The wagon rolls westward...

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[Steam wagons are a very off-beat form of motoring sport, I know, but so much interest was aroused by my description last month of riding on a Foden, that I am delighted to present this account by Jack Hampshire, whose articles I have so enjoyed in Steaming, journal of the National Traction Engine Club, of how the “steam-bug” bit him again after 35 years’ abstinence and caused him to make an out-and-home journey of 500 miles in seven days on a vintage solid-tyred Foden, towing a 4-berth caravan. —ED.]

Lord, send a man like Robbie Burns to sing the Song o’ Steam!

To match wi Scotia’s noblest speech yon orchestra sublime.

Whaurto—uplifted like the Just—the tail-rods mark the time.

The crank-throws give the double-bass, the feed-pump sobs an’ heaves,

An’ now the main eccentrics start their quarrel on the sheaves:

Her time, her own appointed time, the rocking link-head bides,

Till—hear that note?—the rod’s return whings glimmerin’ through the guides.

They’re all awa’! True beat, full-power, the clangin’ chorus goes goes

Clear to the tunnel where they sit, my purrin’ dynamos.

From “M’Andrew’s Hymn,” by Rudyard Kipling.

Had anyone told me six or seven years ago that I would again drive a steam wagon—also that the wagon would belong to my wife—laughing until I cried would have been the greatest understatement of the year. But hot oil, steam and coal-smoke is like a contageous disease; once you get a smell of it, you are its slave forever. When called upon to help a friend renovate an old traction engine to put in The Royal Counties Show at Horsham, six years or so ago, the “Steam Bug” bit me again good and proper.

Three years had passed from the Horsham Show when I heard of a wagon lying in a scrap yard at Ely. Vainly I argued against buying it, but the “Steam Bug” won, and once again, after 35 years, I became the owner of a Foden. After its delivery by low-loader to a yard at Billingshurst my heart sank to the soles of my shoes, for a more dilapidated looking outfit one would be hard put-to to find. The “rust moths” appeared to have eaten most of it. The chimney, smoke box, side motion plates, coal bunkers, footplate, water tank and various other bits were completely eaten away, and many generations of woodworm had made their homes in the cab and body. But later, upon close examination, after the removal of the grime of years, its “innards” were found to be in very good order.

The Log Book disclosed that this Foden was built in 1930 and was delivered to the North Hants County Council in June of that year; classified as a C-type, 6-ton, 3-way Hydraulic Tipper, Maker’s No. 13716.

Three years of hard labour passed in her restoration, which cost £200 or more, but at last the great day came when steam was raised for the first time. She looked lovely—her paint and bright work gleamed like the proverbial brass button up a sweep’s jumper.

“I’ve heard you speak of an Engine Rally in Cornwall,” said my wife. “Let’s take her there—we can make a holiday of it.” So, with a 4-berth caravan behind with ample accommodation for my wife and I, and my friend Gordon Lugg acting as fireman, we set off for Redruth, Cornwall, 252 miles away, allowing ourselves four days to do it, in easy stages.

The day before setting off the water tank was filled; oil, grease and tools were put on board, together with 13 cwt. of coal (assuming we would be able to do 25 miles per cwt. we should have a cwt. or so in hand). Normally this assumption would have been about right, but on this occasion things were far from normal.

The next morning steam was raised, and we were away, leaving Billingshurst at 10 a.m. The first stop was to be Havant, thirty miles away, where we were to pick up the caravan and my wife, who had travelled from Southampton to meet us there. The first sign of trouble came within a few miles of our starting point. A decided shudder came with each revolution of the off-side rear wheel and upon examination it was discovered there was quite a marked “flat” in the twin solid-rubber tyres. It did not seem all that bad, so we decided to continue on the journey.

Climbing Bury Hill brought home the fact that it was extremely difficult to keep a full head of steam, and unless the pressure was kept at 200-220 lb/sq. in. the engine had no power. All these things, of course, had not been revealed in previous short trial runs. The steaming trouble was due to the wrong size orifice in the exhaust blast pipe. This pipe had been eaten away by rust and Fodens themselves could not help me in the matter, as all the drawings had long since been destroyed. It could only be found by trial and error.

Havant was eventually reached and there it was discovered that one of the off-side mudguard stays had broken due to the vibration caused by the “flat” in the tyres. The stay was welded up, the water tank filled, the caravan coupled up, then all three of us climbed aboard and continued to roll westward.

***

Our next watering place was Romsey, but somehow we overshot the water-hole by about a mile. Our water tank being almost empty, there was nothing for it but to uncouple the van, turn the wagon, and go back in search of the water; finding it this time and filling up, we returned to the van, coupled it on and resumed our journey, travelling on until we found a suitable lay-by where we pulled in and parked for the night. Distance covered on the first day’s run—59 miles.

Six-thirty the next morning found us up and about, and while steam was being raised, breakfast was served. By 8 a.m. we were rolling west again.

Salisbury was our next stop for water. Here the coal situation was reviewed, calculations were made, and it was discovered that we were falling far short of 25 miles to the cwt. owing to the blast pipe already referred to. It was estimated that another 40 miles would bring us to the point of no return. Since steam coal is not readily obtained these days we had to decide whether to go on or go back. My wife voted “go on,” so go on it was.

The trouble of keeping steam grew gradually worse, and upon reaching Dinton I decided to try making some modifications to the blast pipe. I was given full use of the Smithy (my public thanks to Mr. Baker, the Smith) and a ferrule was made and fixed into position, giving far better results. While all this was being done, my wife cooked the lunch and in the general melee forgot to fasten the Calor Gas door, and after travelling for several minutes she remembered it and had to walk back three-quarters of a mile to retrieve it.

On then to Teffont Magna, through Mere to Ilchester, our next watering place. Here it was discovered that the off-side rear mudguard had completely broken adrift and was dancing a jig on the rear wheel, so it was removed altogether and tossed on to the back of the wagon. As evening drew on the sky looked very ominous, and soon came a deluge of rain that at times made it difficult to see the road. Five miles out of Ilchester we found a lay-by and pulled in for the night. The distance run that day—76 miles.

The next morning, under a bright clear sky, we made an early start, reviewing the coal situation with growing apprehension. Water was taken on at Ilminster, and at Clyst Honiton. Here I remembered the name of a Coal Merchant in Exeter who carried a stock of Welsh Steam Coal, and arranged with him, over the telephone, to meet us on the Exeter By-pass with 5 cwt. After our rendezvous with him we plodded on, taking on water at the White Horse, near Exeter, Sticklepath, Bridestowe and Two Bridges, near Launceston. Reaching the edge of Bodmin Moor, about 7 p.m., half a mile past the Jamaica Inn, we found a place to pull off and bedded down for the night, but not before walking back to the Jamaica Inn for a “corpse reviver,” to celebrate the day’s run of 81 miles. The ferrule fitted at Dinton was doing fine work and we were taking most hills in top gear, where hitherto we had been changing down at practically every hill.

The next morning found us on the road at 8 a.m., taking on water at the China Clay Works on the Moor. Then on through Bodmin and Indian Queens, reaching the Mount Hawke (near Redruth) Rally Ground at 11 a.m. Travelling distance that day—31 miles. We had used, all told, 18 cwt. of coal and 2,500 gallons of water.

The Rally was a huge success, some 40 engines of all sorts attending, and I was informed later that over 15,000 people were there. My wife was astir early that morning, polishing brass and paintwork. She was so thrilled with the Foden and all to do with it, that I made her a birthday present of it—a fact announced over the loudspeakers.

For the return journey a ton of coal was loaded up, a preset from the Rally Management, presumably for good behaviour. The only thing that marred the day was a telegram from Cunard asking my wife to report for duty on the Queen Mary on the coming Wednesday. We had intended to stay in Redruth two or three days, but the news from Southampton necessitated our leaving on Sunday morning.

We left the Rally Ground at 9.30 a.m. and made our first night stop at Okehampton. My wife, almost in tears, left us at Exeter next day to return in a friend’s car, whilst Gordon and I went on with the Foden to Zeals, parking there for the night, covering that day 85 miles. It was here that we found the near-side mudguard was almost adrift, so it was removed and took its place on the wagon with its mate.

The third day took us to Havant, where we left the caravan, then on to Billingshurst, arriving there about 6 p.m., covering a distance that day of 100 miles. The coal consumption on the return trip was 16 cwt.; water the same as on the outward journey.

In the “old days”-30-40 years age—it would have been just another day’s work, but now, as “old timer,” and with modern traffic to contend with—though I sez it meself, I didn’t do too badly.

Moral of the story? Well! If you feel a “steam bug” a biting at yer, kill ‘im afore he gits yer—or let ‘im bite, just as you fancy.

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