A report from Richard Buck - an EATES member who lives in Derby
Aveling and Porter’s Travelling Van for Steam Road Roller - updated 14th February 2009
When a roller is required to be at work some distance from home, it is convenient and an economy, to house the men in a sleeping van. The illustration shows one arranged to accommodate three men: it is mounted on strong cast-iron wheels and is fitted with boxes, lockers, bunks, table, a pair of steps, stove and piping, and a vice bench. The bedding for the three men consists of mattresses and cases, bolsters and cases, three pairs of blankets and three counterpanes
The Aveling & Porter living van came to me following a wanted advert on the ‘Traction Talk Pages’ website in 2002. The van belonged to Phil Honour of Little Chalfont in Buckinghamshire. Phil was pleased to sell the van to someone as he claimed “he was no good at welding wood”. The adjacent picture shows that it was what my wife Veronica described as some very expensive firewood ripe for some fool to restore! Surprisingly nothing fell off on the journey from Buckinghamshire to Derbyshire. The van is one of two bought by Amersham Rural District Council in 1923/24 for £140 each.
Work on dismantling the van started in earnest at the end of 2003. Having got down to a pile of bits that I could repair and a list of materials that would have to be replaced, the only way from there was up. The adjacent picture shows the framework in its repaired condition starting to look like the framework of a living van. Only the top rail and corner upright are new, all the other parts you can see are either original, but cleaned, or original cleaned and repaired. Several of the uprights needed new bottom ends spliced on. Most were on the side behind the camera. The joints that you can see between the uprights and the top rail are pegged mortise and tenon, as they were originally. The hard part was cutting the mortise hole to fit the tenon on the ends of the uprights to fit, which is the opposite way to how it is normally done.
The final picture shows the van from the front (bunk) end, wearing most of its new boards, in the middle of October 2008. The brown paper, is building paper. This is an original idea to stop draughts that might blow, through any cracks that may appear between the boards if they should shrink, onto the sleeping occupants. Although these vans only provided Spartan accommodation for the steam roller driver and a couple of labourers, this detail shows that the comfort of the men was considered.
Having finished fitting all the exterior horizontal boards and given them a good sanding. The yellow pine looks too good to cover with paint. As a primer I have given all the exterior wood two coats of warm linseed oil. This feeds the wood and will ensure a good bond for the
coloured linseed oil paint.
At last, with the first coat of coloured linseed paint, it starts to look like a living van. The plank leaned up against the end is to be the first full length roof board to make sure I get the boards on square. The ends of the boards, peeping over the edge, already in place are short, only going to the edge of the hole where a roof ventilator will fit.
All the roof boards are in place and securely fixed with countersunk stainless steel screws. The piece of plywood covers the hole for the roof ventilator. The boards have been sanded all over and have received 4 coats of warm linseed oil. Although they will be covered with a layer of felt and flat galvanised sheet, it seemed a good idea to feed the wood as I hope it lasts another 80 years.
Looking through the door, up at the ceiling where the ventilator fits. It seems a shame that all this wood will soon be covered with white paint, to help make the van lighter inside. Only the walls will be left unpainted. They will be finished with Shellac Button polish, as originally used. The curved roof spars are the originals from 1924, just cleaned up a bit! It’s amazing what a blow lamp, some sand paper and elbow grease can do.
Having nearly completed the bodywork, all that was left was the roof ventilator. It was a little tricky, firstly making sense of the drawing and then marking out the positions of the mortises in the end pieces for the stub tenons on the ends of the louvers. I resorted to drawing the positions on paper, on the computer, and sticking the paper on to the wood surface. As you can see it came out OK in the end. To stop bitumen, from the felt covering, leaking though the gaps in the wooden slats, I have stapled a piece of building paper in place to act as a barrier.
The effects of working in an unheated lean-to on the back of a factory in the middle of winter produced some unwanted swelling and distortion of the inside boards, but some careful heating and drying out with an oil filled radiator brought the planks back to flat again. With everything nice and dry, the ceiling was primed with 3 coats of warmed linseed oil. It then took a frustrating 7 coats of warmed white linseed paint to cover and hide the grain of the ceiling boards. I then tried a few different mixes of antique pine and mahogany wood stains to find a cocktail that when applied to the new pale boards, would match the colour of the original pieces of wood framework. What you see in the picture shows the effect after a further 3 coats of shellac button polish have been applied. I have also refitted the side rails for the three bunks.
Looking down on the bottom bunk, re-assembled from mostly all original parts, you can see the thoughtful way the designer put the cross piece slightly off centre to allow access to the head of the fore-carriage pivot pin without the need to dismantle part of the bunk. It could if the need arises be completely withdrawn. The stripings on the slats are from the original band saw marks. As these would be hidden by the bedding it was unnecessary to used planed timber, just a rough sanding to remove the larger surface splinters.
With two of the three bunks re-fitted, (I’d run out of saved parts at this stage), I continued re-fitting the locker. Apart from 3 new hinges, and new internal partitions, the locker is all original, just cleaned, repaired and refinished with a few coats of shellac button polish. The small bench for the vice has been fixed slightly higher than originally fitted to suit the length of the replacement vice leg found at Rempstone Steam Rally last summer. A small spliced extension to the bench support leg was required and is partially hidden under the bench. Veronica wondered why I had replaced the vice. Well, isn’t it obvious? It’s to hang your handbag from! Seriously though, I had to fit a leg vice as it was part of the original equipment
On the wall opposite the locker is the drop down table. Although slightly warped with age, it has been re-assembled and refitted. All that was required was to repair the bottom end of the swivelling support leg, its base block and the hinge board support brackets. Rebuilding the corner cupboard is in progress. New shelves have been fixed in place and the refurbished original front up-stands screwed to the front edge. In addition the door hinge board has been stripped of paint, cleaned and refinished. The door is out of view having been dismantled, stripped, various splits and holes filled with epoxy glue, sanded, re-assembled and refinished with button polish. The unusual shaped blacksmith made hinges had been sand blasted clean and repainted in gloss black.
With all the pealing black paint removed the original wriggly tin sheets that surround the stove position in the corner, were well worth refitting. The only significant rust on the sheets is still to be covered with zinc galvanising paint. I know that the sheets are the 85 year old originals as when dismantling the van, I only found one set of holes for the handmade nails that held the sheets. They match perfectly the holes in the tin sheets. You can see slabs of high density rock wool insulation, just above the floor, which I decided to fit as a useful addition behind the sheets to protect the van boards. The sheets haven’t shrunk at the bottom edge. They stopped at that point to allow a cast iron pan that contains the stove fit up close to the walls in the corner. The original Aveling stove stood in a three legged cast iron stand that stood inside the cast iron pan. My future plan is to make patterns to create an accurate and working replica of the stove, but that will not be immediately. Tomorrow’s job is to cut the hole in the roof for the stove chimney.