The following article is reprinted with permission from a 1955 issue of Commercial Motor Magazine, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey, England SM2 5AS. It was sent to us by J.C.B. Mac Keand, 115 S. Spring Valley Road, Spring Valley, Wilmington, Delaware 19807.
It could hardly have been envisaged 50 years ago that the internal-combustion engine would be taking such an ordered part of our lives in 1955. Heavy road transport in those days was relying almost entirely on steam propulsion, the petrol engine being 'too feeble and unreliable' to handle loads in excess of two tons. Indeed, so young was the industry at that time that there were fewer than 2,000 heavy vehicles on the roads of Britain.
Since 1905, over 200 commercial-vehicle manufacturers have been in and out of business, and although dozens of concerns have stood the test of time and gone from strength to strength, many have had at least to stop vehicle production, if not completely close down.
My intention in this story is to call some of these 'lost causes' to mind, without necessarily giving reasons for their disappearance. It is, of course, impossible to deal with all the manufacturers, but those I have chosen should be familiar to many readers who have regretted their passing.
Some of the makers began business in the days of steel-tyred wheels, nonexistent brakes, hopeless roads and a general aura of steam and smoke. Steam was ruling the roost, but was not by any means reliable, and breakdowns and accidents were the order of the day. Two advocates of petrol engines were, however, receiving notice. They were Comer Cars, Ltd., and Dennis Bros., Ltd., and it is to them that some of the credit for the eventual overwhelming popularity of internal-combustion engines should most certainly go.
One of the greatest names in the world of steam wagons was that of The Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co., who produced their first vehicle in the year 1900. This machine had the famous double-ended boiler, which de -sign remained with the company as long as steamers were made, and had a twin-, cylindered engine and gear drive to the rear axle.
The success of this vehicle encouraged the makers to construct further models, and lorries of up to 6-ton capacity, capable of speeds of 12 mph, were available until the 1914-18 war. At this time two White and Poppe petrol-engined trucks were made, these having gearboxes, propeller shafts and worm-drive axles.
Steam returned with the post-war models, and a 7-tonner with a vertical engine in the cab, three-speed gearbox and shaft drive was marketed. Six and eight-wheelers with pneumatic tyres were later based on this design.
But the steamers were too heavy and expensive to compete against the oil engine and, in the thirties, maximum-load oilers were made. Production continued until 1939. The Yorkshire Company nowadays is engaged in making gully-emptiers, their first equipment having been mounted on a steamer in 1915.
Going back farther is Mann's Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Co., Ltd., who made a 7-ton steamer in 1896 and ran it on the roads preceded by a man with a red flag. This wagon was similar to a traction engine with a wooden tipping body and is claimed to be the first example of a steam vehicle to carry a heavy load of goods.
Various models were made up to 1906, when the design was changed to embrace the under-type engine, 3-tonners being manufactured with this engine. The over-type returned after three years, and was continued until 1934- A 4-ton and two 6-ton vehicles were available in that year, but these were the last to bear the name.
Straker-Squire, Ltd., also round their beginnings in steam, steam buses being built at Bristol by Mr. Sydney Straker from 1900 to 1905. New works were taken over in 1903 at Blackfriars, London, and it was from here that the first Straker-Squire petrol bus emerged in April, 1905.
This was constructed according to Bussing patents, and buses of a similar type were claimed to be the first to run through the City of London. They were operated by the 'Union Jack' company. These had a shaft primary drive, double-reduction gearing and roller chain final drive.
In 1906, in addition to making buses, Straker-Squire returned for a short time to steam with a 5-ton lorry. The following year saw a 30-cwt. paraffin lorry built for the War Department and subsequent models included trucks up to 5-ton capacity and buses with worm-drive axle, petrol-engined trams and the well-remembered A-type chassis.
Vehicle production continued under changing boards of directors until about 1926, but two years later Kryn and Lakey (1928), Ltd., Letch worth, purchased their stock and goodwill in order to continue supplying the spares of a well-known, but by then defunct, concern.
The year 1897 saw the first seeds of a company which, although no longer still manufacturing vehicles under its own name, still continues to uphold the best traditions of the British motor industry. I refer to Tilling-Stevens Motors, Ltd., Maidstone.
It is not surprising that Tilling-Stevens were great advocates of petrol-electric traction, because the original company, Stevens and Barker, Ltd., were manufacturers of dynamos and general electric appliances. On fresh registration under the name of W. A. Stevens, Ltd., in 1905, experiments were begun along the lines of a petrol-electric chassis, and in the following year a successful private car of this type was produced. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and the chief engineer of Thomas Tilling, Ltd., long established as bus operators even in those days, collaborated with Mr. Stevens in the production of a bus chassis for use in London traffic.