Road to Rails rally

Posted by Chris Graham on 15th December 2021

Paul Ritchie reports from the well-attended Road to Rails rally which took place at the Swanage Railway, in Dorset.

Road to Rails rally

Road to Rails rally: Paul Antell at the controls of Wally, with the famous Corfe Castle in the background. (Pic: Paul Ritchie)

A well-attended steam event, called Roads to Rail, took place over the August Bank Holiday weekend in a field next to the Norden terminus of the Swanage Railway, in Dorset. While there were several events in the area taking place that weekend (taking advantage of the lack of the Great Dorset Steam Fair), the Swanage Railway’s event was very well attended. Given its location and position, it combined well with the attractions of the railway, Corfe Castle and the local, Purbeck hills.

Road to Rails rally

New to A Basley of Warminster, Wiltshire, before going to the Burton-on-Trent Corporation, Mark Farwell’s 1919 Fowler K7 No. 15279 made an impressive sight. (Pic: Richard Thorpe)

The engine that journeyed the furthest to be there was Mike White’s 8hp McLaren No. 1148, Hercules, that travelled up fresh from the Devon County Show via Mike’s Exmoor yard. This engine was imported new to McLaren agents Caccialanza & Bronzini in 1910, with this model 60p1 coming with a direct ploughing hitch and upper haulage hitch. In the 1920s it was converted into a colossal, 23-ton roller with nine-foot rolls for use on Italian roads. In 1937 it was commandeered by Mussolini for road-making duties in Ethiopia, finally returning to Italy to finish its working days.

Road to Rails rally

Mike White’s 1910 McLaren 8hp No. 1148 Hercules looks good. The engine travelled to Dorset from The Devon County Show, via its Exmoor yard. (Pic: Richard Thorpe)

Mike has managed a brilliant overhaul and the return of the machine to traction engine status, and it’s now a popular sight on the roads and hills around Exmoor and further afield. On Saturday and Sunday evening the engine took a trailer-load of crews on the seven-mile trip down to Swanage, for a quick dip in the sea and a traditional fish-and-chip supper, before returning back to the site for an evening of live music. On Bank Holiday Monday, Hercules and crew departed for the North Dorset yard of the Farwells, ahead of attending the Stourpaine White Horse event the following month.

Road to Rails rally

It was good to see this 1929 Aveling & Porter AC No. 14001 in attendance -–the first of the later, slide-valve-type produced at Rochester. (Pic: Richard Thorpe)

Also making a welcome appearance at this event was the Coles family’s 8hp Marshall road locomotive No.52962, Britannia. Much of the history of this engine is unknown, but it was built in 1909 and supplied new to RC Scrutton & Co Ltd in Sydney, Australia. It entered preservation in the 1960s when it was bought by Mr R Smith. The Cole family purchased the engine over the ‘phone having seen it advertised, and saw it for the first time in the flesh when it arrived back in this country. They then undertook a full restoration and, at this rally, it certainly made a fine sight next to the big McLaren.

Road to Rail rally visitors were able to get on the footplate of SR 4-6-2 ‘West Country’ Bulleid Pacific No. 34028, Eddystone. (Pic: Richard Thorpe)

As you might expect, this event also served-up a strong presence of Dorset-owned engines, including those owned by members of the Antell family. Paul Antell bought his 1910 Robey 7hp general purpose engine No.29333, Wally, and made the most of the spacious field to trundle around. John Antell enjoyed steaming-up his mighty 14hp Fowler ploughing engine No.13482, Fearnought. With its double-pin back wheels, two-speed ploughing gear and 800-yard drums, it must have made an impressive sight working the farmland of Essex back in the day. Alongside was Matt Farwell’s 10hp Fowler ploughing engine No.15279, Neville; an engine built in 1919 and supplied new to Arthur Basely of Warminster, before it headed to the Burton-on-Trent Corporation.

Here’s a fine Burrell roller making steam after clearing out its ashpan. (Pic: Richard Thorpe)

Duncan Pittock exhibited his 1916, First World War Daimler lorry BF8278, having driven it from Essex for the rally. This is the only surviving CB2 out of the 1,800 that were built in Coventry, and it almost certainly saw service in France during World War One. Duncan began its rebuild in 2015, and completed the job in time for the Great Dorset Steam Fair in 2017. After this it took part in the delivery of the bells for St. Georges Chapel, Ypres, having the honour of parking next to the Menin Gate.

Robert Coles’ Marshall heavy road locomotive, Britannia. It was advertised for sale in NTET Steaming, and Robert bought it over the phone! (Pic: Richard Thorpe)

Visitors were also able to get on the footplate of SR 4-6-2 West Country Class Bulleid Pacific No. 34028, Eddystone, accessed through the rally field. Swanage Railway crews were on hand to talk through the controls of this powerful railway locomotive and, under supervision, allowed the whistle to be blown. In fact, there was a cacophony of engine whistling throughout the weekend, with the biggest being left for the surprise moment when one of the Swanage Railway drivers took the opportunity to go down on one knee and propose to his girlfriend – thankfully she said ‘yes’ and, much to her surprise, area was filled with the sound of congratulatory engine whistles!

Duncan Pittock made the journey from Brightlingsea, Essex, with his fine, WW1 Daimler which features a wood/metal-sandwiched chassis. (Pic: Richard Thorpe)

Event organiser Graham Froud, who was exhibiting his 1901 Fowler D2 class road roller No.99005, Lord Kitchener, with its new rubbered rolls, was thanked by everyone for putting on a superb rally in such an outstanding setting. It’s anticipated that the rally will go ahead again in 2022, but with a date set earlier in the year to avoid a potential clash with the Great Dorset Steam Fair.

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