By Maurice A. Kelly. 147 pp. 11 3/8 in. x 8 1/2 in. (Goose & Son, 23, Davey Place, Norwich. £3.98.)
The steam waggon was part of the road transport scene in Edwardian and vintage times, so those who study motoring history should not exclude these heavy-weight commercials which were then encountered quite frequently, not only in towns and at docksides but on country roads, sometimes to the discomfort of car drivers trying to pass them or encountering them in narrow lanes. The steam traction engine has been very fully chronicled but some people, myself included, find the rarer steam waggon of equal or greater fascination.
Although the most successful steam waggon in terms of production life and ultimate efficiency was the Sentinel undertype, in various forms, the best-known waggon was the Foden from Sandbach. Indeed, many people were wont to call all overtype waggons Fodens. In fact, the less complicated, originally thermally more efficient overtype steamers came from many manufacturers. All followed the general layout of the pioneering Foden, with engine above the boiler, two- or three-speed transmission by sliding gears between crankshaft and countershaft, final drive by lengthy roller chain and centre-pivot, or Ackermann stub-axle, steering.
Because all these overtype waggons were, generally speaking, so similar, it is fascinating to try to discover what their differences were. That is what Kelly’s elaborately-illustrated book enables us to do. At first I was disappointed that it wasn’t a complete coverage of the subject, with details of the 1898-1901 Liverpool steamer trials, the War Office tests of 1901, The Commercial Motor steam-waggon contest of the 1920s, information about how road legislation down the years affected this branch of the commercial vehicle industry, and so on. I had also expected the text to deal with the evolution of the steam road vehicle, comparing different makes as it went along.
The book could have been tackled in this way. Instead, it is more a catalogue of all the known overtypes—Allehin, Aveling & Porter, Burrell, Clayton, Danks, Foden, Foster, Garrett, Mann, Naylor, Ransomes, Robey, Alley & McLellan, Straker-Squire, Tasker and Wallis & Stevvens—even Pecard from France, Buffalo-Springfield from Illinois, and Langbridge—but this treatment does disclose the subtle differences between outwardly alike engines, and one marvels at the data provided, which covers lists of owners against vehicle numbers, notes on restored waggons, specifications, and a few tit-bits about the shortcomings, the defects, of some of the different makes and models. There are plans and detail drawings, as well as photographs, 180 in all, and a bibliography.
It would be unfair to the author to divulge the aforesaid tit-bits in this review but those who are avid for every scrap of information about steamers will relish them. Moreover, the book will tell you which steam waggon had front-wheel-brakes, which a chain oil-bath, which makes invested in expensive loco-type Belpaire boilers, and how Foden chassis patents were circumnavigated, etc., etc.
Apart from the make-by-make lore which unfolds in fascinating detail, with pictorial support invaluable to would-be model makers, especially as types of valves and valve-gear, badges, makers’ colours, etc., are quoted, there is a brief introductory history, much information on how to operate and maintain overtype waggons, even a facsimile of the letter sent out by The Coal Utilisation Council in the summer of 1934 to try to encourage the retention of steam on British roads, which, alas, fell mostly on deaf ears due to the tax imposition imposed on coal-burners.
Incidentally, the author chooses a Robey for the colour frontispiece, fittingly, as this was the most advanced and refined of the overtypes. It is rather depressing to be told that in all the World only about 25 steam waggons remain—let Maurice Kelly’s book be their memorial.
Someone should now do the same for the undertypes!—W. B.