70-foot showman’s road train!

Posted by Chris Graham on 12th October 2021

Peter Love reports on a memorable and spectacular steam journey undertaken with a 70-foot showman’s road train.

 

Thanks to the Whittakers and James Wren Davis, Old Glory was invited to take part in a unique road run, starting from the Wren Davis milk farm, near Great Missenden, in Buckinghamshire, where the family has been for some 98 years. The run’s destination was Carters Fair, at Pinkneys Green, near Maidenhead, Berkshire.

I suppose it all started when the Whittakers were looking for a venue to debut their, authentically detailed, 1923, four-berth showman’s living van. It was built by Charles D Phillips Ltd, at the Emlyn Engineering Works in Newport, Monmouthshire, and who had other bases in Gloucestershire and London.

This fine showman’s van started its life with the famous West Country showman, Marshall Hill, and ended up with Alfie Price, where it became very ‘flaky.’ Its involvement with the Whittakers all started some 36 years ago, when they purchased it from Paul and Jill Fowler. Since then it’s been totally rebuilt to museum standard.

As is well known, Gerald Whittaker is one of the top preservation painters/signwriters in the game, and has been for decades. He’s fastidious in what he does, and likes things authentic, which is precisely what he achieved with the Phillips van. Gerald painted the art deco flooring to replicate the period lino, as none of the original pattern was available.

James Wren Davis has been a good friend of the Whittakers for some while, and Gerald painted and lined James’ own stylish showman’s living van some years back. It all came together that the Phillips would debut at Joby Carter’s Pinkneys Green Old Tyme Fair, held in August 2021. The Carter’s extensive fair has been visiting there for 40 years now, and steam showman’s engines have been very much part of the set up for so many years. In fact, the setting is ideal and the fair has certainly grown since I was last there, back in the 1990s. It’s heaven for the vintage enthusiast, and the fair is very much worth visiting, wherever it tours.

The journey was to be 17 miles long, taking in some gigantic Chiltern hills in heavy traffic with the 70ft showman’s road train. It began on the A4128, through High Wycombe with all its roundabouts. The engine changed down to second gear then up the 1-in-40 hill out of High Wycombe, on to the A40/A404, heading towards Maidenhead, before doubling back to Pinkneys Green on the A4130.

At the head end was the James Wren Davis’ ‘stocky’ 1904 Burrell DCC 8hp No. 2668 Britannia NM257 showman’s road locomotive, with its mighty, maroon 7ft rear wheels and gold painted rivet heads.

Originally with Thurstons of Cambridge and delivered in June 1904, where it was to work for the family near-on 40 years. In 1920, Thurston’s bought a Venetian gondola switchback from Pat Collins, which Britannia accompanied before travelling with Stanley Thurston’s dodgems for many years, based then at Kempstone, in Bedfordshire.

In 1942, the engine was sold to JH Manning, of Cottered in Hertfordshire, who put it back to steam in 1946, only for a while though. It was then laid up with a Foster showman’s engine for some years, but survived to appear at the 1954 Appleford Rally, where WS Love photographed it. Interestingly, Britannia was the oldest showman’s engine at the name-changing, 1964 White Waltham Steam Fair, not far of course from Pinkneys Green.

Britannia has been with James for some while now. He took it off the road from 2009-2013 when the engine was totally rebuilt, with the boiler assembly overhauled by Bicknells. James added new gears and so much more to make this engine what it is today.

Its owner is steeped in steam culture. The first engines his father owned in early preservation times were a pair of Fowler BB1s that came from TT Boughton, of Amersham, and ended up in Alberta, Western Canada, with Matthews (much to James’ father’s disgust!). But there is a happy ending, as the engines are with the Cooks in Scotland today. James can still recall his first cab ride in TT Boughton’s fine and immaculate (as it has always been) 1926 Foden No. 13196 6-ton wagon, Pride of Fulham.

The road train was to leave at 11am and the team of Trevor, Ken and Jim had the engine looking good, with plenty of steam on the gauge, but the simpling valve-to-block gasket decided to blow (better here than on the road). The team had to chuck the fire out, but James had a new gasket made in no time and, with plenty of the ‘black stuff’ plonked on the joint, the simpling valve was back on the block and connected-up.

Just before 1pm the outfit was all coupled up to Britannia’s tender, with a double safety strap between the trailers and ready to go.

With Della Fagg, the excellent and experienced steers person in place, who concentrated so well and kept the outfit in a straight line all the way so impressively, it was full steam ahead. With full pressure, James opened the regulator and took to the highway; his driving skill made the engine look so easy to handle in the heavy traffic. The teamwork between the crew was excellent and, at certain locations, the steam road train stopped to first check out the brakes on the Phillips van, particularly as they got very hot coming down Cryers Hill.

After the brakes had cooled, it was off again to take on more of the challenges ahead, which included more downhill work leading to High Wycombe and its many roundabouts. At the final roundabout, James stopped and changed down to second gear with the Burrell patent two-lever, three-speed change mechanism, for the mighty challenge of the huge hill out of the town ahead.

With a good fire, but not making any smoke, full steam pressure was on the button as the road train took on the might of the steep hill drag, but the Burrell made ‘mincemeat’ of it all with 160psi on the clock at the top, not helped by traffic lights three-quarters of the way up. But, again, James timed it perfectly, and didn’t have to stop! At the top of the hill the injector went on and over the brow and on the flat again, the train pulled off for an oil up by Della, as James made some adjustments to the gland nuts, which were tight and not blowing by the rods at all.

It was then downhill again to more roundabouts, then on to another downward slip road, which led to joining the A40 towards Maidenhead, where the road train purred along this very busy road impressively. They passed the Henley-on-Thames turning and continued on towards the second Pinkneys Green turning, which doubles back on itself towards Maidenhead Thicket, so popular with dog walkers. Not far along here, the outfit carefully turned right onto the narrower A4130, with its heathland and woods, towards Pinkneys Green.

As they arrived a number of photographers flashed away; what a sight it made! Britannia silently uncoupled from its loads and reversed into the amazing and extensive fair, to park for the weekend, not blowing off at all!

Paul Hyman came along with one of Joby Carter’s Scammell Highwayman tractor units and, after careful reversing, which Joby lined up with a block; the Whittaker’s showman’s van was in place, just away from the shrubbery. It looked so narrow with its solid tyres compared to all the later vans with their pneumatic tyres around the site.

James Wren Davis then moved his showman’s van himself with his Land Rover Defender, again making it look so easy. By now it was 5pm as Trevor and Jim cleaned down Britannia and Della Fagg and Julia Whittaker reflected on the day and how it had all gone so well. I can only agree with that!

On my way home in the early evening, I caught the Searle lads 1920 Burrell DCC 6hp No. 3847 Princess Marina, which had roaded here via Wentworth. Later that evening, the outfit was all in place to enjoy the record-breaking weekend at Pinkneys Green.

The Fair, which was an outstanding success, will remain in everyone’s memories for a long while! The editor would like to thank everyone involved in the journey for their kindness and hospitality, and the invitation to attend.

For a money-saving subscription to Old Glory magazine, simply click here

 

Peter Love reports on a memorable and spectacular steam journey undertaken with a 70-foot showman’s road train.

70-foot showman’s road train

70-foot showman’s road train: With Britannia all fixed and ready to leave, the crew involved have just time for the group picture! (Pic: Peter Love)

Thanks to the Whittakers and James Wren Davis, Old Glory was invited to take part in a unique, 70-foot showman’s road train run, starting at the Wren Davis milk farm, near Great Missenden, in Buckinghamshire, where the family has been for some 98 years. The run’s destination was Carters Fair, at Pinkneys Green, near Maidenhead, Berkshire.

I suppose it all started when the Whittakers were looking for a venue to debut their, authentically detailed, 1923, four-berth showman’s living van. It was built by Charles D Phillips Ltd, at the Emlyn Engineering Works in Newport, Monmouthshire, and who had other bases in Gloucestershire and London.

70-foot showman’s road train

Seen on June 12th, 1954, at the Appleford Steam Rally is Britannia, cleaned up after a life on the show field. (Pic: WS Love)

This fine showman’s van started its life with the famous West Country showman, Marshall Hill, and ended up with Alfie Price, where it became very ‘flaky.’ Its involvement with the Whittakers all started some 36 years ago, when they purchased it from Paul and Jill Fowler. Since then it’s been totally rebuilt to museum standard.

As is well known, Gerald Whittaker is one of the top preservation painters/signwriters in the game, and has been for decades. He’s fastidious in what he does, and likes things authentic, which is precisely what he achieved with the Phillips van. Gerald painted the art deco flooring to replicate the period lino, as none of the original pattern was available.

70-foot showman’s road train

The preparation crew have decades of experience with rail and road steam. (Pic: Peter Love)

James Wren Davis has been a good friend of the Whittakers for some while, and Gerald painted and lined James’ own stylish showman’s living van some years back. It all came together that the Phillips would debut at Joby Carter’s Pinkneys Green Old Tyme Fair, held in August 2021. The Carter’s extensive fair has been visiting there for 40 years now, and steam showman’s engines have been very much part of the set up for so many years. In fact, the setting is ideal and the fair has certainly grown since I was last there, back in the 1990s. It’s heaven for the vintage enthusiast, and the fair is very much worth visiting, wherever it tours.

James Wren Davis, who has tremendous driving skill and certainly knows what he’s doing. (Pic: Peter Love)

The journey was to be 17 miles long, taking in some gigantic Chiltern hills in heavy traffic with the 70ft showman’s road train. It began on the A4128, through High Wycombe with all its roundabouts. The engine changed down to second gear then up the 1-in-40 hill out of High Wycombe, on to the A40/A404, heading towards Maidenhead, before doubling back to Pinkneys Green on the A4130.

At the head end was the James Wren Davis’ ‘stocky’ 1904 Burrell DCC 8hp No. 2668 Britannia NM257 showman’s road locomotive, with its mighty, maroon 7ft rear wheels and gold painted rivet heads.

The safety straps are about to be applied to the rear drawbar. (Pic: Peter Love)

Originally with Thurstons of Cambridge and delivered in June 1904, where it was to work for the family near-on 40 years. In 1920, Thurston’s bought a Venetian gondola switchback from Pat Collins, which Britannia accompanied before travelling with Stanley Thurston’s dodgems for many years, based then at Kempstone, in Bedfordshire.

In 1942, the engine was sold to JH Manning, of Cottered in Hertfordshire, who put it back to steam in 1946, only for a while though. It was then laid up with a Foster showman’s engine for some years, but survived to appear at the 1954 Appleford Rally, where WS Love photographed it. Interestingly, Britannia was the oldest showman’s engine at the name-changing, 1964 White Waltham Steam Fair, not far of course from Pinkneys Green.

Gerald Whittaker gives the road train a final check before setting off. (Pic: Peter Love)

Britannia has been with James for some while now. He took it off the road from 2009-2013 when the engine was totally rebuilt, with the boiler assembly overhauled by Bicknells. James added new gears and so much more to make this engine what it is today.

Its owner is steeped in steam culture. The first engines his father owned in early preservation times were a pair of Fowler BB1s that came from TT Boughton, of Amersham, and ended up in Alberta, Western Canada, with Matthews (much to James’ father’s disgust!). But there is a happy ending, as the engines are with the Cooks in Scotland today. James can still recall his first cab ride in TT Boughton’s fine and immaculate (as it has always been) 1926 Foden No. 13196 6-ton wagon, Pride of Fulham.

The journey begins as the road train hits the A4128 and, as it says on the front of the canopy, ‘Britannia Leads The Way.’ (Pic: Peter Love)

The road train was to leave at 11am and the team of Trevor, Ken and Jim had the engine looking good, with plenty of steam on the gauge, but the simpling valve-to-block gasket decided to blow (better here than on the road). The team had to chuck the fire out, but James had a new gasket made in no time and, with plenty of the ‘black stuff’ plonked on the joint, the simpling valve was back on the block and connected-up.

Just before 1pm the outfit was all coupled up to Britannia’s tender, with a double safety strap between the trailers and ready to go.

It’s interesting to see the contrasting style of showman’s living vans, made possibly 20 years apart. (Pic: Peter Love)

With Della Fagg, the excellent and experienced steers person in place, who concentrated so well and kept the outfit in a straight line all the way so impressively, it was full steam ahead. With full pressure, James opened the regulator and took to the highway; his driving skill made the engine look so easy to handle in the heavy traffic. The teamwork between the crew was excellent and, at certain locations, the steam road train stopped to first check out the brakes on the Phillips van, particularly as they got very hot coming down Cryers Hill.

After the brakes had cooled, it was off again to take on more of the challenges ahead, which included more downhill work leading to High Wycombe and its many roundabouts. At the final roundabout, James stopped and changed down to second gear with the Burrell patent two-lever, three-speed change mechanism, for the mighty challenge of the huge hill out of the town ahead.

With the brakes getting very hot on the Phillips showman’s van, the road train takes it easy down Cryers Hill. (Pic: Peter Love)

With a good fire, but not making any smoke, full steam pressure was on the button as the road train took on the might of the steep hill drag, but the Burrell made ‘mincemeat’ of it all with 160psi on the clock at the top, not helped by traffic lights three-quarters of the way up. But, again, James timed it perfectly, and didn’t have to stop! At the top of the hill the injector went on and over the brow and on the flat again, the train pulled off for an oil up by Della, as James made some adjustments to the gland nuts, which were tight and not blowing by the rods at all.

It was then downhill again to more roundabouts, then on to another downward slip road, which led to joining the A40 towards Maidenhead, where the road train purred along this very busy road impressively. They passed the Henley-on-Thames turning and continued on towards the second Pinkneys Green turning, which doubles back on itself towards Maidenhead Thicket, so popular with dog walkers. Not far along here, the outfit carefully turned right onto the narrower A4130, with its heathland and woods, towards Pinkneys Green.

Della oils the motion on Britannia by standing on the belly tank wooden cover. (Pic: Peter Love)

As they arrived a number of photographers flashed away; what a sight it made! Britannia silently uncoupled from its loads and reversed into the amazing and extensive fair, to park for the weekend, not blowing off at all!

Paul Hyman came along with one of Joby Carter’s Scammell Highwayman tractor units and, after careful reversing, which Joby lined up with a block; the Whittaker’s showman’s van was in place, just away from the shrubbery. It looked so narrow with its solid tyres compared to all the later vans with their pneumatic tyres around the site.

70-foot showman’s road train

With oil can in hand, Della makes sure all the light bulbs are in place on the canopy. (Pic: Peter Love)

James Wren Davis then moved his showman’s van himself with his Land Rover Defender, again making it look so easy. By now it was 5pm as Trevor and Jim cleaned down Britannia and Della Fagg and Julia Whittaker reflected on the day and how it had all gone so well. I can only agree with that!

On my way home in the early evening, I caught the Searle lads 1920 Burrell DCC 6hp No. 3847 Princess Marina, which had roaded here via Wentworth. Later that evening, the outfit was all in place to enjoy the record-breaking weekend at Pinkneys Green.

70-foot showman’s road train

James reverses the mighty 8hp Burrell onto the site. (Pic: Peter Love)

The Fair, which was an outstanding success, will remain in everyone’s memories for a long while! The editor would like to thank everyone involved in the journey for their kindness and hospitality, and the invitation to attend.

70-foot showman’s road train

All in its correct environment, Britannia powers away. (Pic: Simon Caldwell)

For a money-saving subscription to Old Glory magazine, simply click here

 

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