A Weekend Out With ‘Dorothy’ by James Michell

This year, the Collection was invited to bring our steam engine Dorothy to the Stotfold Mill Steam Working Weekend on the 7th and 8th October. With approvals from Trustees and staff given, and volunteer’s annual leave approved from their employers, the team was assembled led by vehicle manager and experienced operator of steam vehicles Stuart Gray. It was decided that Dorothy would take with her the living van and farm trailer, for providing accommodation and for carrying additional water and coal.

Dorothy on the roadAs Dorothy had to be on site and on display by 9am on Saturday, it was thought best to set off the day before the event. Friday 6th October arrived and once Dorothy’s fire was lit, the morning was spent oiling and greasing wheel bearings and fitting a spring to the steering chains to take up the slack as well as attending to the modern safety necessities of the fitting of an amber warning light.

Dorothy en route to Stotfold 2With a full tender of water and the safety valves lifting, Dorothy, driven by Archie Boyle and steered by Stuart Gray pulled out of the main entrance to the Collection onto the road at 2pm heading towards Old Warden village accompanied by Matthew Studdert-Kennedy and myself in the Collection’s Transit and Wayne Allen with his camera to capture the event. This was the first time in many years that Dorothy has been out on the public highway and it presented a number of different challenges to pottering around the Shuttleworth site. The first challenge was other road users deciding to pass at the most inappropriate places whilst heading through the village, perhaps they were keen to see Dorothy from the front! The next real test was the climb out of the village over the Warren on the road to Southill, a test that was passed with flying colours. From Southill, we headed towards the Green Man at Stanford where we stopped to check bearings and top up oil lubricating pots (no liquid refreshment for the team). Henlow was next, which we arrived at shortly after school had finished, as such we were expecting delays, but WE weren’t held up. Heading out onto the A507 was a new experience, thankfully the road is wide enough for traffic to pass easily. After a second stop for a top up with water from the trailer and more oil we headed through Stotfold and down to the Mill arriving on the field at 5.30pm and took our position with other engines and living vans.

Dorothy at Stotfold 1Show days were Saturday and Sunday where we had many visitors to the living van, both familiar faces who were surprised to see us at the event and many faces who had yet to discover Shuttleworth. Many flyers were distributed and so hopefully a number of these visitors will return for engineering open weekend and events next year. Over the course of the weekend catering, in the form of jacket potatoes, was provided by Dorothy and her smokebox (125oC for 3 hrs – mmm, perfect).  On Sunday we were joined by Alec, who is a member of the National Traction Engine Trust’s Steam Apprentice Club, and his Father. Alec helped with the cleaning out and oiling during the day.

Dorothy at Stotfold 2Monday came around and it was time to go home. Trailers had been hitched up to Dorothy on Sunday night, tubes and ash pan cleaned out, coal and water filled up ready for the 9am departure.  Archie Boyle was resident in the living van for the weekend and had lit Dorothy’s fire at about 6.30am so by the time the rest of us arrived, she was ready to depart. This time it was Archie and myself driving and steering respectively. After a quick confirmation of the route back we set off at 9am on the dot. The first challenge was the short hill up for the right turn onto the main road through Stotfold. There was no way we were going to stop at the junction so our support crew, Stuart Gray and Matthew Studdert-Kennedy held up the traffic for us to carry straight on safely through the junction. The return journey followed the same route except a slight deviation via Clifton rather than Henlow High Street. After a water and oiling stop at Southill, we were ready for the final assault of the climb over the Warren and down into Old Warden. The climb from Southill to the summit of the Warren is much longer that you think, modern cars just don’t notice most of it.  Just before the crest of the hill Stuart walked along side us and shared some of his knowledge….. “You don’t want to crest the hill any faster than you want to be going at the bottom” followed by “remember that you will need to use the brake and not just the reversing lever to slow you down”.  Dorothy does have a brake, it is a series of poplar blocks inside a metal band that is tightened around a metal drum on one of the back wheels. Fortunately it works surprisingly well! The final part of the training was to stop Dorothy on the descent into the village – this we did in a much shorter distance that I thought possible. Arrival back though the Collection gate, under the watchful eye of some of the engineers, was at 11.58.  Travelling time for the return journey was 2hrs 40 minutes to cover 10.2 miles at an average speed of 3.84mph. On hearing this, Jean Munn, Chief Engineer and Collection pilot, was heard to observe that it made using a Fiesler Storch look a viable proposition.

This trip certainly proved that the Trust’s investment in Dorothy’s future by having her drive gears and associated bearings repaired, recut and remade was money well spent. For a 103 year old veteran of the First World War and a converted road roller, she performed very well.

James Michell

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