Steam Tractor, Part III
The Allchin engine I spoke about in the last installment of this ongoing yawn,was the product of a small Northampton firm that made good quality but unflashy agricultural engines. It was owned by a "local" farmer called Grice,whose advancing years made it impractical for him to drive it on the road himself,so it was brought in,and taken home,by volunteers. The threshing machine was his as well.
The driver was Henry Marshall,a man of great girth,who wanted a steersman.That was me.We made sure the bunker tank was full of water before we set out,and turned out of the gate onto the road,while an obliging cop stopped the traffic.One thing you *never* do with one of these great behemoths,is get too close to the left hand verge.If you did,the whole thing would slide ponderously into the ditch.So we kept fairly close to the centre of the road,much to the annoyance of the driver of an Austin A40,who evidently though his journey was *much* too important to be held up by a mere eight tons or so of engine,plus its trailing load. He made a great big fuss for half a mile or so,eventually getting past,carefully,on a wider bit,his back seat passenger making "get over" gestures through the back window.Now all these engines have cylinder drain cocks,operated from the foot plate,which,when opened,allow condensate out of iether end of the cylinder.The two cock outlets are neatly piped together, and pipe the steam onto the road.So I opened 'em.All over him as he went past.Henry blew a derisive toot on the whistle. The poor sod wobbled all over the road.I have since had cause to wish for a steam generator of sorts on the Land Rover.It was a *most* effective weapon!
The main problem with driving steam on the roads even then, and certainly now,was water.You could carry enough coal,but in a ten mile trip,the water was a nightmare.Trouble was, when steam was used,there were plenty of streams,ponds etc, where you could dip your water lifter hose in and get a fill. Since then,ponds have been filled in,and streams culverted, and we were bloody nearly tank dry by the time we got to the only remaining filling point in the whole ten mile trip. And even then,the stream had tons of weed in it,which kept clogging the strainer,so we were pretty desperate by the time we had finished.The engine drove well,though,usual vague steering,but nothing *too* bad,and it was a good steamer. One reason,perhaps,was that Old Grice had it new,in the early twenties.A true "One Owner" job.
I got a call a week later,to say that Captain Scott needed a driver.Now Capt Scott was a *big* road engine,built by MacLarens of Leeds(next door to Fowlers,in fact)originally for export(Russia,I think),but it never made it.It was a full fifteen tons,and sported a dynamo and exciter(no Ben, calm down),for some reason which was as then unknown,because it wasnt a showmans machine.The canopy was the half length type,deeply bowed in the roof with deep side boards,which was just as well,it was pisitively possing it down!This engine had the usual bunker tank,but also had a belly tank under the boiler for extra range.It was to go from the rally I've mentioned to another one locally which always took place a fortnight later.The MacLaren was well geared up for road work, a compound,fitted with solid rubber tyres,and was well-nigh silent on the road.AND her injectors worked!We tanked down the locally known "Long Hill" at about thirty,and got pulled over by the fuzz, who asked us *please* would we take it easy through the town! The trip was about eight miles,with no possibilty of water till we got there,despite having to cross a river bridge on the way, with some trepidation,I might add,that bridge is *still* in lousy condition,but the water hose was too short.Driving one of these machines through town is a lovely experience!*Nobody*,not even bus drivers,tries to argue with you.You stand way up there, warm and dry,those canopies really *did* work,motion whirring round in front,very little exhaust blast,surrounded by fifteen tons of best Sheffield steel.The engine was *alive* in a way that no IC engined device ever can be.If baulked at traffic lights,the whistle could promote some rubber burning take offs from the most unlikely little family salloons, should Granny happen to doze off at the wheel.When we reached the site,it was pretty much of a bog,which required some fairly delicate throttle juggling for us to get down to the river to fill up the tanks.Being a two cylinder compound,the thing didnt stick on dead centres like a single,but on the otther hand, solid rubber tyres didnt have any tread.
The ploughing engines came into their own mant years after their retirement.A block of flats in Manchester had a problem with its drains.That is,they caught fire.The residents complained that the cold water was hot,and getting hotter.So local contractors were called in with Caterpillars to open the drains to air so that the fire could be put out.After they had lost two Cats down the hole,they realised that the gropund pressure of modern kit was far too high for that sort of work.So No12 set was put on two low loaders,with the Mole Drainer,and set off to the site. The residents were treated to the sight of two eighty year old machines performing the task for which they were built,albeit in vastly different surroundings,and then hauling two Cats out of the mess they'd got themselves into.What's more,nothing else *could* have done that job,and no-one else in the country had either a full pair,or,more importantly,the implements.
I'll tell you about the Rev "Teddy" Boston next time.