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SNAPSHOT 99: Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon

For our Snapshots, sometimes it pays to find old publications that have nothing to do with motoring history.  Literally an hour ago, an SAHB member and passionate collector of advertising of all kinds came up with this picture.  At first, all we could tell was the date and the company advertising its wares: the publication is the 1914-1917 edition of “The Architects’ Standard Catalogues,” Volume 2: Iron & Fireproof Construction.  Hidden away in the “Iron Doors and Safes” section, among ten pages of advertising by Ratner Safe Co., Ltd, is this picture of a Ratner safe being delivered to Messrs. Dodd & Co., Theobald’s Road in London.

At first glance, the steam wagon appears ordinary – and impossible to identify.  But the transverse location of the boiler soon enabled its maker to be found, together with the reason for that unusual design.

The Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co. operated in Leeds, producing their first machine in 1901. Their vehicles had a novel double-ended transverse boiler, used to avoid problems of tilting when climbing hills. Internally it resembled a locomotive or Fairlie boiler (as employed on the double-ended Fairlie articulated locomotives still running today on the Festiniog railway in Wales) with a central firebox and multiple fire-tubes to each end.  However, in the Yorkshire boiler a second bank of fire-tubes above returned to a central smokebox and a single chimney.

Locating the boiler across the wagon seems a very practical solution to the problem of keeping the fire tubes covered on steep hills – but strangely the same transverse design with central single chimney was used on the 1904 Kerr Stuart railmotors (locomotive and carriage combined) for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway – where the gradients could hardly have been steeper than around 1 in 40.  Perhaps, therefore, this configuration also made good use of space, by taking up the entire width of a wagon or a railway locomotive.

In 1911 the company’s name was changed to Yorkshire Commercial Motor Co. (probably its name when the wagon in our picture was made), but reverted to Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co. in 1922.  Production ceased in 1937.

There are still around 10 of these unusual vehicles preserved.


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