Sometimes, we forget every engine that exists today was designed to do a job of work, bought by their owners to make them money, they were tools of their day just as lorries and tractors are today. There are fewer people nowadays who can remember steam engines in everyday use and those who drove them for a living are almost extinct so it is quite understandable that visitors to rallies have little idea of how engines were used before we started keeping them as pets.
The average working life of a traction engine was about 30 to 40 years though some greatly exceeded that. Sewards Marshall, Victoria, Empress of India worked from 1886 to 1933, 47 years, quite a good return for their investment. During this time she was pretty well looked after, an engine made no money when it was in the shed, but inevitably, accidents happen and if you look at the engine closely, evidence of these incidents can be seen. For example, the brake drum face has had a large piece broken from it at some time and has been repaired with a plate and bolts to hold it together. The incident that caused this damage must have been quite violent to break the casting in the position that it is, how it happened we will never know.
Another of Victorias’ scars is a broken tender step, the original cast one has a large lump broken out of it and a plate has been bolted on top as a repair, once again we can only imagine how it happened
The life of an agricultural engine like Victoria was not easy, threshing, her prime task was hard work. The engine, threshing machine, elevator and living wagon travelling from farm to farm, setting up to the rick in the stackyard and threshing the grain. The threshing season started in August and went right through to Easter, some large farms may have had 5 or 6 large ricks to process, each one having to be set up to in what usually became a yard thick with mud and deep puddles, making every operation difficult. One farm that Sewards went to could only be accessed by driving the engine and threshing machine along a stream. We look back at those days through rose tinted glasses forgetting the hardships; how many enginemen of old cursed the rain, mud and bad coal on a regular basis when they were struggling to get their bogged in machinery out onto solid ground ready to move on to the next job. Oh the romance of steam..
Life was not any easier on the fairground, in fact sometimes it was worse. The weather played an important role as always and showmen often had to pull into wet fields and set up the fair, building up machines like roundabouts,( known as gallopers) for perhaps a one day opening then pulling down and moving to the next village to do the same thing again. Showmans’ engines were among the hardest worked of all traction engines, in some cases the fires did not go out for days. If the fair was moving between places the engines were doing draught work, pulling loads of 40 tons or so, then later, after helping to build up, they provided the electricity to power and light the rides. As they spent so much time on the road or generating power, maintenance suffered and they went long periods between boiler washouts. They too had accidents. Lady Pride of England has her fair share of scars including a bent spoke in one of her front wheels, another mystery..
Another clue to Lady’s working past is several missing rivets near the top of the near side belly tank. We know about this. After her life on the fair, she was sold to a company and used as a threshing engine and to prevent the drive belt from fouling the top of the tank, it was reduced in height by 6 inches and the top replaced. Later, during its restoration, the tank was returned to its original height but the rivets were not replaced, hence the gap.
All engines will have tell tale signs of their working past, ploughing engines often have grooves cut into their wheel rims where the wire rope has rubbed against them, steam rollers can be seen with repairs to their front forks and headstock, usually the result of running away or heavy handling and some engines have complicated repairs to wheel spokes or hubs as a legacy of hauling heavy loads on bad roads.
All of our steam vehicles have had a long hard life, they were never designed to be the playthings that they have become today, so next time that you are looking at one, see what story it tells you. KL