Paul Ritchie provides an update on the essential repair work carried out on Dave Loader’s unique, 1922 Wallis & Steevens Oilbath road roller.
Although the rally scene was disrupted in 2021, it was still a busy year for Dorset engine owner, Dave Loader, who spent the season showing his 1910 Garrett single-cylinder 6nhp GP engine No. 28758 Earl of Eldon at local events and rallies, including a visit to the Isle of Wight for the August Bank Holiday steam-up.
Very much a local engine, Earl of Eldon entered the rally scene in the 1950s, and has been in the same family since just after the Second World War. During the winter of 2019/2020 it was stripped down for its 10-year hydraulic examination, to replace several tubes and to undertake various other work needed, including the rubbering of the front wheels plus painting and lining both sets of wheels.
The 2021 season also saw the engine used regularly on Dave’s Traction Engine Driving Experience days, on which enthusiasts are taken out into the New Forest to experience what it’s like to be at the controls of a large traction engine, and gain real, first-hand insight into the hobby. Several participants enjoyed the whole experience so much that they’ve gone on to become active in the movement, both helping other engine owners, or becoming engine owners themselves.
But once the season ended, Dave and his crew turned their attention to his other engine, the 1922 Wallis & Steevens Oilbath road roller, No. 7751. This unique engine – being the only known Wallis oilbath left as a roller – was purchased by Dave’s grandfather in 1952, who named it Gertrude Lucy, after his wife. The engine has been stored ‘out of ticket’ for a couple of years, and so needed re-tubing, a new ash pan and the making and fitting of a new chimney.
The crew set themselves the challenge of getting the engine back into action in time for December’s Wimborne Christmas Carnival; an event that Dave has supported for many years. Being a relatively small roller at 9 tons, the work on Gertrude Lucy could be undertaken on Dave’s drive, where an engine crane was used to remove the saddle and provide the necessary access to the smokebox.
With the new tubes ordered from a UK supplier, the first stage of the work involved removing the old ones, after they’d been cut in half through the manhole door, using an oxy-acetylene torch. The boiler inspector soon visited to oversee the cold inspection, and to offer some advice regarding some of the rivets around the smokebox and within the firebox. This was duly acted upon, after which the refitting of the 47 tubes began.
Cranborne-based MK Engineering & Vehicle Restoration was commissioned to produce the new ash pan and roll the chimney, which was completed to a high standard, then the crew drilled and refitted them to the engine after painting. With everything back in place and no obvious leaks, the engine was steamed several times to check both the new tubes and the integrity of the welding work that had been done. Happily, the tubes were found to be perfect from the first steaming, having expanded well to do their job and, following a few adjustments with the caulking tool, the boiler was spot-on, too.
An appointment was made for the boiler inspector to re-visit so that the steam test could be conducted, which was satisfactorily completed. Then, following a mid-week test run to check the mechanical side of things – in additional to the other work – it was concluded that the engine was fit and ready to tackle the road run to the Wimborne Christmas Carnival. So, on December 11th, the roller hauled the trailer, suitably decorated and carrying Father Christmas, and was joined by a couple of other engines in the carnival parade.
This year sees the 100th birthday of this unique engine, and it’s good to know that it’ll be able to get out and about to celebrate following these repair works. We also understand from Dave that more Traction Engine Driving Experience Days are planned, which is excellent news, as well.
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