British steam magazine offers ‘rally’ insight

Lee Brown and Fordson Tractor
(Submitted by Thomas Downing)The late Lee Brown, of Perry Township, in Lawrence Co., Pa. leaves his home farm at the top of the hill, on what is now Armstrong Road. He’s driving a Fordson tractor and towing a wooden Frick thresher. This photo is estimated to have been taken in the 1920s.

Being a dedicated Anglophile as I am, I love to read the magazine called Steaming from England. The parent club is called the National Traction Engine Trust, updated to match the law from National Traction engine Club, which it still was when I visited there in 1972.

The whole structure of things is different. Clubs over there do not normally set up “rallies,” as they call them, but there are exceptions. Often over there, an organizer sets up a location or venue and invites the engines he would like to have attend.

When I was there in ‘72, there was a big show called “Expo Steam,” held at Battersea Park, London. They wanted to have 100 engines but fell short by four; there were 96. Needless to say, it didn’t matter much to one young Pennsylvania enthusiast. I ran up and down the rows snapping pictures and trying to get used to the odd names, like McLaren and Garrett.

The differences

Among the differences are, there are many road rollers over there, and some were kept as stand-by units well into the 1950s. As I mentioned, the names are very different. Common names are Fowler, built by John Fowler & Co., of Leeds, England; Burrell, by Charles Burrell & Co., of Thefford; Aveling and Porter, Clayton and Shuttleworth, and Ransome, Sims and Jefferies.

I have two copies of a volume called the Traction Engine Register. It was compiled by John B. True and published by the Southern Counties Historic Vehicles Preservation Trust.

I did a rough count of the engines listed and came up to just over 8,900. I have a note that there are 62 listed on one of the full pages of Aveling and Porter engines. The table of contents lists some 77 makes but, of course, there are several old timers where only one unit survives.

We might think the listing is complete, but last year a Tasker tractor came into the show in Canada, called Steam Era. It was quite fast on its wheels and I was quite taken by it.

I wrote down the serial number and checked the register when I got home and did not find it listed, So I don’t know how it got missed or when it was exported to Canada.

The abbreviations used for types are CE for Merry-go-round center engines, LE for lighting engines or electrical generators, OE for organ engines to make music, PE for portable engines, PLG for ploughing engines, RL for road locomotives (Heavy haulage units) and so forth.

Common Lorries are Foden, Sentinel and Yorkshire. There are three or four French engines and a couple American — particularly Buffalo-Pitts and Rumley.

Different names

About half of the engines have names of their own and they range widely. For instance, from the Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies page, we see Little Ben, Lizzie McKenna, Island Mor, Lily, The Countryman, Winifred, Chieftan, Lady Diana Sybil, Sarah, Jubilee and Back’us Boy.

This last name was explained to me by the man who assigned it, Mr. Bob Pratt. I had written to Bob after reading an article he sent to The Iron Men Album, in which he explained why drivers of road locomotives preferred to not have a canopy on their engine.

His explanation was that it made his working world dark and dreary and open to the sky was preferable. When I was in England in ‘72, he and his gracious wife, Jean, hosted me at their very nice home called Portway House, in Devon, whence they had retired from their original home in Ipswich.

Jean served me my first leg of lamb dinner in a chilly dining room with plates too hot to touch, which was their style.

A Back’us Boy, or literally, “Back at the house Boy,” was an old-timer in the crew who was semi-retired and left at the house to do some heavy lifting for the ladies doing the cooking.

He had picked up the term through his interest in local history and when he managed to acquire the little Rasomes Tractor, he thought that would be an appropriate name. When I rejoined the trust last month, they graciously sent me both the current fall number, and also the summer issue, which gave me some 100 pages of very interesting reading with which to amuse myself.

It is published quarterly, so there are four issues per year. Shows are not advertised in the magazine, but in an “Approved rally list” published late in the spring.

Road runs

Another thing very different is the number and distance of road runs. Most of the engines except for a few agricultural units carry a license that makes them road legal and they are quite commonly driven to rallies. This sometimes takes two or three days requiring plans be laid for overnight parking spots and places to pick up water and perhaps lunch and a pint or two of ale. Another different arrangement is that when an engine is once registered, its number goes with it when it is sold, making tracing engines much easier than over here.

Ploughing engines were often built in pairs, with consecutive serial numbers. They are normally the biggest engines to be seen at a rally, mostly built be Fowlers or J&H McLaren — both companies in Leeds.

Each magazine caries some legal notes as they are in the way of faster traffic and various other complications not excluding common market rules and regulations. They also sponsor a Steam Apprentice club to train youngsters and give them some experience off the rally field.

Training youngsters

Volunteer members help in this training. The latter part of each issue is a section called Steaming Around. In this issue, some 15 contributors, both individuals and smaller clubs, sent in material, which makes interesting reading, relating engine movements and activities in their areas.

So when you want to read of Burrells, Fowlers, Aveling and Porters engines, pick up a copy of Steaming, and you will have it.

One name I was surprised to see was Babcock and Wilcox, since at that time my uncle, Don Wasstill, was working for B & W locally. As it turns out, the five B&W Rollers came by that name through a corporate buyout of a firm named Green, that had built rollers for many years.


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