Traction engines had been superseded by tractors by the time I came on the scene. Not diesel tractors necessarily; the commonest fuel was TVO (tractor vaporising oil) otherwise known as paraffin or kerosene. These were essentially petrol engines which, once they had warmed up, would run on paraffin. You could run your car on a mixture of TVO and petrol (there was no tax on TVO) although the engine would run rather roughly. This was of course illegal, and naturally you had to be farmer to have access to the stuff. Moreover, if you got the proportions wrong your car wouldn’t go at all.
Steam traction engines were still used for some specialised jobs. For instance in 1984 a pair of ploughing engines were used to dredge the lake at Ditchingham Hall. They were still being used for this particular task into the 1990s. There were other traction engines about in post-war Britain, but they were either rusting hulks like the field full of decaying machines at Shotesham, or already preserved like Mr Whipps’s collection at his garage at Woodton in South Norfolk.
Traction engine rallies began around 1960 I think. I certainly don’t remember any before then, although these black and white photographs of traction engines seem to come from a film of 1959. In that year (1960) I went with (I think) my cousin David to a rally at Woodton. As well as traction engines, steam cars, lorries and coaches were also shown. All these forms of transport were quite obsolete by the time. I can certainly never remember a steam driven coach or lorry doing a job of work. Steam engines would however come out on special occasions, as this photo (taken about 1970) of a Sentinel steam coach shows.
As far as road making was concerned the position was quite different.The steam roller was still quite a common sight in the 1950s. As late as 1960 or 61, a steam roller was used to resurface the road outside Crossways at Holt. Although the name meant nothing to me at the time I feel sure this was Mr Cushing’s machine. George Cushing was of course the man behind the collection of steam engines and mechanical organs at Thursford near Fakenham. On this occasion the resurfacing was not a success. There was a torrential rain storm while the hot tar was still wet and even the best road roller in the world would not have made it stick.
There was another type of steam driven road engine – the Fairground engine. These were in quite common use in the 50s and 60s, and most people passed them by as just part of the workings of the fair. But fairgrounds make up a subject in their own right.