|John O’Groats to Lands End
by Sandra & Robin Hill
“Who are you that you should be afraid” Isaiah 51/11
The Savenelli had been on several trips already and the Bewley, which had been my constant and faithful companion for over 40 years now preferred the peace of the drawing room but my beautiful and light brown Olson was restless for more. The whole matter had been kept quiet as I have found that intentions are weakened by dispersion. A quick light of the match without further hesitation is what is required, I have it heard it said that a long march starts with a light; but when? These and other thoughts had been worrying me for 5 years when there was that trouble in the Middle East. Would there be repercussions? At this point in the plans I mentioned it over lunch in Frocester: This was probably a mistake as I could hardly go back- particularly as the Olson was going well and understood the routine.
By now I was having serious doubts and Sandra was concerned at the idea of the BBC camera crew following us. My final attempt at postponement was the contract. I drafted an agreement that if I paid for my own funeral arrangements that the BBC would not charge me for their expenses, accidents, cancellations or sudden diversions. This I thought could be my excuse. The signed agreement came by return of post and I was stuck.
I led Sandra into the garage and explained the position. From then on things took their own course and we were off. Sandra worked out that averaging 20 mph, she could stand 8 hours of steaming which meant 150 miles per day from John O’Groats, which with 4 days and 3 B&B stops would get us back to the house. If we could not take any more we could reasonable stop and put the Stanley back in the garage where it belonged.
Arrangements were then made with friends of Sandra to tow us up to Scotland. Their reward would be a holiday in Scotland taking the trailer with them, while we all agreed that Sandra could have a Haggis skin coat if Stanley made it all the way. Now I had made the decision, my policy of abrogation of all responsibility and complete delegation was working again. The Route book with roads, gradients, petrol and water stops, B&B alternatives, places of interest and space for notes was a master piece. On the way up with tow vehicle the short sharp hills requiring 400Psi and the long climbs where the pumps could not delivery enough water to the boiler were noted and using our experience in Yorkshire we decided on the techniques needed. In the meantime I had changed to Ogdens mixture to ensure a slow even burn in the Peterson that I had bought in Dublin, while S. continued making suitable comments.
6/4/03 John O’Groats to Kinguisse
The John O’Groats B&B was an isolated croft with a smallholding. Barren and windswept with an earth bank as a wind deflector. We had parked the Stanley “downwind” for an easy start but at 7.30am when I lit the Maxwell the wind had changed and was blowing strongly into the mixing tubes. The first attempt failed but with S. holding a fire blanket as a windbreak the second attempt was fine. With the quiet drizzle, the cries of the curlews and the hiss of the pilot light we were content. By 7.50am the burner was lit and by 8.45 we steamed off to the J O’G Hotel 5 miles away.
At the Hotel that was closed, the BBC camera crew were waiting and after a photo session we left at 9.15am. The camera man came with us in the back seat while his driver followed. We started off slowly to let the oil warm up and the blipper to run continuously. The weather was cold and windy, but dry. After about 5 miles the Stanley had settled down to 40MPH on the level and we realised we had 900 miles to go.
We tackled each hill in Sutherland and down to Inverness with caution going up or down. Many roads had sharp bends and steep inclines. We avoided the necessity to reverse the engine as a brake by descending slowly and alternatively using the foot brake and hand brake.
On the many steep hills, that the days before we had worried about while in the towing vehicle, our technique was : before hill close bypass, when water high- obtain 400 to 450 Psi before the climb. Regulator at about 1/3rd open and adjust so that 400 Psi was maintained by going slowly hooked up and bypass closed.
However, when stopped prior to a steep hill in Helmsdale we were hooked up and beginning to build up pressure to 450Psi prior to the climb. On the slope the car moved slightly backwards and I opened the regulator to stop the movement with steam pressure. Suddenly we shot back in reverse and I realised this was one of the Stanley’s tricks when hooked up and moving back – when it should have been unhooked- due to the Stevenson link reversing itself. This was unnerving.
Continuing, we climbed every hill steadily and slowly at 10 to 15 MPH- sometimes 20 MPH, not once unhooked and not once running short of boiler water. But we stopped after the hills to add water to the 20 gallon water tank. On some hills we used 1 gallon for 2 miles or less so a 8 mile climb used 4 to 6 gallons of water. The condenser was not sufficient to avoid wasteful clouds of exhaust steam, despite having the fan on continuously. The Stanley climbed every hill with no problems or worries- it was amazing –but the technique of bypass closed to keep water level high, 400 Psi and going slowly on the pressure gauge works.
The Avondale B&B at Kingussie was very good and quiet. Had an evening meal at the Scott House Hotel opposite where there was one brand of bottled beer only, but 23 different whiskies. It had been a momentous day; spectacular scenery and we had the confidence and luxury to enjoy it. The journey felt even more satisfying as those in the Kingussie glider club had advised us that we were naïve to attempt Caithness or 150 miles per day and would not reach Tain from J O’G. Too many hills. However Stanley conquered all.
Day 1: 9.15 am to 4.30pm = 7hours 15 min
Average speed 20MPH
Average MPG fuel 12
Average MPG water 5 32 gallons of water added
The pilot light was strong throughout and never went out.
7/4/03 Kingussie to Lauder
Got up 7.30am and started on the pilot light at 7.45. There was a light head wind. Pilot light started first time then went squittery and flames everywhere. Tried again 8.20pm and gave up 8.30- went to breakfast. Tried pilot again at 9 am Lit first time with no problem. After 6 minutes opened up hexane starter valve – the hexane had not evaporated and instead we had a steady liquid stream, i.e. insufficient heat. This was due to leaving the car outside on a cold night. On the next attempt we used the blow lamp as well as the pilot for 5 minutes before opening the hexane. This time all was well and we left at 9.30am.
We then had good steady runs with graded hills- “ The Drumoch pass” was taken steadily and easily. Later with the fan on all the time the water usage was 12 to 15 miles per gallon on spot checks. The Maxwell plug came out twice and the pilot light failed once. We noticed the temperature on the thermocouple varied but after using the pricker in the Maxwell the temperature was steady. The BBC camera crew took many photos – both in the Stanley and in their own car using their camera and my 8mm cine.
In Glenfarg, we were stopped by a Scots policeman who advised us our rear winkers were winking and was that OK. Also did we know we failed to give way on a mini roundabout. But the real reason he stopped us was to ask about the car. We had an amusing chat with him and explained the advantages of steam and that our purpose was to break the steam car record from John O’Groats to Land’s End last undertaken in 1901 in a Locomobile by Herbert Wingfield Egerton and his driver Perkins. He was impressed, even more so when we explained that we might be on the same road as the Locomobile would have taken and they never gave way at mini roundabouts.
We were now speeding south of the Firth and near Edinburgh we heard someone saying that the Stanley was “reely, reely bonnie” which pleased us very much.
Arriving in Lauder the B&B was a fine farmhouse with big rooms but no evening meals. We had now completed 300 miles of trouble free steaming and with time to carry out some checks. I removed the jets and found no sign of carbon, topped up the steam oil and serviced the pump box and pump rod.