As much as I enjoy looking at the several 1:18 scale models cars in my collection, ultimately I recognise that all they can do is sit there, looking pretty. The best thing they can do is to act as a tribute to the full-size car they resemble – enough to offer you a fractional taste of the owning the real thing.
This quarter scale model of an Atkinson Steam wagon does the same thing. Photographed in the Museum Of Power, the brilliantly named institution not far from where I live, it immediately stood out to me as a masterpiece. The best thing about it? It’s fully functional.
Images are clickable for enlargement
Apart from the slightly peculiar looks of the driver’s hands, I challenge you to find anything in this image that significantly gives the game away that we’re looking at something less than full scale. Every valve, dial and gauge on this model works, just like the real thing.
Although it was on static display here, its boiler can get up steam and its transmission does actually work. It’s the painstaking creation of a Tony Batten, and we’re fortunate that it’s in the museum for all to see, rather than tucked away in somebody’s shed.
I find steam vehicles fascinating, and this image shows why. Just like with an internal combustion engine – and turbines aside – steam engines transmit their power through a reciprocating movement. One or more giant pistons and connecting rods will heave to and fro, acting against a cam to turn this movement into a rotary motion.
In a giant steam engine, the sense of inertia as that massive piston moves in and out, is palpable. There’s usually a vast, weighty flywheel, as well. Steam powered road vehicles feature all of these things, but on a smaller scale. And, of course, a quarter scale version is even weenier, if no less impressive.
The Atkinson Steam wagon was offered from 1916 right up to, incredibly, 1930 – well into the days of the all-metal monoplane aircraft, and other manufacturers continued until 1938. It had two cylinders with steam from a ‘Sentinel’ type boiler, poppet valve-gear to regulate steam pressure, and transmitted its power to the rear differential via a chain final drive.
Ultimately, it wasn’t the relatively tame operating speeds of such vehicles that caused their demise – early petrol fuelled trucks were no balls of fire (a slightly awkward metaphor, given the topic) … it was their operating costs. New and increasingly arcane regulations and tax systems were gradually imposed, including a ‘wetted tax’, levied against the wetted area of the boiler. An axle-weight tax was the final straw, with petrol lorries at a distinct advantage.
It’s models like this that, rather than acting as a mere visual reminder, can bring the past back to life.
(All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2017. With thanks to Langham Museum of Power. If you like this kind of thing, follow me on Twitter @RoadworkUK)