In search of steam

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After Mr. Padley-Smith had written to Motor Sport to inquire if any of the Foden steam drays once operated by Meux’s brewery still exist, a surprisingly large number of correspondents responded, proving that many of our readers are interested in vehicles other than Maseratis and Ferraris.

At one time steam wagons were a common sight on out roads. Had you left the Motor Show at Olympia or White City on an evening in the early nineteen-twenties you would have entered streets lit, not by garish neon, but by friendly gas-lamps shining softly through the misty darkness. No doubt the evening would have been as wet then as it inevitably is today and the ladies would have been lifting their dresses clear of the wet leaves on the sidewalk. The flappers, however, would be in over-the-knee skirts and sheltering under the first “stumpy” umbrellas. Such an evening as this would serve to accentuate the sizzle of steam and column of acrid smoke that every so often along the lanes of traffic would indicate the presenee of a warm-hearted steam wagon, its driver peering past t the silently revolving flywheel as he controlled his charge with a small steel-rimmed steering wheel. Exuding warmth and a smell of hot lubricant, lit only by oil-lamps, the steamers would plough their way through the November dusk, unhurried, untroubled by traffic lights or traffic wardens, and superbly aloof to the petrol vehicles around them. Today, alas, these relics of a remote, more leisurely age have vanished almost entirely, except for rare occasions when examples restored by enthusiasts assemble at traction-engine rallies.

However, our correspondents did their best to recall any that are still in harness. Mr. Doe of Ramble remembered seeing many wagons (as distinct from traction-engines) at an obscure location near Theale. We investigated, but found that only two semi-derelict late-model Seintinals on pneumatic tyres remain.

Another correspondent used to run a Foden six-wheeler, an Atkinson, a Mann waggon and Sentinals, but gave them up in 1936. He thinks it possible a Mann or Foden might be found today. News of steam wagons possibly still in service came from a Hampshire reader, who says that he believes the Devonport Gas Works may still be using some steamers and that during the Suez crisis John Smith’s, brewers, of Tadcaster, met the petrol shortage by putting some solid-tyted wagons into service; while Fremlin’s brewery put an old Sentinel on the road during the same period of petrol rationing; it carried a notice proclaiming BACK FROM RETIREMENT DELIVERING THE BEER but is, apparently, owned today by a Canterbury collector:

Another letter suggest that a tar-spraying contractor at Yeadon may still be using a 1916 Foden, which he bought new; two years ago our informant encountered it in Wensleydale and that winter, its driver said, the boiler was due to he re-tubed. It retained solid rear tyres but had been converted to pneumatics at the front. Another report refers to a Sentinal steamer seen recently in Liverpool, and recalls that up to a couple of years ago, the Trinidad Lake Asphalt Co. had a solid-tyred 6-wheeled wagon in use, its two-cylinder engine driving a mixing plant as well as providing propulsion. Another reader confirms the existence of the Sentinels in Liverpool, having encountered them last summer. Apparently one is a Super Sentinal of about 1933 vintage owned by the United Africa Co. Ltd., another a tractor belonging to Criddle & Co., flour and provender millers. The same correspondent says that one or two Sentinals dating back to the early ‘twenties are in use within the works area of Brown Bayley’s steel works in Sheffield and that at least until a year or two ago United Africa’s Super Sentinels used to make daily trips from Liverpool to Trafford Park via Warrington, pulling trailers and touching 30 m.p.h. on the level. We make the distance about 36 miles. The Mechanical Tar Spraying Co. of Reading still have a Foden on active service. When we went in search of this one it was some 20 miles from base on a job, but we believe it to be of about 1926 vintage, on pneumatic tyres, and likely to be kept in use for a long lime to come.

Other reader gave details of wagons restored for rally purposes, including seven Fodens from 1916 to 1932 vintage, but it seems that steam wagons in regular or even occasional service are now very thin in the land. – W.B.

AND NOW, VINTAGE TRACTORS

At Ross-on-Wye receutly the Agricultural Co-operative Society staged a display of 20 farm tractors, the youngest a 1929 Rushton, the oldest a 1903 18-h.p. Ivel, none of the others later than 1920. The remarkable thing is that many of these vintage traitors, the property of D. C. Hackett, were in use when found, such as a 1919 Austin used up to 1955, a 1913 Mogul used for threshing until 1947, and a 1910 Overtime used continuously since new. Even the lvel was in service in Penrith up to 1950, but a 1916 Wallis Cub has never been used, having been bought by a farmer for a son killed in the First World War. 18 makes were represented at this display, including a 28-h.p. 1919 Fiat used in Wales ever since it was a new machine.