The return of steam haulage!

Posted by Chris Graham on 21st January 2022

David Warren reports on the one-off return of steam haulage to the roads of northern England and a spectacular transportation event.

steam haulage

The one-off return of steam haulage to the roads of northern England.

Who would believe that in 2021 we would see professional road steam haulage take to the roads of Northern England, recreating heavy haulage by famous companies like Norman E Box, Marston Road Services, Walter Denton, Pickfords, Road Engines & Kerr and many other companies who are long past now? But over 12-14 November Alex Sharphouse and his teams did just that, ably assisted by Morris Lubricants brand ambassador, TV presenter and engineering enthusiast Guy Martin, who was involved in parts of the original build with Talisman.

The whole event was staged in the memory of Alex’s nephew Angus McIntosh, who died aged just 24 in 2018 from Cystic Fibrosis. So far the event has raised over £8,000 for Cystic Fibrosis Trust and there is still time to give – visit http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/talisman-tour

Over 12-14 November Alex Sharphouse and his team undertook an amazing commercial road trip to transport ex-Whitehaven Harbour 1917 Avonside 0-4-0 saddle  tank No. 1772 Askham Hall  (originally Sella Park) from Threlkeld Mining Museum near Keswick through the heart of the Lake District to Old Hall Farm at Bouth, some 50 miles away. It will be here that a cosmetic restoration will be undertaken on this industrial locomotive in 2022.

steam haulage

Seen at the Saturday midday stop near Brockhole in absolutely brilliant weather conditions for mid November!
(Pic: David Warren)

The Avonside was rebuilt by Hawthorn Leslie in 1935 for industrial use – it worked particularly at Solway colliery, Workington and  down to Queens Dock, Whitehaven, and today is owned by Copeland Borough Council. Eventually it will be heading to Beacon Museum, Whitehaven where the engine is to be the star; hopefully funds can be raised to eventually return the engine to steam.

Alex always wanted to use Fowler B6 replica Talisman in earnest and after carefully running it in with a few road runs, rallies (even a wedding in Headcorn, Kent) over the past couple of years the moment of truth was here, could the renowned performance of a Fowler B6 road locomotive be confirmed.

With this always in mind Alex had purchased just the thing you need to test his theory, in the form of a mighty 1929/30 50 ton Dyson trailer. He bought it from heavy haulage expert and keen preservation collector Mike Lawrence of Highbridge, Somerset. The trailer had worked for Walter Hyde at Denton then to Pickfords and others; it was in quite a state to say the least when it arrived at Old Hall, but as always his team carried out a perfect job on the metal work, bearings, brakes, solid tyres and much more over a five-year period – it was finished just days before the event was to happen.

steam haulage

‘Tail-end Charlie’ the tracer engine was 1913 Fowler A7 No. 13141 with appropriate poppy attached. (Pic: David Warren)

Talisman could not do this job on its own and Jo Walker’s 1911 Charles Openshaw of Reading Fowler B6 No.12906 B6 Foremost, which was repatriated from France in 2008, was to be the lead engine. Having been given a brilliant concours restoration it was another to now be used in earnest, doing what it was built for the very first time in preservation. The tracer engine was the Davis family’s 1913 Fowler Class A7 7hp road locomotive No. 13141. If Michael Davis was still alive he would have certainly approved of this occasion and it would have brought a broad smile to his face I am sure.

Alex Sharphouse loaded the Morris Lubricants-sponsored Talisman and the Dyson trailer on the back of his Scania and was in position at the excellent Threlkeld Museum for the loading of the 0-4-0 locomotive on Monday morning.

Lawsons Crane Services from Gote Mill House, Cockermouth, Cumbria came in with two of their mighty mobile cranes. The company were providing their services free of charge and Alex cannot thank them enough for what they did. They were using the immaculate Brunswick green and red-painted Terex-Demag mobile cranes, with the Ford Transit dropside service truck looking just as smart.

steam haulage

Passing the iconic Bridge House, a 17th century survivor in Ambleside, with Foremost leading the way. (Pic: David Warren)

If it could talk, Askham Hall must have been saying “where am I going now!” Having been at the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway with 1902 Barclay No. 929 Alexandra (which worked at Millom Ironworks) where both were stationed by the engine shed from the late 70s to the early 2000s, Askham Hall then was transferred to Haig Colliery Mining Museum who had great plans that came to nothing and in 2008 the engine was transferred to its current site. It was intended for it to live at the Eden Valley Railway but that didn’t happen, but at least the engine’s future looks secure thanks to owners Copeland Council’s great efforts to find a permanent home for their engine.          

It was touch and go whether the ‘Lakes Heavy Haulage Run’ could go ahead as the heavy haulage permits required had not come through, but at last the final police permit came through on Thursday 18 November, now that was a big relief for Alex and the team!

However they could not hit the road until 9am on Friday, everyone was on tenterhooks as none of the three crews had ever undertaken a big task like this before when it came to steam heavy haulage and were very brave to tackle such a task in the first place. But Alex had thought things through, even arranging mobile catering with Lee of Aunt Sally’s catering and brewery (tel: 07770 818111). This gentleman is a brilliant cook who looked after everyone so well over the three days of the adventure and kept stomachs full when needed throughout this event.

Getting away from the Saturday afternoon service stop at Ings as the engines get up to speed. (Pic: David Warren)

Alex had a water bowser all in place on the Scania; Talisman was set for one major fill-up per day whereas the other two engines had smaller belly tanks and needed two top-ups per day. They were to burn just on 3 tonnes of coal over the three days.

Threlkeld is just off the A66 and the road train took to the old A591 at first, taking things easy while checking bearings and oil quantities as they headed south through Stanah now on the A591 and then through Fisher Place alongside the beautiful Lake Thirlmere. By now of course the road train was steadily climbing up towards to Helvellyn, which is 949 feet above sea level. It was certainly ‘rock and roll’ and the engines did not have it easy in places as the water in the gauge glass was up the top and then down the bottom as they climbed up and down.

It was on to the village of Wythburn with Wythburn Fells in the distance as people came out to watch the road train, having seen all about it on TV and in the local press. Further along the A591 Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage Museum was passed as they eventually pulled into a field at Grasmere for the night, it all had gone well so far!

Climbing from Staveley with the Lakeland hills behind as the engines start to work hard! (Pic: David Warren)

Saturday saw the road train on the road again at 9.30am. All the engines were in top condition with a full head of steam on them and Alex says, “We didn’t put a spanner on Talisman all weekend so we must have done the job right!” Again Lee had fed them well.

From Grasmere it was off through Rydal – the roads are pretty tight in this area! Then across Rydal Water and on to the narrow streets of Ambleside and a huge crowd had come out to greet the road train. It was exhilarating for everyone involved and the interest it has generated in road steam and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust who backed the event to the full.     

There were no short cuts here when the road train got to Windermere and kept to the left and still on the A591 and headed through the village of Ings, then on through Staveley as the road train had to stay on the A591. The roads became busier as they headed onto the Kendal bypass as vehicle owners tooted their horns in approval and even some older vehicles came out to join in the occasion.

The Scania water bowser does its stuff on Saturday lunchtime. (Pic: David Warren)

The party bedded down for the second night just outside Kendal by the first roundabout. It was going well, just one more day to go and the last 20 miles to undertake.

It was that 9.30am start again on Remembrance Day as the safety valves were raised on all three Fowlers, with the finest compensating gear of any type of steam road locomotives made.

Around the Kendal bypass the engines went and later on passed Sizergh Castle, a medieval house that’s been in the Strickland family for more than 800 years and has some magnificent gardens. It’s well worth visiting if you are in the area, it’s part of the National Trust today.

The crew members who helped make it all happen, seen at the end of the second day near Kendal. (Pic: David Warren)

At Sedgwick the road train turned right onto the A590 and co-incidentally by Levens Hall where of course Fowler showman’s Bertha had lived for over 50 years – the engine’s now enjoying its first Christmas in Switzerland. On through Sampool Bridge where people had come out to see what was going on. It’s a slow left and right at Meathop and up to New Bridge at the bottom end of Lake Windermere. Will the restored Bluebird ever arrive in its specially built museum building, only the courts will decide, perhaps in 2022 but who knows for sure?

People are getting tired but they are nearly there. They are on the home leg and everyone is concentrating hard! Askham Hall travels by the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway where it’s been before! As Old Hall Farm at Bouth is literally down the road they have made it!

It was a totally amazing experience for everyone involved. The whole journey had been well conceived and executed there were lots of ‘dusty’ faces and hot baths were certainly required, but the memories of what has been achieved will never be forgotten that’s for sure.

If Angus McIntosh had still been alive he would have filmed the whole event from beginning to end and you know he would have done such a good job as he had for his relatives the Sharphouse’s before, but sadly he is not here having been taken early in his life.

With over £8,000 raised for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust let’s see if we can make that over £10,000 in honour of Angus McIntosh, the dearly missed nephew of Alex Sharphouse. He sadly passed away after a lifelong battle with the genetic condition in 2018 at the age of 24 –  please give generously at http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/talisman-tour

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