(first posted 2/6/2015) Great Britain’s reputation for doing things a bit differently has been well earned. One of the most unusual and endearing ones is its use of steam lorries, which were extensively employed since the repeal of the Road Act in 1896, and as late as the early 1960s, although most were retired before then. Given that the steam engine was invented in England and the availability of cheap coal, it made economic sense until diesel displaced them, but some were put back into service during the Suez Crisis. These are living dinosaurs, with their roots firmly in the 19th century. And if you have the time, don’t miss the following video which is the definitive one on the subject.
It’s a bit long, but looks at the history of the steam lorry as well as a number of machines in detail. It’s Friday; who needs to get any real work done anyway?
There were two dominant builders of steam lorries; Foden and Sentinel. The one at the top is a Sentinel, with a vertical boiler in the cab and the engine underneath the chassis. It’s generally considered the more modern of the two, and more suitable for high(er) speed road work, up to 35-40 mph.
The Foden has a horizontal boiler, and its origins are obviously in steam traction engines and locomotives. Both of these steamers are featured in the video, which describes them in much greater detail.
Surely Hogs Back brewed steam beer.
My Dad photographed a Foden at a steam rally some time in the mid-1950s.
Wonderful stuff, Paul. I have read one account of a Foden still being used as a tar boiler for road paving projects in the U.K. (a natural use when think about it) as late as 1956 and here’s one of only two known photos of a Sentinel S6 steam truck still in service at the Río Turbio coal fields in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Although I don’t know the precise date, the Jeep running along side of it gives us a general idea of the time frame.
Totally steam punk.
That is really cool. A steam truck never occurred to me. Makes perfect sense for that era.
I know what I’m watching tonight.
Thank you, Paul.
Watching this makes me wonder: Has anyone either restored, or built a working replica of the steam powered coaches that were on the British roads up until the Red Flag Act.
I seem to remember reading that the whole push behind the Red Flag Act was from the railroads. They didn’t like the competition.
Here’s one of those steam coaches from 1881. Pure Dickens. Marley, Cratchit, Scrooge, and Tiny Tim. And Bob’s dog, proudly riding shotgun just like dogs in modern cars.
Now that’s Steampunk!
This video was a very pleasant way to start a Saturday, Thanks
Beautiful mechanical monsters , all of them
The Y spoke wheels on the Fodens look similar to some recent alloy wheels on some Fords and BMWs
Bring back the steam powered vehicle. 🙂
Great video made my Saturday Ive driven a few Fodens not steam powered though and last year was put in the alternative to the steamers an ERF built by Edwin Richard Foden which split from the original Foden company to build diesel powered vehicles following arguements over which was the way to go forward.
Never thought about a steam truck but it seems to make sense under a lot of conditions. Did ride a steam train with my grandson. The Texas Railroad still operates between Palestine and Rusk. Use diesel instead of coal or wood which is, I guess about the only modernization.
Very interesting Paul. I remain amazed that you find so much new stuff day after day.
Massive amounts of zero rpm torque, cheap fuel, no finicky diesel injection systems and just general awesomeness. Can we get some more truck posts like this?
I met one when holidaying in Cotswolds:
Theres a 8hp McClaren traction engine in regular display use here its road registered and pulls a trailer to give rides, steam trucks not as common.
Another pic of that steamer in Cotsworld:
Great video; someday when i am not quite as tired I will watch the second half, and I will, yet it is quite drawn out for peeps like me who have an understanding of this.But good. Like my tech articles will be when I actually edit some and post. Sheesh how life can get in the way.
W.S. Gilbert, famed for his & Arthur Sullivan’s comic operas, also had decided opinions about various public matters, including motoring. Here’s one of his famous letters to the London Times, ca. 1902:
Sir,–I have quite recently taken to “motoring,” but I have already found reason to believe that the 12-mile limit is quite reasonable, and should not be exceeded.
Yesterday I was travelling in my “steam” motor-car along a country road, skirted on the near side by a long reach of dead wall. At the end of the dead wall was a narrow lane giving on to the road upon which I was travelling. There was nothing to indicate the existence of this lane until within a few yards of the end of the wall. As we reached the turning an elderly gentleman on a bicycle, travelling at a reasonable speed, suddenly came from the lane into the road, and turned in the direction from which we were coming. A collision necessarily ensued; the gentleman threw himself off his bicyle, and so injured his knee; the bicycle was smashed by the car, and the car was turned into a ditch on the off-side. The car, which was in charge of an experienced driver who had been specially cautioned by me not to exceed the statutory limit, was travelling at about ten or 11 miles an hour, and so it happened that the results of the collision were not very serious; but had I been going at the rate of 25 or 30 miles an hour, as advocated by so many of your correspondents, the bicyclist would almost certainly have been killed and the occupants of the car most seriously injured. The gentleman on the bicycle stated that he sounded his bell as he approached the corner, and I have no doubt he did so, but, owing perhaps to the intervention of a double thickness dead wall, it was not heard by any one in the car, which travels almost noiselessly.
The dangers involved by bicyclists turning suddenly on to unfrequented country roads, the sudden on-rush of small children, or the action of thoughtless trap drivers, who take it for granted that the road into which they are turning will be unencumbered by traffic, supply sufficient reasons for so limiting the rate of travel that if an unavoidable accident should occur its consequences will be reduced to a minimum.
I am your obedient servant,
Harrow Weald, Sept. 27.
Could a “modernized” steam engine be used for city bus? let’s see:
-Lots and lots of torque
-Lack Hp for higher speed, but it’s the city bus.
Ask Bill Lear. He tried it in 1972….https://books.google.com/books?id=WZ6okH8FCs4C&pg=PA54&lpg=PA54&dq=lear+steam+bus&source=bl&ots=khk9jJDqhh&sig=99diPrZr96M71mfAWqQBDTq2pXA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=QcLWVPOBOYHQgwTDroPgAw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=lear%20steam%20bus&f=false
Didn’t really say why it failed, other than combination of too much acceleration and jerky tranny made standing difficult. Didn’t sound like unsolvable problems.
Come to think of it, with 2000lb/ft available at 1rpm, probably wouldn’t need a tranny. In EV, most preached for using tranny until Tesla came along.
I really don’t know the answer to that question, toffee, but I suspect it might have been because Lear’s steam bus was the answer to a question that nobody asked. Certainly by 1972, the diesel engine was well established as a reliable and economical powerplant for heavy duty applications. While his design might have yielded better emissions numbers than any contemporary diesels, I’m sure big fleet purchasers would have been reluctant to adopt something so radical and unproven.
Lear was a crusader for modern steam, going so far as to propose a design for an Indy car. I don’t think that project ever got beyond the building of one of his unique delta motors and attendant boiler. Of course, he could afford to indulge his pursuit of vaporous perfection. He had that other little aircraft enterprise going on to provide the finances.
Attended a classic car rally years back in Surrey, UK. Someone brought at steam tractor and for the amusement of the crowd, hitched it up to a 45 foot container and proceeded to haul it around the farmer’s field at a fairly brisk pace. The container, of course, has no wheels!
As a postscript, after a family bust up involving the formation of the ERF truck company Foden finally started making “oil engine lorries” in the early 30s and survived and independent until the company was bought by Paccar in 1980. The last Foden was made in 2006 although by that point they were simply rebadged DAFs. The spinoff ERF (Edwin Richard Foden) stayed alive and under family ownership until it was bought by Western Star in 96, who sold ERF to MAN in 2007. At that point like Foden they were selling badge engineered MAN trucks until 2007.
Sentinel trucks also eventually went diesel in the late 40s, before being bought by Rolls-Royce in the mid 50s. Truck production ceased as Rolls wanted the factory for their diesel engine business but Sentinel kept making steam and later diesel locomotives until about 1981.
The Sentinel design was also used for quite a number of rail passenger units, some built up to the 1950s for export.
Thank you so much for that link. Normally I shy away from long videos, but I spent a most enjoyable 55 minutes watching it. So nice to have something narrated by somebody who seems to know what he’s talking about.
If you are a serious steam enthusiast, then you MUST, at least once, plan a visit to the Great Dorset Steam show in the south of England. It’s typically around the last week of August. This year it’s planned for 26 to 30 August.
It’s 500 acres of steam stuff, lots of showman’s engines, steam engines of every description, even a steam operated vintage carnival with rides! Big flea market, auto jumble, vintage vehicle show, they even have a steam plowing demonstration using 2 big traction machines towing a plow across the field between them. If you like automated musical band organs, there are dozens of big trucks stationed all around the facility, each having a huge automated band, playing music.
At night [see photo] all the electricity is provided by over 60 steam “showman’s engines”, each with their own generator, and they are the only electrical power for the event!
For more info: https://www.gdsf.co.uk/news/