Having got established with my Aveling steam roller WHITE ROSE in Salhouse, my thoughts then turned to rallies. It was not too far to Strumpshaw from there – around six or seven miles, depending on the route taken - and it was therefore eminently driveable – but I’d left my trusty steersman and mate of some years behind in Yorkshire. So, by asking around in the office, I eventually found someone who expressed an interest in helping. Peter (not his real name) accompanied me on the first occasion we went to Strumpshaw in 1980. The long straight road south from Salhouse heading for Little Plumstead had just been re-surfaced with tar and chippings and I guess we were the first heavy machine to pass along it since it had been completed. I thought no more about it at the time but around three weeks later, I was in the office car, driving two of my bosses in that direction, when I noticed that the roller marks on the road surface were still there. I happened to mention that it was my roller that had made them and they then asked who the hell had been steering since they were all over the place. I had to admit that it had been Pete, who they both knew, and he’d just been getting used to the vagaries of a steam roller’s steering arrangements since he’d never set foot on one before that day! We laughed it off at the time but poor old Pete didn’t half get some stick later on in the office when we returned!
Strumpshaw was enjoyed as a different style of event to those I’d been used to in the north – with engines parked up in a box-like paddock, rather than the long line. I met up with various engine and roller owners and was able to chat to the late Billy Bird who at that time had the Aveling roller ex-Italy (No 8766) that David Gray had repatriated from Pescara. This had worked for the Italian State Railways and had various non-English features on it, including the safety valve cover, awning supports and boiler inspector’s pressure gauge test flange. Some little time previously, I’d helped with its restoration in that I’d loaned David my Aveling works plate (No 8506) from which he’d been able to take an aluminium copy, alter the appropriate numbers and make one for his own. The roller had been very nicely restored but was in a lined variation of Aveling’s usual roller colours. I commented that I was disappointed that it did not appear in the livery of its previous owners since that would have made it visibly different to most other Avelings around – and it would have been a splendid rally talking point – since told its past history in a much better way. The railway colours were overall brown – Billy shuddered somewhat at this thought - so it was not to be and I was to some extent disappointed with that.
On the Sunday morning of the event, the kids had just had their breakfast in the living van and one was looking out of the van’s stable door whilst the others were playing just outside when one of them noticed someone walking up the field. Very few other people were around at that time in the morning and as the figure came closer, the eldest drew my attention to the chap and I watched for a moment or two, half recognising the guy’s shambling gait. I thought it can’t be, as at that distance, it looked like Dave, a well-travelled Australian engine enthusiast who had visited us a couple of times previously when we lived in Leeds. As the chap came closer I could see he was carrying a large bag and before he reached the van, I could see it really was him. I knew he was coming to England again – but not exactly when - and so was extremely surprised to find him here on the rally field at Strumpshaw at a very early hour on a Sunday morning.
It transpired that he’d arrived on the UK only a couple of days beforehand. He knew, from an exchange of letters, that we were going to the rally at Strumpshaw, so he’d rung us at home from London on arrival, found there was no-one in and worked out that we would already be at the event or on our way there. He’d decided to come and see us, so he could experience the delights of an English rally, so he’d caught an overnight ‘newspaper’ train late on Saturday night from Liverpool Street station, arriving at Norwich at goodness knows what time early in the morning. From station staff, he found out where the rally was and therefore where he needed to be and caught the first Sunday morning train from Norwich to Brundall – and then walked from there to the field.
We made him breakfast and the kids were delighted to see him for he always brought them something. On previous visits, he’d brought a blue bag and a record of the Puffing Billy train that operates in the Dandenong ranges, just outside Melbourne not far from where he lives. In this instance, he’d come via South Africa and he’d brought them a pack of cards with steam locos on the backs – a different one for each card and some postcards. He also brought some other little souvenirs from his travels such as a Knorr soup cube – something which at that time was not available in England.
Talking things over with Pete when we returned home, we decided that Tunstead Trosh in September was also driveable – but there was a major obstacle in our way in that direction from Salhouse. Right in the middle of Wroxham, the shortest way to Tunstead, was Wroxham Bridge – a very steep ‘humpback’ bridge with almost a distinct peak at the summit and with metal ramps on each side. Skidding on grates, even with both pins in, is not a pleasant experience with a steam roller and I remembered on one occasion driving north out of Leeds to our local traction engine rally at Harewood House, we going up Scott Hall Road and even with both pins in, the steersman somewhat carelessly happened to hit two manhole covers simultaneously, the driving wheels picked up and they were still going round forwards whilst the whole outfit – roller, living van and water cart - was sliding slowly backwards down the hill before it gently jack-knifed. No – Wroxham Bridge was not for us.
I therefore looked at alternatives and decided that the other road north, via Coltishall, was a much better alternative – but how to get there. The nearest access would have been cross country via Salhouse station – but the low road bridge under the railway there made it not an option, so we chose a slightly longer route in the direction of Spixworth and through Crostwick, part of which was along a single track road – hoping we’d not meet anything coming in the opposite direction - and we made it there, even ascending the hill (a Hill, in Norfolk???) after the river bridge at Coltishall without a problem. Although to Pete it was steep, I was not phased with it at all, coming from Yorkshire as I do.
It was on the way back, however, that problems arose. Around four or five miles from home, the injector, its usual reliable self, ceased to be so. I tried the pump – which I had always regarded as unreliable – why Aveling’s should have perpetuated such a strange and, to me, poorly engineered means of putting water into the boiler, I will never know. It didn’t work. So, we managed to struggle home on a bit of a wing and a prayer and with not a lot of water in the boiler and an injector that put more water on the road than into the boiler – but we got home. We had to stop on the way to take on more water since I’d wasted so much of our supply with the injector problem and we eventually left the living van and trailer in their usual parking spot, negotiated the sleeper bridge with the roller (referred to in Part 1) without any untoward whistling on this occasion and up the drive before parking her up at the side of the house in her intended spot for the following winter, to be sheeted up later.
When things had cooled down, I took the injector off and investigated its interior. It was caked-up with some sort of white powder that, initially, I had no idea from whence it had come. Then realisation dawned. When I’d moved down from Yorkshire, where the general water quality was excellent – of such so that one could use it directly out of the tap in batteries – I’d sought advice from the BR’s Water Treatment Chemist in the office. I was aware of the huge water treatment plant at Norwich depot and I felt I needed some water treatment process for the steam roller’s boiler to keep it clean. I was advised that since Crown Point Engineer’s yard still operated a steam crane at the time, see so-and-so and ask for some of the briquettes that were used for boiler water treatment on that.
Water quantities of the Aveling’s boiler and tank – plus the size of the water tank on my four-wheeled trailer - were discussed and I was eventually advised to use one briquette for every 500 gallons of water taken on board. This worked out fine because the trailer tank was 500 gallons – so I requisitioned a large empty margarine plastic tub from the kitchen, put some holes in it and dangled it through the tank’s top manhole and into the water. Putting one briquette in the plastic tub every time the tank was filled with water was certainly not an onerous task. This method was adopted and I believed it to be working satisfactorily until this journey home from Coltishall. The practice then ceased - for what had happened was that the dissolved solids from the water tank were being passed through the injector and the action of the steam in there was precipitating them and furring up the inside of the injector, thus reducing the internal diameters of the cones – and causing it not to function correctly. Having dismantled the injector, I boiled the cones and the body in Coca-Cola and when reassembled and later tested again, all worked well – and the dosing arrangements were discontinued. I treated it as an interesting episode of learning by one’s mistakes. I thought I was doing the right thing – but in this instance, this was obviously not the case!