A Different Sort Of Sport



AN accelerative G.T. car devouring a good road at over 100 m.p.h., or a responsive sports car accelerating up through the gears, lifts motoring out of the rut of A to B transportation and turns it into a sport. But motoring has many facets and the words that follow, and the pictures on this page, are about a different sort of sport.

Traction engine rallies are now an accepted aspect of the English summer; the first one was held in aid of charity in a field at Appleford in 1952 at the instigation of G. J. Romanes, an ophthalmic surgeon. This year there have been two dozen such rallies, at which steam traction engines, wagons and rollers have given demonstrations and indulged in races. This sport is administered to by the National Traction Engine Club (founded in 1953), whose Chairman is Major Rev. Philip Wright, M.B.E. (Hon. Sec.: E. A. Fillimore, 34, Northwick Park Road, Harrow. Middlesex), the Road Locomotive Society and a number of local clubs. The National Traction Engine Club publishes a printed magazine called Steaming.

Traction engines cavorting round a field are fun, but to follow them along the road, their natural habitat (unless they are ploughing engines) gives even greater satisfaction. Consequently, when I heard that John Goddard and Dan Crittall were setting off to bring three engines back to Braintree from a rally at Ikleton I contrived to be present. To get to this rural part of Essex from my home in Hampshire I had to accept the miseries of the wild-fowler, breaking open the warm bed-clothes while Sunday was still dark and a chill mist hung in the early-morning air.  We were up at 5, away at 6.30 a.m., intent on shooting, not wildfowl but a camera at road locos from the distant past….. 

Dawn developed into a beautiful morning but there was a pitfall in store. Due to my casual interpretation of instructions, 9 a.m. found me in a big field at Kelvedon, keeping company with half-a-dozen engines that had taken part in a rally on the previous day, but which now slept peacefully after their exertions under neat tarpaulins, sheeted up with their water cold. From amongst these somnambulant giants emerged the owner of the sideshows, set up to entertain the departed spectators. Clear-eyed, his white moustache neatly trimmed, a shapeless black hat thrust onto his head, he expressed an interest in steam, having owned, he said, his own engine, way back. “I’ve had a licence since 1917 and never had it endorsed.” His opinion of present-day driving standards and the attitude of the modern copper tallied with our own. . . .

Presently a car arrived and its two male occupants approached a huge Burrell Showman’s Locomotive, attacking its firebox tubes with a long rod, and brushing soot out through its smoke-box door with a stove-brush, so that soon dense and acrid black smoke drifted from its tall funnel and water vapour sizzled round its safety valve. Alas, one of the children contrived to fall into the small pile of soot, the only dirt in the expanse of the 100-acre field. . . .

Impatient for our own taste of traction-engine adventure we found a telephone, and so learned that we were many miles from the intended rendezvous.

Although we now drove the minibric rally-fashion towards Saffron Walden, no engines could we find. Sight-seers in the lovely village of Finchingfield hadn’t seen them, neither had some youths at Radwinter.

Resignedly we lunched under black oak beams at the “Saracen’s Head” at Great Dunmow, and we were about to return home when news was received that the engines had not passed through Saffron Walden until nearly noon. Now traction engines do not average more than about 4 m.p.h., so there was still a chance of locating them.

Frenziedly we retraced our route, positioning ourselves above them, before turning back towards Braintree. It wasn’t long before my teen-age daughter drew attention to a trail, a faint track, on the tarmac, as if some monster from an earlier decade had passed that way. Sure enough, in another mile or two we came upon Dan Crittall’s 8-n.h.p. 13-ton Burrell steaming strongly, towing one of those pneumatic-tyred 4-wheeled trailers that accompany most engines to rallies to carry the coal, etc. And a little farther ahead, there was John Goddard’s 1903 doublecrank 15-ton Burrell compound, driven by Jack Shuttlewood, with an 11-ton Marshall single-crank general-purpose engine attached to it by a stout tow-bar. Due to our late arrival we were unable to witness the firing-up procedure or to drive, but the mere passage of these engines was impressive, the ground literally trembling as the first two monsters rattled on their homeward way. The route from Ickleton to Braintree via the charming village of Thaxted is hilly, so four stops to take on water from wayside streams were necessary, despite a tank capacity of 350-400 gallons. Nevertheless, the 59-year-old Burrell got up quite severe gradients, hauling the Marshall, a combined weight of some 26 tons, without requiring a change of gear; and gear-changing on a traction engine usually means coming to rest. In Thaxted the passage of the Burrells past the timbered houses and shops was an added attraction for American sight-seers and Christening parties at the old spired church.

Progress was slow, normal speed being about 8 m.p.h., although Dan Crittall, who drove such engines years ago, pushed along at some 15 m.p.h. at times. Peter McGrath steered the second Burrell for part of the distance, being delighted to have this experience, on a brief holiday from Australia. John Goddard, connoisseur of good cars and anything steam (he served his apprenticeship in steam, at Thornycroft’s), also took his turn winding his Burrell round the bends; otherwise he kept the convoy together, driving his Shorrock-supercharged Mini.

Having had a long day, we put the camera away when the engines were some miles from Dunmow. They then had about 14 miles to go to their destination at Silver End; it was around 3.30 p.m. and the anxiety was whether they could get in before dark. As even a vintage light-car could have done this distance comfortably in half-an-hour, this underlines the low speed of traction-engine travel.

We heard subsequently that a safe landfall was accomplished at 5.45 p.m.; this makes the overall average just over 5 m.p.h.!

It is all the greatest fun, and on deserted rural roads these engines cause very little inconvenience, because their steersman sitting so high, can see over hedges and can thus wave-on cars, even round corners. With one person screwing-on the brakes, another steering, a third driving, and remembering their very low speed, these juggernauts are safer than badly-handled cars. They are the greatest fun, a throw-back to an age that has vanished long since; we shall hope to accompany others on their leisurely journeys and meanwhile it would be interesting to hear of longer distances covered in a day by steam vehicles, either in contemporary times or by those who scorn transporters on which to take their engines to rallies.—W. B.



A correspondent writing to the Glasgow Herald protests against the “infamous, arbitrary, anti-speed radar device which is much in evidence in Ayrshire and Renfrewshire.” He quotes in evidence a case when a funeral caused a traffic hold-up in Girvan, the police, the correspondent alleges, being far more concerned with their radar-trap than with controlling the traffic. He recalls the “most underhand manner” in which one or two Monte Carlo Rally competitors were trapped in a small village in South Ayrshire, and quotes the case of his young daughter and girl-friend who were “accosted by two officious Ayrshire policemen and held for questioning,” although they had committed no offence whatsoever and were merely travelling from the Edinburgh Festival to Girvan in the small hours of the morning.

Those planning 1963 holidays in Britain may feel that it would be wise to avoid going to Ayrshire and Renfrewshire.


During the recent rail stoppage, Mr. Marples, quite sensibly, rode his bicycle in London.

Being a publicity lover he had his picture in the Press and on T.V. He was seen facing the wrong way up a One-Way Street. In such matters the Minister of Transport should be careful to set a good example even if he is exempt from the Law.