Steam

Steam has always fascinated me although it would be more correct to say it was the reciprocal steam engine where the appeal lay, for the steam turbine held no interest. My younger days were spent at Berwyn, North Malvern, within 500 yards of the granite quarry there and many times a week a steam traction-engine would pass our gate with its empty trailer on the way back to the quarry works after unloading its contents at Malvern Link railway station a mile away below us. They took another route on the way down. I have never lost this fascination and at Stowe School I built several model boats powered by Stuart Turner steam engines. I tested these at a small lake next to the British Worthies monument which was quite near the main building and convenient. When I bought, and moved, to Colliers Corner in 1951 there was a rusting wreck of a Foden Steam wagon laying a a piece of wasteland only a few yards from the house. But Fodens did not interest me then. One day, at a Steam Fair I met Chris Edmonds – a real steam fanatic – and the interest in steam returned with force. Chris found me an Aveling and Porter Steam Roller in good condition for, I think, not much over £100, and I bought it. Chris had a Fowler Steam Roller of similar size and he would drive it over to Lane End and leave it overnight on that piece of green common in the village. I was persuaded to organise the re-surfacing of the School Road in the middle of the village which was in a shocking state with potholes everywhere and, although this road was ‘unclaimed’, the Council offered the help of their workmen in laying the tarmac at no cost if I would pay for the stuff. We made headlines in the national press with our MP – John Hall – officially opening the new road when we had finished it.

Bill Connor – Casandra of the Daily Mirror – asked me to let him have a go at driving my roller and he arrived complete with photographers for the event. Later he arranged for lunch at the Blue Flag, a couple of miles away, and wished to drive me there on my Aveling. Now, steering a steam roller is not easy! It is about as far as you can get from ‘direct’. Bill was only saved from ditching us by my rapid use of the reverse gear which, on a steam engine, can be instantly applied. I got on well with Bill. WE both had almost encyclopaedic knowledge of motorcycles and we used to try and catch each other out on the subject. Steam rollers paid no road tax in those days and I did various jobs for friends – rolling the car park at The Chequers, Fingest, or pulling up a tree with the winch and also rolling Booker airfield (we tested it for maximum speed on the runway – close on 20 mph) and a long run to the steam rally at Chesham. On the road there never seems to be any vehicle ahead – looking behind things were rather different!

When I became too busy to have the time to enjoy it I sold the Aveling to a Mrs Vickers and so another chapter in my crazy life was over. But it was fun and all my children and my wife enjoyed it too. As I was finishing these notes my elder son, recently retired from being a Training Captain with BA, on reaching their age limit of 55, has just asked me if I am going to write about the fun we all had with Gokarts – or Karts as they were later called. I might do so, but at the moment I think I have said enough for one long lifetime and anything more must wait for my next lifetime on this planet. Then, of course, I may have totally different interests – none in steam, none in cars, perhaps none in flying but I hope plenty in music with a special addendum – that my final years are not hampered by deafness the next time round.

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