Saturday, 18 June 2016

Slow Moving Steam On The Road...

Hi guys. Something different today: a temporary sojourn from rail to road. Regular readers will know that my friend Phil owns a much beloved steam roller: Aveling & Porter 11240 of 1925. He and his crew regularly rally this F-Type roller and complete all movements to and from their destinations under the engines own steam. This is no small feat and requires a significant amount of time and effort to make happen. Today, Phil had kindly invited me along to go out with them on the first of a two-day marathon from Tamworth to Tyseley, ready for the latter's Open Weekend next week. Today's route would take us through the centre of Tamworth on rather busy roads, before rumbling out into the countryside via Kingsbury in order to reach our destination: The Plough, a pub in Shustoke, 13 miles or so away. The engine would overnight at The Plough and continue to Tyseley tomorrow. I arrived at Phil's home in Tamworth at around 8am, ready to help with preparation proceedings. The roller stood waiting patiently at the curb...
Preparation on a steam roller isn't far away from that of a railway engine. There is a fire to light, steam to raise and many oiling points. The F-Type is a Compound roller, meaning two sets of valve gear; one for the high pressure cylinder, and one for its low pressure brother. The traditional steam engine act of buffing the brass and polishing the paintwork is also in the prep list, in order to make the roller shiny for the many pictures that would be taken of her today. Unlike on preserved railways, steaming down the road cannot fail to make you noticed and thus every effort is made to make the engine presentable. Phil and his crew keep this engine in pretty immaculate condition and it is a credit to him.

The biggest job of the morning was the inevitable car swap. Naturally, as we're roading, the cars will be where we left them if we don't move them first. Therefore, with steam raising nicely, three of us set off in convoy bound for The Plough. Having stopped off at McDonalds for breakfast on route (Phil is trying to ruin my chances of a beach body!), we reached The Plough soon after. Whilst driving, I was taking in the number of hills on the route and the severity of some of the gradients thereof. "Louise" would certainly work hard up those! Having dropped two of the cars off, we returned in one and found "Louise" now at the head of the road train...
"1925-built Aveling & Porter Roller 11240, named Louise"
"Louise"; named after Phil's daughter; pulls a trailer and living van. The trailer contains all of the essentials for keeping an engine like this going, including coal, wood, tools and an IBC full of water. By 11am, we weren't too far away from being ready for the off, with a cool but dry weather front on the horizon...
"Ready For The Off"
Lee and Phil were at the controls for the start away. With a blast on the whistle, away we went. "Louise" chugged happily away and started the journey for The Plough. Speed with an engine like this is probably something like 3 or 4mph at cruise pace, depending on traffic and the hills encountered. The first hour or so saw us driving through the busy streets of Tamworth. We three sat aboard the trailer (often known to the traction engine men as trailer rats!) had little to do but watch the world go by and it is fun to see peoples reactions at the spectacle. Some can't believe it, standing in awe and waving crazily. Others look at you as if its the most normal thing in the world to see a 91-year old road making machine happily barking through the Saturday shopping traffic! People are odd.

Anyway, here we are steaming along a quieter road, heading away from the Snowdome...
Well, it was quieter in front of us anyway, but not so much behind us!...
The grinding of "Louise" and her steel wheels rumbling along the road were probably nothing in comparison to the volume of the grinding of teeth in the cars stuck behind us! The pace of the world has sped up considerably since roller's like this were commonplace on the local roads and people are in much more of a hurry than they used to be. "Louise" continued however to steam about her merry business until we had a quick oiling stop at a Tesco Metro. From the Tesco, I was on the steering with Lee at the regulator. I haven't been on the road with "Louise" since 2013 and it took a hundred yards or so to get used to the steering again. Rollers do tend to wander, scuttling left and right across the tarmac. The steersman has to almost constantly rotate the wheel; left right left right; to achieve the straightest possible course, following the mark of the white line. Due to the volume on the footplate (we wear ear defenders!), communication is often via pointing, particularly at islands. We wait for a course and then its "chuff, Chuff, CHUFF, CHUFF" with the roller trying her best to get the weight up to pace before the next mad motorist tries his luck. What you have to remember all the time as well is that you aren't just a light engine, and you have two trailer lengths behind you before the road train is clear! Having had a good run out of Tamworth and through Kingsbury, we stopped on the old Coventry road for water and another oil up... 
The residents in the local houses came out to see us and kindly offered us a drink. Its amazing what a draw an old machine like this is. Contributors to the movement such as the late Fred Dibnah: famous for his steeple-jacking and Aveling R10 Roller "Betsy": have ensured that todays public are more than aware of what a steam roller is. Fred's TV programmes have certainly raised awareness and interest in road steam in recent years. Anyway, with engine oiled and ready to go, it was time to set off again, this time with myself and Phil on the footplate...
"The Nerve Centre Of The Job - The Engine"
"Louise" steamed easily down the road, pulling her load behind her. Its a very different life on the road compared to the rails. In a sense you are your own boss but its the everyday motorist that is your enemy. The amount of bad overtaking we saw was unbelievable and near misses are very much commonplace. I know that the load is long, but the speed is very low and so last minute stupid overtaking is fairly well unforgivable. It seems that most drivers are now content to go home in a box.

The duty of the Steersman is just that - to steer the engine. The Driver has more than enough to contend with on a run like this. Unlike the railway engine, a steam roller seems to have two speeds: slow and comfortable. The comfortable speed is your aim: making progress whilst not knocking the engine to bits. Finding the comfortable point isn't so hard, but even the slightest downgrade can see the engine running away and you're easing back the regulator; just a little...oh no, too much...a bit more...all the time. And then she's slowing, then speeding up, you're always at it. Couple this with watching the water, the steam and making up the fire as well as looking out for mad motorists on their quest to bend the engine and you're a busy Driver. Therefore, the Steersman does his/her best to keep that job going smoothly, leaving the Driver to get on with the other tasks in hand. The smell on a steam roller or traction engine is one all of its own. I reckon its the burning oil smouldering away on the top of the firebox - its a lovely odour. The plastering of oil you get from the whirring cranks as they fly round splattering various liquids up your front is also a characteristic!

After another few miles, we reached a local watering hole - The Gate. This lovely little country pub heralded another oiling stop for "Louise" and a bit of pint-glass lubrication for the crew...
"Louise Stands Patiently Outside The Pub"
Stomachs replenished and thirsts quenched, the crew returned to the engine in readiness for the last onward slog towards The Plough. Lee is seen oiling up the motion...
From The Gate, we steamed away. I was back on the trailer now, enjoying the sound of the chimney again. The noise is so loud on the footplate that you can't hear the chimney, with the regulator judged by watching the speed of the cranks and the sound of the valve slap when shut-off. Its all a game...
"Steaming Into Over Whitacre"
What is so surprising is just how many people came out to see us. There were people waving every few yards or so, people in window after window of terraced houses and others stood in pub gardens, supermarket car parks - you name it. They were coming out of their houses, pulling over their cars, running after us for pictures: it was all going on. What is so amazing is that each council would have had lots of steam rollers such as this back in the day and I bet nobody batted an eye lid at the same scene occurring 60 years before - it was normal back then! At last, not long before 4:30pm, we pulled into the road just outside The Plough. The weather had by now changed from a grey-ish sky to blue with white clouds and, best of all, the sun was out!...
"Louise" simmers away after a triumphant arrival at The Plough...
"An Immaculate 11240 'Louise' Outside The Plough"
The rest of the crew then had to go off and retrieve Phil's car from Tamworth, whilst I stayed back to watch over the simmering engine. I've included a quick clip of the motion going around slowly, to show you the sight that greets you on the footplate of one of these machines...
Looking into the firebox of "Louise", currently burning the last of Daw Mill coal I believe...
I was relieved from "Louise" at 6pm and then jumped back in the car to get ready for the short journey home. It had been a lovely day out, enjoying the sights and sounds of slow moving steam on the road. The road steam life is different to that of the rails. Its a slower pace, trundling happily through the green garden but also contending with the more modern road user. However, it is a most pleasant experience and one that is going on each and everyday across the country. Traction engines and steam rollers of all types and sizes can often be seen rumbling around the back roads of the country and of course frequenting backwater public houses. I must thank Phil and his crew for their hospitality and company today - I had a great time. Best Regards, Sam...

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