Very Heavy Metal

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I venture to divert from motoring matters into very heavy metal, to the pastime of rebuilding, not veteran or even vintage cars, but of doing the same with, and operating, steam road vehicles. I have some excuse for this as I attended the very first such rally more years ago than I can accurately recall, when just two engines raced against one another for charity (an eye hospital), and a new hobby was born.

Since then it has grown to an undertaking of considerable proportions and of important historical significance. Racing traction-engines was seen to be of less value than assembling such steamers at rallies, driving them there and then demonstrating them to fascinated onlookers. It was easy in the 1950s to find such engines for restoration. Indeed, I could go out into the Hampshire lanes and by-ways and expect to find a number to photograph in one afternoon, some in use, others only recently derelict. As with vintage and Classic cars, those who sought them could acquire them if not exactly for a song”, then for something very close to one. In fact, it was possible still to see a majestic Showman’s engine pulling a number of trucks to a fairground, and later, with the Suez crisis fuel restrictions, some laid-up steamwaggons were brought out again.

I encountered at this time a Foden steam waggon in London, and in conversation with its driver, learned that it would soon be retired by the coal merchants it was serving, as he was himself retiring and it had been found less costly to run petrol or diesel trucks than to pay a drivers’ mate which was then compulsory on such a steam vehicle. “If you’re interested”, I was told, “see the company manager — it should go for next to nothing, and it has recently had a new boiler certificate.” I found it very hard to resist, especially as our then cleaning-lady’s husband had been the local Council’s steam-roller driver, as he was a third retirement, he might well have helped me to rally it. It was not to be but having a soft-spot for steam waggons, as distinct from tractors or rollers, I was glad to hear that it was eventually saved by a member of the National Traction Engine Trust.

This digression has run into more words than intended but again I have the excuse that after attending that initial steam event I reported other such rallies, along with Air Displays, for MOTOR SPORT and wrote of going on two HCVC (now HCVS) Brighton Runs on Foden steam-waggons, without any reader protests. So I have no qualms about this piece, which is to tell you that unless you are otherwise engaged on a motoring happening, there is to be a re-enactment of the 1907 Steam Engine Trials on September 28/29, organised by the National Traction Engine Trust, based on the Hollowwell Rally Field, off the A50, at Creaton, Northampton. This will have road runs of 16, 28 and 53 miles, for engines of varying ages and types, so will be a chance to see them in their proper habitat. (In recent times most engines have been taken to and from rallies on transporters — but not all of them, as evocative pictures in Steaming, the journal of the NTET edited by Roger West, which can compete with any carclub magazine for quality and interest, proves. For instance, in the current issue we see a 1923 8-ton Wallis and Stevens steam-roller returning on the road from last year’s Dorset rally, to the loW, with living-van in tow.

Already the aforesaid September Road Run, for an entry fee of only £25, lists the NTET Chairman’s Burrell “Conqueror”, a Foden furniture-van, a Fowler agricultural engine, a 10hp Burrell and the Showman’s Burrell “Nero”, a rare Foster waggon, etc. The Road Roller Association will no doubt add the steam-roller element. Not all will leave the rally field but nevertheless this will be a one-off chance to photograph those engines that go out over the road routes, for which purpose, apart from a souvenir programme, a Photographers’ Guide to the Run will be available from NTET Sales, 90 Devon Road, Loton, Beds LU2 ORL. Having told you this, the last thing the NTRT will need is congestion on the road-run routes, so please respect this and do not mingle vintage cars with the steamers or impede proceedings with modern vehicles. This would bring disrespect to the steam-engine movement as well as to MOTOR SPORT. The person to contact is Brian Gooding, c/o Bullimores House, Church Lane, Cranleigh, Surrey GU6 8AR (01483 274004).

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