Lincolnshire, land of the spud. A place where men are men and potatoes an object of worship (or so it is said). It was to this county that I travelled with my good friend and engine owner Andrew Waling on Friday 9th November to collect his pride and joy, Foster Showman’s Tractor No.14589 ‘Lord of the Isles’, which had been at the premises of Wm Foster & Co in Bicker for some minor works following the open day at Rundle’s & Epton’s in New Bolingbrooke a few weeks previously.
During its stay in Bicker new piston rings had been fitted to replace the originals and we were both eager to see how she would perform on the trip back to Wisbech St Mary (some 30 miles). Sadly upon arrival we learned that Brigadier Michael Dawson (1st Bicker Tank Regiment) was out on manoeuvers (potato related) and would not be around to see us off with his usual words of wisdom. However, happily, Matthew Sheldon who runs Foster’s these days had the fire lit so the engine was nearly ready for the road and having demolished a sizeable portion of the stock of the Long Sutton branch of McDonalds on our way to Bicker we were similarly ready for the off. After filling the engine with water and topping up our stomachs with a sausage roll apiece, we departed at 12.30 in dazzling sunshine.
Now a word should be mentioned of our exploits earlier this year at Gorefield Show when we were out with the Foster and Andrew’s Chiappa Organ. We had an eventful day there during which the fire went out whilst we popped to lunch, meaning that the organ didn’t play for several hours, much to the disappointment of the assembled crowds; the water container tap jammed open whilst I was inspecting the opening, soaking me and placing us and the engine in the centre of a large ornamental pond. So with this in mind we had much to atone for on this outing.
5 miles out of Bicker the sky clouded over and rain clouds began to appear. Things were not boding well as this also affected the light leading to very murky conditions.The first leg of our journey was along the A16 and then the A17 to Holbeach. This was accomplished in just over 2 hours including around 30 minutes worth of stops to allow the fast accumulating traffic to dissipate somewhat – the roads were very busy with potato lorries.
Upon arrival in Holbeach we stopped for water and entered into conversation with some of the local people, some of whom gazed in wonder at the ‘red steam train’ though most seemed to know what it was and have heard of our strange hobby of ‘steam rallying’. The light was beginning to fade and the rain beginning to come down so once the tanks were filled we were on our way once again.
After navigating the traffic in Holbeach we were out into the open fens and ready for the final leg of our journey. It was at this point that disaster struck (in a very minor way) when the lubricator stopped working. A small splinter of wood used to wedge a spring in the mechanism had fallen out. I quickly dived into the nearest hedge in search of wood only to discover that it was, in fact, a thorn bush. Andrew, being used to such things, found a spent piece of packing, wedged the mechanism and thus solved the problem.
Ready for the off it was my turn to drive. I’d never driven the Foster on the road previously (though had experience with other engines) and set off fairly gently. We made good time along the back roads even though the light was fading fast, Andrew took over for the last couple of miles and we
made it back to his yard at 4.30pm. Overall we had a journey time of 4 hours, with 3 of those on the road, meaning an average speed of around 10mph.
Next year Andrew intends to steam the Foster from Wisbech St Mary to the Great Dorset Steam Fair in aid of Melanoma UK, a Cancer Charity. Details of this journey and how to sponsor him will appear on this website in due course.