Just occasionally you get a nice surprise, this time it was a steam roller trundling its way to the village of Barkway in Hertfordshire. This one was an Aveling & Porter.
Before about 1850 the word steamroller meant a fixed machine for rolling and curving steel plates for boilers and ships, from then on it also meant a vehicle. An early steamroller was demonstrated by Louis Lemoine in France in 1860 and in Britain in 1863 by William Clark and partner W.F. Batho. The company Aveling & Porter was the first to successfully sell the product commercially. In 1866 they produced a prototype roller with 3 foot wide rollers fitted to the rear of a standard 12 nominal horsepower traction engine. This experimental machine was described by local papers as ‘the world’s first steamroller’ and it caused a public spectacle.
In 1867 the company began production of the first practical steam roller – the new machine’s rollers were mounted at the front instead of the back and it weighed in excess of 30 tons. It was tested on the Military Road in Chatham, Star Hill in Rochester and in Hyde Park, London and the machine proved a huge success. Within a year, they were being exported around the world, including to France, India and the United States. A New York City chief engineer said of one of these, that “in one day’s rolling at a cost of 10 dollars, as much work was accomplished as in two days’ rolling with a 7 ton roller drawn by eight horses at a cost of 20 dollars a day.” Aveling & Porter refined their product continuously over the following decades, introducing fully steerable front rollers and compound steam engines at the 1881 Royal Agricultural Show.
Steam engines use a lot of water and need to have a refill every so often so the route has to be planned in order to go past water hydrants. Luckily for the Wimpole estate we have a few so they do pass from time to time. Quite a sight to see these old giants.