Very rare French-built steam roller spotted in Oxfordshire!

Posted by Chris Graham on 27th September 2023

Derek Rayner reports on a very rare French-built steam roller that was spotted at this summer’s Bloxham Rally.

French-built steam roller

French-built steam roller: The very rare Aillot engine on display at Bloxham back in June. – with, inset the plate of its commercial owner. (Pic: Peter Love)

Enthusiasts visiting the Bloxham Steam Rally, near Banbury, at the end of June were treated to a huge surprise in the shape of a steam roller, the likes of which had never previously been seen in this country.

The engine’s commercial owner’s plate. (Pic: Peter Love)

The roller in question was constructed by JB Aillot in Montceau-les-Mines, in the department of Saône-et-Loire, in eastern France; a manufacturer of other road-making machinery such as self-propelled stone-breakers and motor rollers.

The front of the roller’s saddle with the ‘indentations’ indicating – without a doubt – what the works number roller is, which firm made it and its Fleet Number. (Pic: Peter Love)

This example, Works No. 402, had been found by owner Martin Shepherd in an underground bunker in France, where it had been squirrelled away for some 55 years, and was brought into the country in relatively recent times. This was the first occasion it had been displayed in public, and its presence generated much head-scratching among people who spotted it at the show. It’s equipped for using a trailed scarifier from either side, if required, and Martin is searching for such an implement to use with it. Should any reader know the whereabouts of an appropriate example, please contact the editor.

French-built steam roller

A commercial postcard showing JB Aillot’s display stand in October 1908 at the ‘1re Congrès International de La Route’, held at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, where the firm had a wide range of equipment on display. On the left is a steam-powered tandem roller, since its chimney is at the rear. There’s also a conventional Aillot steam roller and a self-propelled steam-powered water sprinkler.

The roller’s age has been something which has been speculated upon since, as far as is known, no works records still exist – unless readers know different, of course. The only thing which Martin has to go on in this respect at the moment are entries in The European Traction Engine Register, 2015, which lists 12 Aillot steam rollers built by the firm from No. 52 in 1907 to No. 413 in 1928; the majority of which are tandem compounds and all of which are located in France. This information therefore appears, by interpolation, to suggest that the roller was constructed in 1928.

French-built steam roller

An ‘interesting’ and somewhat different view of the roller from the rear. (Pic: Peter Love)

The firm manufactured both single- and compound-cylindered steam rollers; these latter models having the two cylinders in line. All are listed as compounds, with only one single-cylinder example which is to be found in the south-west of France. The appearance of No. 402 thus increases the known number of single-cylinder machines.

This feature comes from a recent issue of Old Glory, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


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