in the steam games!