Mike and Julie Blenkinsop continue their fascinating investigation into the WWII Scammell Pioneer and Explorer recovery tractors, and those that have survived.
The recovery tractors were built in two marks. The first, the SV1/S, was a stop-gap measure until a planned, improved design was available. Only 43 of the first batch were ordered. One, 48 RB 50, fortunately still exists. It now lives in the REME Museum at Lyneham, but it was the north-east town of Gateshead which was its final posting. It served as the Territorial Army’s recovery tractor at Shipcote, in Gateshead, before the arrival of the ‘new’ Explorer during its final days in military service in 1964, as explain.
Since moving to the new site at RAF Lyneham from Bordon, 48 RB 50 is currently in the REME reserve collection backstage, while 39 YZ 41 (named ‘Swampy’) is the current star of the show; the road registration of ‘Swampy’ is believed to be USU 210. Incredibly, this Pioneer SV2/S survived in service in Belize, still employed by the British Army until 1980.
It was brought back in 1984 and, fortunately, the Army administration decided to allow its restoration by 43rd District Workshops at Aldershot, which culminated in the Pioneer joining the museum collection in 1987. REME is also thought to have tank transporter tractor, 71 YY 92, in its inventory, although records suggest that at some point in its life, this ex-tank transporter tractor allegedly, was owned by Terry Hounsell, and was bought out of the Army sales in an exceptionally good state, being rallied for a while in its un-restored, but very smart condition, carrying the name ‘Thrust’.
However, the sand-coloured example at Bordon was marked-up with its wartime number H 4611623, and had REME exhibition boards describing it as having been presented to the collection by Dr D Peters, in 1996. A Dr Peters of Eastergate, West Sussex, was listed in the 1984 London to Brighton Road Run catalogue, as having entered a complete 1939 Pioneer tank transporter set-up, including a Shelvoke and Drewry-built, 30-ton trailer, as JRV 240 P, which was described as a vehicle ‘now restored with the markings of the Eighth Army of the Western Desert’.
Another SV/2S recovery tractor worked until quite recently at the Boscombe Down Aircraft Research Establishment. Painted yellow, NGY 295 was on-hand to recover aircraft, and can be easily recognised by its one-piece windscreen; it too has been preserved. It was for sale in fine condition by David Crouch, recovery specialists of Kibworth, in Leicestershire, for £20,000 plus VAT, in June, 2018.
The later and more prolific version of the Pioneer recovery crane was designated the SV2/S, and appeared with a sliding-jib, which gave three distinct lifting options; travelling-stowed, a three-ton short lift and a two-ton long lift.
An unusual find
Nick Greenwell of Lanchester, County Durham, brought his restored Pioneer SV2/S to the Tyne Tees Road Run in 2014. It was unusual in that it had been one of the Pioneers used by the RAF from day one, as its build-plate showed chassis number 5782, one of a batch ordered at the end of November 1944, eventually taking the RAF registration 05 AH 69.
Farmer and truck driver, Nick, found it in the yard of Ken Thomas, a local demolition contractor, and research has suggested it was one of two used – following their demob from RAF service – as shunters at the Mersey Docks. These may have been a pair that replaced two older Pioneers that worked during the war, at either Birkenhead or Gladstone Docks, Liverpool. They were used to place War Department, Riddles-designed, Austerity 2-8-0 and 2-10-0 locomotives into position on specially-constructed railway lines, for dock cranes to lift them on to ships bound for the Middle East. The railway engines may have been transported from the factory to the docks by one of the two 100-ton Scammells run by Pickfords, on a contract with Vulcan Foundry at Newton-Le-Willows, Lancashire.
When Ministry military vehicle re-numbering was brought in during 1948, the long H plus six/seven number used throughout the war was exchanged for a ‘two-number, two-letter, two-number’ system, which was used until the 1990s. At the 1949 census, the British Army still recorded 600 Pioneers on the inventory.
Wally Dugan, military historian and one-time curator of the Museum of Army Transport (MAT) at Beverley, before its summer 2003 closure, tells an interesting story regarding a Scammell SV/2S Pioneer. The background was that Wally had received a phone call in 1988 from an Army commanding officer in Germany, offering him some military railway artefacts for a museum display.
This wasn’t unusual in itself, but the means of delivery was. A few weeks passed until Wally received another phone call telling him that a lorry would be turning up the next day with all the bits, as promised. However, Wally was a little dumbfounded to see an Army Land Rover escorting a Scammell Pioneer recovery tractor, 36 YZ 08, towing a 20-ton, eight-wheel trailer full of loco parts, driving through the museum gates!
Climbing down from the cab, the driver revealed that he’d just driven the 1,000 miles from Germany, doing the trip over four days in stages. Stopping at army camps overnight, he’d even managed to pick up some redundant Pioneer-size Bar-grip tyres from military stores on the way. Due to technical difficulties at Beverley at that time, the Pioneer was offered, on loan, to Brian Baxter, curator at the REME museum at Arborfield. So off it went again to the reserve store at Bordon, until an appropriate display space could be found for it. An incredible feat, especially as the Scammell covered the entire run without a single issue, except for ‘smoking-out’ the truck-deck on the cross-channel ro-ro ferry!
After the war, the Scammells, which were in urgent need of rebuilding, went to workshops and emerged after overhaul with new R numbers. While the Scammell tank transporter TR/MU30s and heavy artillery tractors came out with a variety of RB, RD, RE and RH numbers, most of the recovery tractors started at 48 RB 50 (a particular tractor, already mentioned) to 48 RB 81, followed by a larger registration section from 65 RF 68 to 66 RF 42.
These were probably only the most overworked, battle-damaged vehicles which had been in urgent need of attention. More would emerge from working squadrons, in the months after the deadline, on a programme of rebuilding which would provide them with later Y numbers; a large tranche appearing in the 34 YZ 00-39 YZ 61 registration series.
At this point, rebuilding of the R100 heavy artillery tractors and tank transporter tractors was still on-going, giving them 71-73 YY and 08-10 YZ rebuild registrations. The big difference between the Pioneer, and what would become the new Explorer, was that the Pioneer had been developed during the war years when every possibility would be exploited from a single vehicle design. The Pioneer became a tank transporter, a ballast tractor and a recovery vehicle, while the Explorer would only be expected to be a recovery tractor; there was no attempt at taking the Explorer further to mass-produce other variations.
As the Pioneers became redundant, they started to appear in the Ministry sales catalogues at Ruddington. The heavy-haulage contractors took some and Pickfords had many. Three ran with fleet numbers M8099 (MLS 810), M8100 (MLF 21) and M8101(MLF 22), the latter two have been pictured working together, topping-and-tailing an indivisible refractory load in 1953. Rudds had AJD 140, which was absorbed into the Pickfords fleet as M6589. M6262 (GHD 56) and M6264 (HPP 315) were also taken into the fleet, while the 80-ton tractors M5382 (JXL 219) and M5383 (JXL 220) were bought new by Pickfords, in 1950.
Hill of Botley had 80-ton and R100 Pioneers in its heavy haulage fleet. John Wynn of the famous Newport heavy haulage company of the same name did ‘dip his toe’ into the Scammell Pioneer ‘water’, with a couple of purchases of ex-WD tank transporters. DDW 495, arrived in 1946 as fleet No. 140, but it had its traditional coffee-pot radiator replaced with a more conventional one, and a metal Wynns’ badge replaced the Scammell plate; DDW 496 was the other. HPP 814, sporting a fairground-style, sloping rear bodywork, followed in 1947.
One particularly interesting operation highlighted by our colleague, Bob Tuck in his 1986 book Hauling Heavyweights, recounts the use of three Pickfords’ 80-ton Pioneer ballast tractors in an unusual plan. During 1955, Harveys of London had manufactured a 140-foot long distillation column which needed to be delivered to the Forth Chemicals site in Grangemouth, Scotland. For the initial part of the journey, the column was floated up the North Sea coast, shepherded by ocean-going tugs.
At Grangemouth, the three Pioneers were set up at the edge of the slipway, side-by-side, facing inland, roughly 40 feet apart. The rear-facing winch cables were wrapped around the 14-foot diameter structure, and a make-shift steel ramp was constructed so that the 85-ton column could be winched up the slipway and on to the trailer bogies. The three Pioneers, working in unison, carefully rolled the immense circular load on to the bogies, and the final short road journey was undertaken successfully.
The fairground showmen loved them, using them to haul double or triple-trailer road-trains around the country, fitting large generating sets into custom bodywork to power their organs, carousels and Waltzers.
A new role
One company would give them a new role in rebuilding Britain’s post-war, decimated road network. W&J Glossop, a road re-surfacing company, bought up ex-military Scammell Pioneer tank transporter tractors and coupled them up to a specialised semi-trailer. Gas jets were hung from the trailer which would melt the old road surface so that it could then be scraped up and fed into the back of waiting trucks to be hauled away.
A fleet of them were harnessed to work all around the UK; the thirsty Pioneers were appreciated for their ability to ‘crawl’. With the road-burner equipment, coupled up behind them, they could move very slowly forward at a speed required to melt the tarmac before removing it. We believe one, at least, has been preserved, from information spotted in a London to Brighton historic commercial vehicle run programme.
The company, L Simmonds & Sons of Tonbridge, Kent, presented FBY 371 (mistakenly written as FBV 371 in the programme), an ex-tank transporter tractor, which had worked from 1937 to 1950 in that role, until Glossop bought it, running it until it was retired in 1979. These Scammells carried a large tank behind their cabs, mounted laterally or in-line with the chassis, in front of the fifth-wheel coupling, which, we believe, carried the gas required for the burners. We have photographic evidence to show that West Riding of Yorkshire-registered TWT 137 and Durham-registered GUP 283, were also used by Glossop for this purpose.
Some of them lost their imposing Scammell stature as they were re-fitted with reduced size wheels and tyres, like the original 20-ton tank-transporter tractors; this wheel-size reduction may have been required to reduce the ride-height of the burner-trailer, placing it closer to the ground than the standard 13.50 x 20 Trak-grips would have allowed. In its newly-restored guise, FBY 371 has been re-united with ‘proper size’ wheels. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who worked for Glossop and drove these Pioneers.
A recent change of ownership of a friend’s Pioneer recovery tractor, 36 YZ 35, has allowed us to compare chassis numbers and contract dates. This one has chassis number 4738, and was built as one of 33 from contract TM/12422, signed off on the March 24th, 1942.
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