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Discovery

As discovered at Pritchard's Nursery, Loughton, Essex

In 1976 John Butler was told of the existence of the remains of a Garrett wagon at Pritchard's Nursery in Loughton, Essex. At the time I was helping John with the restoration of his Garrett six wheeler and was interested in acquiring a steam wagon myself. John went to have a look at the wagon and reported that it appeared to be worth saving. The chassis had been cut behind the rear spring hangers to allow a large locomotive boiler to rest on the chassis with the firebox hanging over the end. Negotiations were conducted with Mr Pritchard and a price was agreed, but a condition of the sale was that the chassis should be replaced with a trailer so that the boiler remained mobile.

On 28th August 1976 John and I set out with a pickup truck and a few tools to recover the chassis. On arrival we met Mr Pritchard and discussed the requirement that the boiler should be mounted on a trailer. Having seen the chassis and the location of the boiler it was obvious that it had not been moved or steamed for some considerable time. A shed had been constructed around it and the front wheels were on blocks. After some further negotiation and handing over a bit more money it was agreed that the boiler could be left on blocks.

The problem then became how to remove the chassis from under the boiler. There was only one way out of the shed and that was in the opposite direction to that which the chassis was facing. It appeared as though there would be sufficient room to roll the chassis forward, shunt it sideways and then run back past the boiler and out of the shed. At this point it is worth mentioning that the first move was to be on a downward slope towards a glass house and when removed from the shed all further manoeuvres would be amongst glass houses.

We decided that the best way to remove the chassis would be to firstly block up the boiler and then lower the front end of the chassis and roll it forward clear of the boiler. All the original chassis cross members had been cut apart from the front one and one in front of the rear axle to which the brake cross shafts were attached. Two replacement chassis members, made from RSJs, had been installed to support the boiler barrel. With much grazing of knuckles these were removed to reduce the number of times the blocks would have to be reset for the chassis to go past. The RSJ's were then used as part of the permanent blocking arrangement. Surprisingly, when we tried to move the chassis it was very easy to push, proving the worth of the Timken Roller Bearings that Garretts had used so liberally in its construction. When the chassis was clear of the boiler and we were trying to reverse out of the shed we hit a snag where a roof support post at the centre of the shed obstructed a rear wheel. There was only one solution, temporarily remove the post. It was severed from its base by a hacksaw and pulled out of the way until the wheel was past the post. It was then pulled back into position and 'fixed' back in place. When the chassis was clear of the shed it was rolled down the nursery yard to a convenient location for collection at a later date.

The remains of the wagon after being extracted from the shed at the nursery, August 1976

The collection service was provided by Denis Brandt and Fred Tilbury who at short notice sacrificed a day working on Denis' Scammell Highwayman that he had acquired for his low loader. The Garrett chassis was recovered from the nursery with Denis’s Dodge V8 tractor unit and Tasker trailer and taken to Kew Bridge Pumping Station for temporary storage.

The wagon remained in the yard at Kew Pumping Station until February 1977 when I went with Uncle Harry (Harry Parkin) and his son David to collect it and bring it to a new home in Castleford. The journey was made with a 1970 Leyland Super Comet artic unit with a Tasker low loader trailer. As far as I recall it was a long but relatively uneventful day.

The wagon on the back of Harry Parkin's low loader upon delivery to Cutsyke, Castleford, February 1977
Harry and David Parkin preparing to shunt the wagon into the shed at Cutsyke, February 1977

Identification

One of the first things to do was to identify the wagon. Fortunately there were several features of the remains that made a positive identification possible.

  1. The chassis was that of a non-tipping wagon.
  2. The wheelbase was 10' 4" which was applicable to a 6 ton wagon or short chassis 8 tonner.
  3. The remaining section of footplate, the angle of the steering box and position of the brake pedal indicated that it was an early type of wagon with the round fronted cab.
  4. The front wheels had steel plate inserts between the spokes.
  5. The wheels and chassis were painted red.
  6. A portion of timber from the back of the cab was still attached to the footplate and this was maroon in colour.
  7. The remains of brass screws for fixing an "R.G. & S. Owners and Lessors" plate were found in the offside chassis member above the rear axle.

Careful scrutiny of the records held by Bob Whitehead enabled me to narrow down the search. The most distinguishing feature was the plates in the front wheels, which were quite common on tipping wagons but rare on non-tippers. This eliminated a large number of candidates. The remaining features enabled me to determine that it could only be wagon number 34841. Armed with the evidence of the identity it became possible to retrieve the original registration number. Several family members of the original owner were tracked down, and a photograph of the wagon was obtained from them.

The history of the wagon, as far as we have been able to determine, is recounted on the Garrett Undertype Steam Lorry page.

Restoration

The first stage of the restoration was to start repairing the chassis. The remaining intermediate cross members were repaired or fabricated new. Several patches were welded into the chassis where the soot from the smokebox of the sterilizing boiler had caused severe corrosion.

Meanwhile, spare parts were sought out from various places. In the 1960s, Jim Hutchens owned a later model Garrett wagon with a poppet valve engine (35465). He had obtained a quantity of spares from Leiston to help with the restoration of his wagon and after lengthy negotiations, the surplus spares were purchased for the restoration of our wagon.

Also in the 1960s, John Butler had purchased a quantity of spares, including a brand new boiler (using pressings made in the 1930s for a cancelled “Suffolk Punch” 6 wheeled tractor), one set of Joy valve gear as a display item, a “new old stock” rear cross member of the correct type, and numerous smaller items. These items were made available for the restoration project.

In the early 1980s when Tom Varley was finding wagons to restore in Australia, he came across the remains of an early Garrett Undertype, including a rear axle, crankshaft, gearcase and differential. The differential and crankshaft were purchased for the restoration. The rear axle remained with Tom and joined a collection of other parts that are being used by Simon Bass to construct a wagon.

Differential, gearing, countershaft and crankshaft as shipped from Australia by Tom Varley. Note the chain drive mechanism for a hydraulic tipping gear pump on the ground to the top left of the photo.

During the same period I tracked down former operators of Garrett wagons to see what spares or information they might still hold. Examples of spares that were found this way were a mechanical lubricator and injector from Hughes at Llanrwst, a speedometer from Bonell’s at Audlem, and several parts, including a new safety valve spring and several poppet valve engine parts came from the depot of Len and Wilf Cole of the Central Haulage and Motor Company in Leeds. Sadly, this was after the Cole brothers had died, and their complete water pump and other non-ferrous spares had been stolen and scrapped. There were other “near misses” – in one case, chassis members and a tipping body frame from one of the Hall & Co. wagons were found on a farm in Surlingham, Norfolk; but they disappeared and were presumably scrapped before they could be saved.

By the late 1980s, it was decided that it was unlikely that the main engine parts that were missing (crankcase, trunk guides, cylinders, water pump) would be found, and that the solution was to start making new parts. Fortunately the Garrett records are largely intact, and drawings for most of the missing components existed. With the help and inspiration of Andy Gibbs, the pattern for the cylinders was made as an apprentice’s project and the cylinders were cast in the foundry of J.I.Case at Doncaster. An aluminium test casting made from the patterns was purchased by Bob Whitehead and donated to the Long Shop Museum. The final casting was machined at a night school model engineering (!) class at Dewsbury college.

I contacted a retired pattern maker, Jim Garner, who, as a first project, made the patterns for casting the trunk guides. He went on to make the patterns for, amongst other sundry components, the pump side bearing housing and pump drive, as well as the pump itself.

Due to the size of the patterns and equipment required, the crankcase patterns, casting and machining were all done commercially.

In 1992, we completed a garage large enough to accommodate the wagon at home, and it was moved from Castleford. This allowed the pace of the restoration to increase rapidly, as it had previously been a 40 mile round trip to work on the wagon.

The castings for the engine assembled for the first time. All of the castings in the photo except the gear casing and the pump stuffing box were new.

The engine was assembled, and the chassis was once more dismantled. At this time, new sections of chassis that had been made at Goodland Engineering in Tonbridge were welded onto the rear end of the chassis members, to replace the sections that had been cut off when the wagon was in use as a trailer. The chassis was then reassembled around the engine.

The wagon in its new garage, c.1997
A view from the back of the chassis to the engine. Note that due to its heritage as a Suffolk Punch boiler, the firing chute is on the centreline of the wagon, rather than being offset to the left, and the gauge glass mountings immediately left and right of the centreline.

In early 1997, we built the cab back and sides (the cab back having been built using boards from a neighbour's Victorian house) and the boiler had several mounting pads added to allow the gauge glasses to be in a workable position, and a pad for the pump clack was mounted at the front. After inspection, we readied the boiler for its first steaming.

Some adjustments being made on the day of the first steaming of the wagon - June 15th, 1997

This happened on 15th June without any serious mishap. David Parkin was present for this event and commented that he had a pressure gauge that would be ideal for our wagon. He had removed it from a Fowler roller that he had previously owned. The gauge was of the exact type required for the wagon, a Budenburg Gauge Co. 0-400 PSI gauge, and while it had originally been marked with the red line at 250 PSI. That red line had been painted out and a new one added at 180 PSI for use on the Fowler roller. We later found out that this gauge had been fitted to the roller when it was purchased by Monty Thackeray from Dumfries County Council. Interestingly, Dumfries County Council also owned Garrett undertype 34926, and so it seems very possible, if not probable, that the gauge came off that wagon.

The wagon was steamed for a second time on 29th June. It was rolled a little further out of the garage than was intended, and so to get it back into the garage, the newly purchased chains were fitted and the wagon was run back into the garage. Around this time, we agreed that the wagon would go to the Harewood traction engine rally on the August bank holiday weekend. At the time we expected it to be towed or low-loaded there, and possibly be displayed with the boiler in steam.

Over the following few months, rapid progress was made, and it was decided to try and drive the wagon to Harewood, a journey of around 25 miles. One of the projects undertaken was building the cab roof, which included steaming the timber for the rail around the front of the cab. Several trial runs of the wagon were made on local roads, and the wagon was found to perform well. The cab roof was fitted the week before the Harewood, and after many late nights the wagon was successfully driven to and from the rally.

After the successful outing to Harewood, restoration continued, with the apron and lagging being manufactured and fitted over the winter of 1997-98. The project for the winter of 1998-99 was building the flat bed of the body, as well as fitting rear mudguards.

The wagon on the road from Standon Green End to Leiston, July 13th 2001

In 2001, we were invited to take the wagon to Leiston to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the Long Shop Museum. Again, we decided to take the wagon by road, and it was considered essential to build the water tank. We had been using a small riveted tank mounted on the flat bed of the wagon, which had been adequate for the short runs we had been making, but would clearly not be sufficient for the hundreds of miles to Leiston. We had a local metalworking company make the platework for the tank and drill the holes, and then set about hot riveting the tank together. It was successfully fitted, and the wagon was successfully driven down to Leiston, and after visiting several other East Anglian rallies, was successfully driven home.

For the next 11 years, restoration work on the wagon was largely confined to mechanical and cosmetic improvements, such as rerouting pipework to more accurately reflect how we believe Garretts did it, and replacing the steering wheel with a replica of the type originally fitted to undertypes.

In 2012 a large amount of work was done to bring the wagon a lot closer to its original appearance. The most significant improvements were the fitting of the windscreen, and the drop sides. The body sides, hinges and clips were all fabricated to the original drawings. Smaller changes included fitting the rear wheel discs and the plates over the front wheels.

The wagon at Thwaite Mills, Leeds, with the dropsides, windscreen and wheel discs newly fitted. September 9th 2012.

Another improvement was the addition of an electric headlamp. When the chassis of the wagon was obtained, there was an unusual lamp bracket on the end of the front chassis cross member. Photographs showed that it was not fitted when the wagon was new, and no photographs showing lamp brackets like it fitted to a Garrett wagon. The lamp bracket had unusually long forks, which had clearly been threaded at the ends. We had also found a small brass ferrule, which had around a 1/4" diameter bore, mounted on the remains of the heavily corroded footplate. As the wagon was not supplied with electric lighting, this was unexplained. In September 2012, 36 years after the wagon was purchased, a plausible explanation was found. From 1926 to 1929, Garretts produced their own cast aluminium electric headlamps. We had the opportunity to obtain a set from Andrew Hawkswell that had been purchased by John Butler from Garretts’ works in the 1960s. We tried this on the original lamp bracket, and to our great surprise, it fitted exactly. We cut new threads on the on the bracket, and refitted it. We then decided to investigate the drawings for the electric lighting set. Amongst the interesting details we discovered was that the lamp bracket drawing used to mount the headlamps (when mounted in front of the windscreen) was very similar to the construction of the bracket on 34841, possibly suggesting that the bracket may have been made at Leiston from stock components.

After the abolition of the requirement to display a tax disc, we decided to create a reproduction. We discovered the original records for the Garrett registrations, so we were able to reproduce the original quarterly tax disc down to the serial number.

Reproduction tax disc - October 2014

After a watertube in the boiler sprang a leak in 2016 on the way to Sheffield Rally, and as the boiler would be due for its next hydraulic test the following year, it was decided that as the boiler would be apart, it would be a good time to make some revisions to the boiler to bring it closer to the configuration of the original wagon boiler. Amongst the revisions that were made were to alter the position of the firing chute, which greatly improved the firing position, moving the clinker door from the front of the wagon to the nearside of the boiler (allowing the front numberplate to be fitted in its original location), and various boiler fittings were also moved. It was also discovered at this time that the steam collector pipe as originally fitted to the boiler by Garretts in the 1960's was of the later type, placing it too low in the boiler. The correct steam collector pipe was made to the drawing and fitted.

The boiler after having the clinker door and firing chute moved. May 2017.

At the same time, the opportunity was taken to replace the stop valve handle that had been machined from steel with a cast bronze one to the original design.

New stop valve handle with the pattern equipment used to cast it. September 2016.

Later, in 2017, we reproduced and fitted the trailer brake to the wagon.

The trailer brake assembly added to the wagon, November 2017