A Tale of a Burrell 4.5" Traction Engine


As a boy, as we all no doubt did, I had the normal Mecanno, Lego, Airfix and Mamod to play with. It all faded into history until later. Having joined the RAF in 1975 I felt I had time on my hands and turned to radio control to pass the evenings and built several cars and planes, some of which were more successful than others. Marriage claimed me at the tender age of 25 and all time for models was lost. Time past until my eye was caught by a car. A kit car. 6 years of toil and saving and very dirty hands ended with a Shelby Cobra replica which went like the wind and I was happy.

It was, thinking back, the early 80’s when a work colleague asked if I would like to attend the Model Engineering Exhibition with him and I thought ‘it’s a day out’. My interest in steam began during this visit. I had money in my pocket and I wasn’t going home empty handed so the lot was blown on a set of Stuart Turner 10V castings. Upon getting home and admiring my purchase I did wonder how I was going to do this with a claw hammer, a set of wood chisels and a tenon saw? It took 2 years, with the aid of a second hand Unimat, to finish – and it worked, I was chuffed. 
Time moved on and the Cobra was sold in deference to an MGC which was built and fettled to hillclimb and sprint. But during this period several more trips to model shows ensued and a set of Stuart Turner half beam castings seemed to have crept into the house (they must have followed me home). Ah. That won’t fit on a Unimat! Under the bench it went for 3-4 years until we moved into a property that had been the house of an architect. Said architect worked from home and so had an office attached to the garage – I had a workshop at last. No time was wasted in the purchase of a Chester 3 in 1 machine and the beam engine was started and, a year later, finished to my satisfaction.
Due to work commitments my modelling was put on hold. It was further hampered by my ‘domestic engineer’ deciding that she would like another car – yes, I was on the kit car trail again…………..
The next year was spent in the garage producing for her a Porsche 365 Speedster from the Chesil Company. Being VW Beetle based it was a little easier than the first time round and so completed in a fraction of the time, AND I’d earned significant brownie points into the bargain…..with these brownie points in the bank my thoughts turned to modelling again when I started going to steam rallies as well as model exhibitions. Rather liking the idea of a little traction engine I started looking and finally deciding, for my first attempt, on a Durham and North Yorks in 2” scale as this could be machined on the Chester Model B. Plans were purchased and avidly perused. I then took my wife to a steam rally and she liked the little engines but when I showed her the one I was going to build she was not very impressed with it, saying ‘I thought it was that size’, pointing to a 4”. Nough said. I was going to cash in my aforementioned brownie points. 2” drawings sold on fleaBay,
Plans for new workshop drawn up and approved, and new workshop built. All I had to do now was fill it with the required items of machinery and look at the several 4” scale engines on offer. The workshop slowly filled with big bits of ‘stuff’ as she called them. Right, the Plastow 4 ½” Burrell it is. Seemed to be a proven design and looked reasonably easy to build (well, on the drawings it did). I was ready to start ‘the big build’ until my eye caught an ad in a copy of Old Glory for a 4” Burrell SCC. A full set of castings, wheel rims, spokes, set of drawings and a boiler, it was all there. It was a good price so I went down south to have a look and returned home with a very heavily laden, suspension-less, Volvo estate car. I was on my way to heaven (or was it hell?). It’s been about 10 years since I embarked on this project now with a few hiccups along the way it’s looking like an engine rather than a pile of bits. One thing I did not reckon with though was the purchase of a new boiler. The one supplied did not come up to scratch. Having been a bit worried with its appearance in general I sought the advice of a professional inspector who realised my worst nightmare – ‘not fit for purpose’ in his opinion. Bugger………….. AJB supplied a new boiler and I was sort of back on track.
So basically, apart from a few bespoke engines scratch built from various drawings in magazines and books, this will be my third attempt at a ‘proper’ model and I hope it works when I’m done.
Written by Steve – Jan 2017