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Fred Dibnah’s Remarkable Steam Traction Engine Tours England

Frederick “Fred” Dibnah, entertained millions of people worldwide in a very popular series of programs titled “Made In Britain” that was televised by the BBC and produced by The View from the North.

Fred was born in 1938 and died in 2004 only a few weeks after he finished this twelve-part series. Growing up in Bolton, Lancashire, England, in a city filled with textile mills with tall masonry chimneys, and coal-burning boilers that powered steam engines, he became fascinated by steam power as a youth.

Fred Dibnah’s 1912 Aveling and Porter convertible tractor

  • Fred and his sons with the 1912 Aveling and Porter Class KND eight-ton convertible traction engine.

These interests lead to a career as a Steeple Jack and with the demise of coal-fired power and the textile mills, he dismantled ninety of the chimneys that served them, one of which you will view in todays video.

His 1912 Aveling and Porter Class KND convertible traction engine took him twenty-seven years to restore, and with it and the coach the engine towed, he traveled to unique industrial sites and work shops in the popular “Made In Britain” BBC documentary. The series ends with Part XII where he wore a top hat as was awarded a MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from the Queen.) You can view the rest of the series here on youtube.

The most interesting parts of this series found via contributor and writer Gene Herman. The photo courtesy of Harrods Coaches that offers a tour of the area.


8 responses to “Fred Dibnah’s Remarkable Steam Traction Engine Tours England

  1. I had a short ride on something very similar, just quite a lot bigger, a few years ago. It was a Fowler road locomotive with 7 ft rear wheels. The steam engine, as you would expect, ran almost silently but the open transmission gears were very noisy.

  2. Fred Dibnah was a fascinating character. He first became known from a series of documentaries in the ’70s about his work as a steeplejack. This first involved re-pointing the old smokestacks, and soon reluctantly demolishing them in a most unusual and dramatic way. Fred’s big interest was the technicalities of mechanics and construction, but the filmmakers who produced his shows edited them more for general audiences.

    Most of his other stuff is also on YouTube.

  3. While the film seemed to go on and on( in typical British fashion) I too have always been fascinated by steam anything. Always leery around them, as a few explosions at events lately have curtailed operation of these things in some parts. In my home town in N. Wis. there’s a display of a circa 1913 Case 30 hp. tractor, that is falling into disrepair ( possibly from lack of interest) Apparently, 2 older gentlemen were responsible for painting and such, and the city let them go, and now no one is taking care of it. It really is a pretty simple machine. Looks like the old guy loved his traction engine, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • Howard one big, big difference between running steam powered vehicles here in the UK as opposed to in the USA is the UK Pressure Vessel Regulations 2000. In the UK anything that holds a significant volume of pressure —commercial air cylinders, steam boilers, water tanks etc, has to pass an annual pressure test. This tends to be both visual, sonic and physical where the vessel is hydraulically pressurised to one and a half times operating pressure.

      Organisers of public events like fete’s and car shows, under their Public Liability Insurance, have a duty to ensure the safety of the public at their shows. They will ask to see a copy of an annual boiler certificate before even inviting a steam powered vehicle to their event because if they don’t they will find that the insurance company will not pay out in the event of an accident and that the organisers themselves will become personnaly liable .

      I have to have an annual boiler inspection on my 1901 Toledo where I get up steam, the inspector checks for any leaks, he checks that the safety valve blows off when I physically alter the steam regulator, and the car has to sit there for half an hour not being touched to show that the show that it can maintain pressure. It costs around a $100 and every five years the boiler has to have an internal visual inspection ( with a camera) and the boiler shell a sonic test for its thickness.

      The Regs have been around and updated for decades. I was amazed when I took the Toledo to the USA that there are no Federal regulations and that they varied between individual States from being simple to non existent.

      As you probably know there was a serious boiler explosion of a vintage steam traction engine at an event in the US about 7/8 years ago where nine people were killed, including those on the machine and the police officer who had just let the engine into the show ground, and over 90 injured. If I remember correctly a later inspection of the remaining pieces showed that the original 3/8″ steel plate of the boiler casing had corroded above the fire box to less than an 1/8″ and when the vehicle went over humps in the show ground grass the boiler twisted and exploded.

      More than just a paint job when restoring a steamer.

      By the way White steam cars do not require boiler tests because they do not have pressurised boilers, they are mono tubes; in the event of a leak the half pint of so of water in the tube vents quickly to atmosphere.

      It may sound a bit bureaucratic in the UK but….well you know the rest.

  4. I may be the only reader on here that was actually delayed on the road by the gentleman and engine in question.

    Many years back I was travelling home towards Scotland from Ulverston, in Cumbria, ( birthplace of Stan Laurel ) when I got to the back of a huge queue on a two lane road heading back towards the motorway. I could tell from the smoke up front that a steam tractor was causing the delay, and it to me half an hour to get past the tractor which was towing a small living van. It wasn’t till I saw the TV series that I realised I’d been held up by Fred in person, after his visit to the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway. A real character

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