What It Was Like To Be A Traction Engine Driver In England


| July/August 1971



Some Recollections by Charles E. Hooker (With an introduction by Robert G. Pratt 'Portway House ' Cutcombe, MINE HEAD, Somerset, England)

Introduction.

Charles Hooker rightly makes a point when he says it has been possible to preserve many steam traction engines but not their drivers and as his experience of working with them goes back to before 1900, I think what he has to say should be read with respect for it is difficult to grasp now what conditions were like then.

I was born in 1884 at about the time the Traction Engine was proving its usefulness and becoming a normal sight on the roads but were still far from popular. Many roads were not fit to carry their weight and of course the horse owners hated the engines because their horses were scared of them.

In 1896 when I started working regularly with the engines and for many years after that, we had difficulty in getting the horses by and spills were quite frequent. Can you imagine what the roads were like, even the main roads such as that from London to Dover? It was a sea of mud in winter and inches deep with dust in summer. I started running a motor-bike in the summer of 1904 and I had my first car about 1907 and after our travels, whether on main roads or by-roads, my wife and I would look like millers, white with dust. No other car could follow closely because of this dust cloud.

I was apprenticed from 1900 to 1904 to the firm of Fredk. Clark & Son, Elwick Iron Works, Ashford, Kent, who were general engineers. We apprentices learned the trade right through; pattern making, visits to the local foundry, fitting from the rough and lathe work. We worked the same hours as the other workmen, 6-am to 5-pm, a 54-hour week and sometimes overtime. I remember one day I was boring a plough-engine cylinder, I was then 17. If the lathe stopped then a ridge would be left in the bore, so I carried on and it was 11.0-pm before I finished.