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HAI) our contemplated journey been half across Europe or even to Timbuctoo, I do not doubt that we would not have let seven years go by without bringing our project to fruition. In fact, however, the journey itself presented no difficulty whatever, and therefore it was continually postponed for a full lustre. (I was a bit doubtful of that word and have just looked it up in the dictionary. Unfortunately it seems— blast it—to mean ” a period of five years ” instead of seven. Therefore I should say ” a full 1 2/5 or 1.4 lustres,” which doesn’t sound so well.)
But to begin at the beginning, it was some years ago that we were walking across some of the flattest and least inspiring meadows of the South of England , when having leapt a stream and pushed our way through a thick hedge, we found ourselves in a field, which Owing to the height and density of the surrounding cover, was curiously secluded from the outside world. At one end of the field was a large shed which on closer acquaintance proved to be nothing less than a hangar. Its condition approached the ruinous, and standing on tip-toe one could Jost peer in through a chink in the dilapidated door.
“Through a glass darkly.”
Inside, only imperfectly visible in the senn-dorkness, was an aeroplane, obviously of early and somewhat primitive type. Equally obviously it was not finished, for the fabric covering of the wings was absent, while it was difficult to discern the details of its design in the poor light which struggled in through sundry chinks and the grimy window. A bench stood in one corner and beside it the chassis of an early motor car which was evidently used to drive the lathe. The whole place wore an air of desertion.
We were promptly consumed with curiosity as to the identity of the pioneer aviator and the reason for his evident abandonment of his researches. We decided, perhaps a trifle romantically, that he had been working in secret before the War, had possibly been killed in that unpleasant period, and that his secret had remained undisturbed ever since in that lonely field. We resolved to return as soon as possible and investigate further ; before we actually did so seven years bad Slipped away. Our mount when the journey at last WaS started could hardly have been more suitable. Ahead, as :11,,Ir. Michael Arlen would say, the stork screamed shrilly
(in honour of Capitaine Guynemer) ; behind it were eight litres of special racing engine ; and behind us a graceful streamlined tail drooped gently to its short knife-edge near the road. The wind, unhampered by such frivolities as windscreens, whistled by our ears.
We left the car in the outskirts of the village nearest to our objective and struck off across country. I give all credit to my companion for acting as navigator, for alone I should have never found the way after this lapse of time. Suddenly, however, I saw the familiar field, altered somewhat where trees and hedges had lately been cut down, but still unmistakeable. We looked across to where the old wooden shed should have stood, and instead of it saw a couple of brand new hangars, gaily picked out one in blue, the other in green.
We were engaged on a detailed tour of inspection of their exteriors when there appeared a yokel who diffidently remarked that he thought we were trespassing. By way of reply I asked him who was the owner of the aerodrome and my companion immediately claimed an intimate acquaintance with the gentleman he named. We then asked what had become of the old shed with its equally antique aeroplane, to which he replied that that had nothing to do with the present owner of the aerodrome, and indeed he knew little about it. He advised us to make further enquiries of the farmer who owned the field.
An unknown pioneer.
The latter proved to be a most amiable individual who rapidly proceeded to clear up the whole “mystery,” quashed one of our theories, but added to the story a wealth of further interest. The owner of the old aeroplane, he told us, was still very much alive in spite of the fact that the machine which we had seen was not his first uncompleted attempt at aeronautics. He had built his first aeroplane in 1906, and at least two others had preceded the one with which we were acquainted. The designer had certainly flown, the farmer indeed had flown with him— in an early attempt when, airborne, they had gone right across the field and landed in the hedge. Aeroplane Number 3, I think it was, had in fact flown several miles, though in a straight line, for it showed a distinct disinclination to alter its courSe. Before long, however, something Went wrong and the machine crashed to earth, the engine
burying itself several feet deep in the ground. Number 4 had been commenced to replace the wrecked plane, but the War intervening, had never been completed. Finally the designer had apparently abandoned his attempts and sold his aeronautical effects to the farmer.
The remains of the aeroplane, he told us, he had broken up, but he still had the engine which had been used in all the machines from the first to the last, and which we could see if we cared to.
We accepted promptly, and he led us to a shed, where in the gathering dusk, we searched for our objective with the aid of a flash lamp. The engine proved to be in pieces, though apparently more or less complete. No manufacturer’s name was discoverable, but the motor appeared to be a 4-cylinder unit working on the 2-stroke’ principal. The undivided crankcase puzzled us a bit, until amid the debris we came upon what was undoubtedly a rotary blower. Our journey we felt had not been in vain, for this was a find of exceptional interest. I only wished I could discover more about this remarkable design—how the devil you started it for instance. Perhaps if this should meet the eye of its original owner he will tell us more about his early experiments in flying, and the engine which he used for his attempts.
Those Early Days.
Among the more annoying things which those of us, who, by reason of our belated birth, missed the pioneer days of motoring, have to put up with, is the moralising of those who if not really pioneers are at least entitled to call themselves “early motorists.” ” You’ve no idea of what motoring was like in the early days.they say, condescendingly ; ” nowadays you just get into a car and drive wherever you want to go. In those days every journey was an adventure.” However I can advise those who have suffered under this kind of thing to recapture the old conditions in the year 1932 and be able to meet their tormentors on more or less equal terms. The following little travelogue refers to an era not many years but quite a few weeks ago. Before lunch on Sunday I started to get the Six Horse Power Single Cylinder ready for the run, and having wheeled it out into the stable yard, proceeded to pour a can of petrol into the tank. Before long a persistent drip was apparent on the cobble stones, which, however, I persuaded myself was only petrol I had spoilt, until it developed into a steady trickle. This forced me to the conclusion that the tank
had sprung a pretty bad leak, and what despatch I could muster I found piece of rubber tube and siphoned petrol out again (getting a good in the process, owing to of my powers of induction). It obvious that the day being Sunday and place the depths of the country, there very little chance of getting the tank paired ; and my spirits sank until trying again I found that the leak evidently some three inches from bottom of the tank. On this supply, reinforced by a couple of cans I set out for London.
En Route for London.
Not wishing to run out of petrol the town, I stopped just before
Wokingham, having covered some miles, to find that there were still a of inches left in the tank. This was dently due to the large proportion of which I had bipassed direct into induction pipe instead of passing it the jet. At the same time, however, I found that the engine did not stop switched oft and investigation proved the friction wheel of the water pump hardly touching the flywheel and so not being driven. A minor albeit one which necessitated lying prone on a very wet road, remedied matters in this respect, and we proceeded. On to Bracknell, Ascot and Virginia Water, and still the petrol lasted ; then at the top of the long hill after passing the ” Wheatsheaf,” the car suddenly lurched alarmingly, groaned hoarsely and refused to respond to the bucking brake lever. At last, however, it came to rest, and a glance at the back of it disclosed the fact that the nut had come off the bolt holding one brake shoe in place, the shoe had slipped of its drum and jatubed between the latter and the wheel, breaking the bolt which held the two ends of the shoe together in the process. Curiously enough the guilty nut had remained on the spring and was hastily replaced, while the broken bolt had substituted for it a long piece of heavy brass wire passed round and round the two ends. The repair was quite a good one, but the brakes were now somewhat out of adjustment. And in the drizzling rain I descended the hill into Egham with elaborate caution. Our
stop had revealed that there was still an inch of petrol in the tank ; evidently she was running largely on air ! Our journey to London was completed without further incident. The following Saturday with a large new plate on the petrol tank, we set off but a few minutes after nine o’clock on the second half of our journey. At the last minute it was noticed that the petrol tap was leaking, and as there was no time to be lost, the offending part was given a sharp blow, which if it prevented it leaking also prevented it being turned off. How
ever at first all went well, and our way through the traffic of the Sisters Road, we proceeded Near Roinford we were passed by horizontal engined Cadillac, its final driving chain singing melodiously, and then a few yards further on our stopped with a sob. At the same a flood of petrol streamed out onto road, while having stopped the car cursed my earlier folly as I sought knock the tap back the other way and permit of its being turned off. thus engaged we heard a roar behind and a 50 h.p. Gordon Bennett racing car appeared on the scene, driver refusing to proceed until he assured himself that our troubles surmountable. Luckily a garage was far away and there we were able to get the broken petrol pipe soldered, and replace the spirit which we had lost.
The Return Journey. It after o’clock in the
It was after 6 o’clock in the before we set about returning homewards, and as soon as we had got the started we found that the water-pump had struck work again. This time the trouble was not so easy to cure, for the bracket by which the pump was held to the tube of the frame had apparently fallen off, leaving the pump suspended by the water connections, in which position the vibration had so effectively agitated it, that the horizontal pin surrounded by a coil spring which is supposed to keep the friction wheel up against the flywheel, had half torn the brass of its bearing on the pump to bits. Despairing of doing anything on the spot, we set off, pumpless, for Romford. There of course it was market day, and as we picked our way through the assembled populace we were preceded by a vast Cannstadt Daimler landau, creaking gently from its pinion drives on the hubs of its huge back wheels and with a faint aura of blue smoke about its engine box between them. Darkness was now closing in, and our car was left in a garage in Romford for the night.
The next morning we set about effecting repairs to the pump, and while we were thus engaged there appeared in the garage a jaunty little man with his hands in his pockets, accompanied by a very stout friend.
“That’s one of the old ones,” said the jaunty man with a knowledgable nod, after regarding the car fixedly for sometime.
” Yes,” I replied, “thirty years old.”
“And it still goes,” said the stout man wheezily, “‘s marvellous.”
” Brigifed last in Southampton,” said the jaunty one, and, when I looked rather puzzled, pointed to the licence.
” Oh, yes,” I explained hastily, “I live in Hampshire.” “Briefed for thirty-eight and nine,” he continued, “and what do they rush
you for insurance ? “
“Well, I paid a guinea for a month,” I admitted, rather diffidently.
“Thirty-eight and nine, and nine, forty-nine and nine, call fifty,” he went on, “and what’s worth ? What could I, as a breaker, you for her ? What’s the metal worth Thirty bob ! “
“Legalised Highway Robbery !”
I explained that to me, and to one or two other people who liked that kind of thing, really old cars were worth rather more. He was impressed. “Well, there’s one thing,” he admitted,
you wouldn’t pull those cylinder holding down nuts off in a hurry. Different to nowadays, nowadays it’s all skimp, that’s what it is. Now take a Blank Twelve” (he indicated a popular car which stood near us in the garage) ; “I’ll take a gamble, that with a Blank Twelve and the tools sent out with it, I’ll break every nut on the car—or else break the tools ! “
I looked suitably impressed, and he continued :—” And what’s done it ? It’s this horse-power tax what’s done it. Legalised highway robbery, that’s what I call it. And that’s why I always blame my old dad, because he didn’t have me educated. If he had I’d have been on the side of the robbers ! “
“I wouldn’t like to take a ride in her remarked the stout friend, who hadn’t spoken for some time, “I’d be afraid of falling out.” He sniffed apprehensively, and I felt distinctly relieved. ” tell you what you could do, you know, just for a comic,” remarked the jaunty man, “fix a big strap on here,” he indicated the side of the driver’s seat, “and when anyone asks you what it’s
for, say, Oh! that’s to strap myself in with, otherwise I’d be afraid of falling out.’ That wouldn’t be bad for a comic. Good morning.”
“La Comtesse” triumphant.
At last our repairs to the pump were complete, but it was with some slight trepidation, my companion of the day before being no longer available, that I set off by myself for London by the direct road. Ilford and Stratford were passed successfully, but as “la Comtesse ” chugged her way along the Mile End Road, to the cheers of the Sunday mid-day crowds which thronged the pavements, I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if she broke down seriously. I felt that if I left her to get help, I should find nothing left on my return owing to the raids of the souvenir hunters. It was with some relief that threading my way through the traffic of Aldgate High Street I saw the familiar helmet of the first City policeman. But the old lady chugged merrily on, and leaving Romford at 11.50 a.m., arrived triumphantly at the Marble Arch, exactly at one o’clock.