Western Star - the vintage road steam traction engine in Ulverston
PUBLISHED: 16:23 29 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:23 29 December 2018
Two small boys help guide this monster of a machine to its winter quarters
The golden age of steam may be over but many a schoolboy would give up his comic collection and prized marbles to swap places with George and Will Harrison.
The brothers, aged 11 and seven, have first ‘dibs’ on the footplate of Western Star, a 106-year-old vintage road steam traction engine bought by their grandfather, Stuart, almost 40 years ago.
The 12-ton behemoth is the star at Traction Experience Days at Old Hall Farm near Ulverston, the historic working farm at Bouth where modern machinery is banned.
There, visitors over 21 with a driving licence can spend time learning how to prepare the engine, light and stoke the fire, fill the water tank and get used to the controls before taking it out on the road. Traditional lunches of bacon and eggs are cooked on the engine’s shovel and served in the ‘living van’ – a wooden shed on wheels often used as overnight accommodation or as a shelter in severe weather
The three generations have to drive Western Star over the Cumbrian Fells to Stuart’s workshop at Woodlands for maintenance and winter storage.
‘Its definitely a labour of love and it’s certainly not cheap to run,’ said Stuart’s 40-year-old son, Chris, from Lowick Green.
Spare parts to keep her running are hard to find and engineer Chris will often turn them out on a lathe. ‘The engine has a 130 gallon water tank and does five gallons to the mile,’ added Chris. ‘It uses two 25 kilo bags of coal on the ten mile journey over the fells to Woodland where dad has his workshop. Mind you, when we take her to Chipping Steam Rally or the Flookburgh Steam Gathering, I throw a full bag on the fire just to get up the steepest of the hills.’
The Harrisons recently went the Great Dorset Steam Fair deep in Thomas Hardy country but avoided a three day trundle by using a lorry to get the engine and its crew the 320 miles south.
Taking the machine to the workshop needs planning, and the team stopped at Otley Beck in Lowick to replenish the tank and grab a cuppa on their way.
At the ripe old age of 11, George, is already an accomplished engine driver and often manoeuvres the beast around the farmyard. Will isn’t too far behind and is a dab hand with an oil can or an old rag and a tin of Brasso.