Some practice with the English steam engines


Hello again steam enthusiasts. I have been taking advantage of the cold snowy weather to sort out some of the papers and magazines in my back room and came across my copy of the fifth edition Traction Engine Register, from 1987. It was compiled by John B. True, edited by Brian Johnson and published by Southern Counties Historic Vehicles Preservation Trust of Tonbridge, Kent.

I presume it was distributed by the National Traction Engine trust, formerly the National Traction Engine Club, to which I’ve belonged off and on for several years. Such a volume would not be possible in this country because steam engines are not officially registered here like they are there.

They use the terms liscensed and taxed interchangeably and the number, once assigned, goes with the machine when it changes hands, making tracing engine movements quite easy.

There are more than 2,950 engines listed, including steam fire engines, fairground engines, centre engines for carousels and organ-driving engines. Some of these types do not exist much in the U.S. Inside the front cover is a listing of some 40 museums which contain collections of engines.

The body of the material is laid out with ten columns as follows:

1. Engine number, as assigned by the manufacturer.

2. Registration number, as assigned by the government authorities.

3. Date of manufacture or first sale.

4. Name currently carried by the engine. (Many engines have a name chosen by the owner).

5. Type of engine.

6. Class set by maker.

7. Cylinder arrangement (See abbreviations).

8. NHP (nominal horsepower).

9 Weight to the nearest half ton, if known.

10. Location — nearest town or city of appreciable size to actual location.

Type abbreviations

CE Centre engines, set up in the middle of a merry-go-round to run it; FE, fire engines, steam operated, mostly horse drawn; FP Steam operated, fire pump; LE lighting engine (used to generate electricity); OE organ engine (for drivivng fairground organs); PE portable engine (non self propelled); PLG plowing engine (cable style); RL road locomotive (heavy haulage engine); RR road roller; 2RR tandem road roller; 3RR tri-tandem road roller; SB stationary boiler; SE stationary engine; SYE steam yacht engine (fairground ride); T tractor (light haulage engine under five tons, license was cheaper); TE traction engine; W wagon or lorry (steam truck).

If prefixed with a C it’s a convertible engine. Traction engine changeable to a roller. If prefixed with an S, it’s a showmens engine.

Cylinder abbreviations

C compound; S single; followed by P means piston valve or S slide valve; 2 twin D diesel conversion.

As you can see there are a lot more types and arrangements. By the way, there are no undermounted traction engines nor return flue traction engines in England.

The main part of the book is listed by makes and there ae 77 of them, mostly British of course, but several French, a couple American and a couple German rollers, by Zettlemeyer.

The first machine is an Albaret (French) roller from 1953, a single slide valve engine. Also from France, three portables, Breloux 8 hp single, with piston valve from 1929, and three by Brouhhot, all six-horse singles. Then a Merlin and Cie portable, on the Isle of Jersey, in the Channel. Next is a 10-horse traction engine, by Pecard Freres, of 1907

The American engines are a circa 1910 Buffalo-Pitts two cylinder traction engine, rated 22 horse power. A Case traction engine with no date or horsepower listed, single cylinder slide valve. Next is a Rumley traction engine of 1900, listed as a compound. Then some sort of unidentified machine, by White Motor Co., of Cleveland, and dated 1907. There is also listed a 1913 Waterloo traction engine from Canada, listed as single cylinder but no other details.

I won’t try to list all the 70-some British engine makes listed, as I will run out of room to discuss things and there are several I have not heard of that only made one or two machines, or at least that is all that are recorded.


Since I am at the end of he list I’ll mention here the Yorkshire steam wagon, of which six are listed. I saw one of these coming in the driveway to the Expo Steam Show, at Battersea Park, in London, in 1972. They are very distinctive in appearance from the front, having a crosswise boiler mounted right at the front and a chimney in the center.

Actually there are five wagons listed and the sixth item is a tracato. The oldest is from 1905 and listed as a twin cylinder engine with a weight of two tons. The next three are compounds and weigh three and six tons.

Moving to the other end of the alphabet we find William Allchin, with 21 units listed — one portable, two rollers and 18 traction engines, dating from 1890 to 1931 and weighing nine or 10 tons. Then we find seven Rollers by Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth, LTD, all compound 10 tonners, but one 12 tonner.

Next we come to the name Aveling, after David Aveling, who is seen mainly as the father of steam rollers. Most of them are listed as Aveling and Porter, starting in 1871, and then there is half a page of Aveling-Barford Ltd., from 1937 to 1948, corporate buyout being behind that change. There are nine and a half pages of them listed with all types, mostly rollers with a sprinkling of traction engines, tractors and compounds.

At this point we find five rollers listed as built by Babcock and Wilcox LTD, all in 1926. Since the American division of B and W is familiar in our area this catches our attention.

Claim to fame

Again it is a case of corporate buyout as B & W bought up Greens and simply put the B & W name on them. Also in the “B” section of the book we have Brown and May with 10 portables and a roller listed. The claim to fame here is a restored portable from 1868, probably the oldest steamer in the country.

Next is Charles Burrell and Sons, of Theford, England, — builder of some engines with very nice appearance, lots of brass trim etc. Their a part of the list runs to some five and a half pages, with quite a good mixture of traction engines, Showmans Road Locomotives and the odd roller for good measure.

Their works is often called the St. Nicholas Works, after the street it was on.

Dates run from 1877 to 1932. The great majority of Burrell engines have names, many after royalty as King George V, Queen Alexandra, His Majesty, Princess Royal and several named Buller and General Buller.

Then we find two partial pages of Clayton and Shuttleworth, with a goodly mixture of portables, traction engines, a few wagons and about three Showmans Road locomotives. Claytons was a mainly agricultural concern with a rural location called the Long Shop.

Next comes Fodens with about two pages of engines and many wagons among them. Their wagons were sort of a standard layout, with a locomotive style boiler and overtype engine right beside the driver.

Operation must have been a hot job in warm weather. Many of them were three way tippers, as far as the body was concerned.

Then we have a page of Foster’s, built by Wm. Foster and Co. LTD, with a good mix of portables, tractions, a few rollers and a couple Showmans engines. I think it was a Foster Showmans that was the first I saw sold at more than 100,000 pounds, being bought by a consortium.

Next is a list of seven, all traction engines, by C. J. Fowell & Co. LTD — not to be confused with Fowler, which is next.

John Fowler & Co., of Leeds, is maybe the best known maker and the primary developer of the famous cable powing system. They date from 189 to 1937 and there are seven pages of them, with a great man plowing engines in several classes along with traction engines and some rollers. And at least one wagon and several tractors.

They also built tackle to go with the plowing engines such as “anti-balance” plows and cultivators, and they were often used with a special mole plow to install drainage tiles and scoops to clean out ponds, etc.

The other makers listed are Garret with two pages of engine, Marshall’s with five pages, John & Henry McLaren, also of Leeds, Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies LTD, a page of Robey and Co LTD, then Ruston and Proctor and Ruston and Hornsby. The Hornsby name appears in many places including the oil engines they built for many years.

Next we come to Savage Bros., who were manly involved with fairground machines such as center engines, organ engines, lighting engines and Stam Yacht engines. A few traction engines were built and they were chosen in 1975 as the model for a reproduction built by an engineering company. Two are listed, along with an Organ engine in 1976. They were advertised in our magazines in the U.S. for $40,000.

Next we see Sentinal (Shrewsbury) LTD, who built mostly wagons with a few tractors, and a bus for good measure. They were built in several models such as standard, double geared and shaft drive. They are interesting to me for the use of a water tube boiler very similar to the Westinghouse engines built over here. The main difference was that to change tubes in a Westinghouse it ws necesary to unbolt the top section of the shell and lift it off while the Sentinel unbolted the lower part of the shell and dropped it into a pit.

Then is most of a page of Taskers, with a mixture of types and at least some were chain drive.


The last maker of size is Wallis and Stevens, with some three pages of engines, with lots of traction engines and tractors on the first page or so, then mostly rollers. One of their designs was called the advance type, in which the front and rear rolls were of very similar diameter.

They were designed especially for asphalt so as to not leave marks in the pavement. They also built a three-point roller, called the Simplicity, with an odd looking inclined boiler barrel.

The tubes in it were not parallel to the axis of the barrel, but were inclined to help them stay under water. They only scaled at about three tons and were made for small contractors doing lanes and driveways. Their small size left little foot room so it was necessary to stop and step off to fix the fire.


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.