Reflections on an East Anglian sojourn - Part 3 - In which Derek Rayner concludes his reminiscences of the time he spent with his steam roller in the Norwich area some thirty years ago.
During one winter’s maintenance task, I decided to paint behind the near-side rear roll and in order to achieve this easily, jacked up the roller beneath the firebox, there being no bars or ashpan on at the time and I slid the roll off the axle, at least as far as was needed. Dorothy helped me with this task, pushing down on the crowbar at the front and then moving the bar sideways whilst I did likewise with another crowbar at the rear. With just the right amount of clearance off the ground using a hydraulic jack, this is a relatively easy task. I then decided that the roll had to come right off – so it could be wheeled forward out of the way in order to get at what I wanted to do somewhat more easily. Just a couple more tweaks with the crowbars and it rested on the ground, at a slight angle, and then it was OK to move away forwards, having first taken the scrapers off. When it came to put it back on again later, it was just the reverse action but we took precautions in that the youngsters were put in the house just in case something happened. It turned out to be that little bit more difficult since the roll had sunk a little but with suitable adjustments with the jack and turning the roll slightly so that the axle entered the hole in the centre of the wheel it slid back on again relatively quickly, again with judicious use of the crowbars, and the children were released from the house! When Dorothy later told this tale to some of her friends, they marvelled at her apparent strength – of being able to put a clearly extremely weighty rear roll back onto the roller, just like that. But isn’t a lever and a fulcrum a marvellous thing!
Both the two younger children attended the village’s junior school – and all three of them sang in the local church choir. The vicar at Salhouse was a steam enthusiast – of the rail variety - but he was fascinated by the steam roller and it was not long before I was persuaded to roll the church car park. He thoroughly enjoyed that exercise because he had a turn on the footplate as well! That led to an appearance with the roller at the local school – and by arrangement with the headmaster, I turned up one day and parked it in the playground. It was not long before each of the classes came out in their turn and marvelled at this huge machine and it later provided several hours of school work for them since they drew it, wrote about it and made models of it. Strangely enough, it was the little things that left memories of the occasion with me – the fact that I talked to each of the classes in turn – and told them about my mobile kettle and explained in simple terms how it worked. They looked around it and read the name WHITE ROSE on the nameplate on the side but it was actually the rose (ball filter with holes in it) on the end of the water lifter hose that caused the most comment. I would guess that my description of it was such that it certainly didn’t look like the roses to which they had become accustomed – those pretty flowers that grow in the garden! I’d also attached a string to the whistle chord and for those who wanted, the opportunity was given for them to blow the whistle. This sort of thing is, of course, self-generating, since when one plucked up courage and gave a tug on the string and made them all jump, then the less timid amongst them also wanted a turn. It was certainly a happy – if not noisy – day for all concerned.
And so to Henham. When we’d gone to Strumpshaw and Tunstead it had been a relatively easy task to hook the Eddison living van on behind, along with the water trailer, and just go. I’d then developed an aspiration to go with the roller to pastures new – and Henham beckoned. It had two major advantages; it provided the opportunity for a side visit to Southwold in order to take a look at the remains of its long-gone 3ft gauge railway to Halesworth and also to take the ferry across to Walberswick in order to explore further.
It also meant that I was able to call in on the way at Barsham on the day the low-loader took the roller down to the rally site since I was keen to visit The White House there. At one time, one Arthur Samuel Francis Robinson lived there for a period. He was someone who could be classified as a ‘Gentleman Inventor’ since, amongst other things, in the early years of the century, he was involved with the predecessors of the Wantage firm which built traction engines in Wiltshire and was THE Robinson of Robinson & Auden which firm produced at least one traction engine that exists today and also a number of portable engines. He also designed and patented certain aspects relating to a small motor roller that I owned and which had been moved separately down to Norfolk for me by a friend of mine.
Having discussed it with Pete, we decided that it was definitely much too far to contemplate driving there, especially on very unfamiliar roads and his shift operating patterns did not really allow it to happen. So the only way to go was by low-loader there and that was what happened. In that way, it unfortunately precluded accommodation on site in the form of the living van being there as well – and this was obviously important to us, being some 35 miles away from home. This perceived difficulty was soon solved by one of my bosses at the office offering the loan of his large size frame tent, suitable for the five of us, which I gratefully accepted.
We left on the Friday afternoon after having had tea and collected the tent and set off to the south and Henham rally site. This was mid-to-late September and by the time we arrived there, it was dark. I’d never put a frame tent up before, let alone done it in the dark and we’d obviously not had the opportunity to practise with this one. The poles weren’t colour coded and boy, did we struggle. It was misty and damp but we got there in the end, with the help of the car’s lights and it was consequently some time before the children were into bed. Even though we all had sleeping bags, it was nevertheless cold and it rained during the night so we were somewhat damp in the morning where the tent had leaked so we were up reasonably early in order to sort out the roller and get ready for the day’s proceedings.
It was a good day, a good crowd and, from my point of view, plenty new acquaintances to meet and new things to see. It was the first time I’d seen one of the Walsh & Clark oil-engined ploughing machines, built at Guiseley on the other side of Leeds from where we had previously lived. All too soon, tea-time came around, the rally closed and before we knew it, the place was deserted. Like at Strumpshaw before, we were truly amazed how quickly people just disappeared and presumably went home. After something to eat, we all went to the beer tent – at northern rallies at that time on a Saturday night, a place that was usually bouncing with music and chat and a lot of enginemen and other exhibitors oiling their throats with the local brew after a hard day. But at Henham – a cold, dark and misty place on that occasion - there was nothing like this; it was almost deserted and no atmosphere at all. We were so disappointed with that but the Sunday was fine and the roller eventually returned home to Salhouse by low-loader.
A re-organisation within British Rail then caught up with me. My job found itself on the ‘no-longer-to be’ list and redundancy beckoned. It was recommended that I should apply for a job at York. This I did and was later appointed to the post of Coaching Stock Engineer, Eastern Region, where I got to be in charge of the maintenance of the HST trailer cars I knew so well from my previous long experience of working on them and also other forms of coaching stock throughout the Eastern Region, including sleeping cars, came within my jurisdiction. When I returned to York, I finished up sitting one desk away from the one I had occupied previously in the HQ office, in a different section but two grades higher!
A further house move was required – back up north and this time to York - and, although I knew that whereas BR would pay for the re-location of myself and family there (which they did as part of my terms and conditions) I thought I might just be able to persuade them to pay for the relocation of WHITE ROSE and accompanying clutter as well – but, perhaps not surprisingly, I was unable to achieve this. I thought it was worth asking the question, though! What did happen in this respect however was that the removal firm that took us back up north (in two vans) were persuaded to take my little 10cwt motor roller in one of them – because, after all, it was no different to a piano, was it? The steam roller and the rest of the impedimenta went as well, of course, and my friend with his two low-loaders was again pressed into service for the return loads!
So ended our two and a half years or so in East Anglia – it felt as though we were on holiday for much of the time. Friends and relations came to visit – so they could have a holiday break – and then went back up north again. I met many other engine enthusiasts whilst in the area and enjoyed their company and it gave me the opportunity to see many new engines and to visit both the Bressingham and Thursford collections – and other places - with some of our guests.
Our eldest son went to Paston Grammar School in North Walsham and I suppose one of my regrets was that having been at Salhouse for such a relatively long time, I never followed up the stories I kept hearing about two derelict traction engines in a scrapyard near the market town. These engines were apparently owned by someone who was likely to turn either his dogs or a gun on people he considered to be unwelcome visitors! I only saw pictures of this pair in a magazine much later when they came out of the yard, the owner having been instructed by the local council to tidy things up in order to comply with the relevant Acts concerning such places.