Gas Engine Magazine


By Staff

Many famous names have been associated with the
commercial-vehicle industry since 1905, but not all have stood the
test of fierce competition.

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

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

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

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,

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

  • Published on Sep 1, 1997
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