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  A 1908 WHITE MODEL "L" STEAM CAR
LUCY'S REJUVENATION

By Bob Dyke


In 1969 my father was running the Foden Showman's engine "Prospector" and had thought about finding a lighter vehicle. He went to a Veteran Car Club auction arranged by Norman Cole and there saw the 1908 White sold for £6,800. The White was on the front page. She was purchased by another traction engine owner, the scrap dealer J. Hardwick of Ewel in Surrey. Father purchased about then a Sentinel Super Steam Waggon to go with his 1921 "D" type Foden steam lorry and sold the showman's engine.

In early 1988 I had decided that my next project would be the restoration of a steam car. A boiler with the explosion risk in front of me did not appeal but sitting on a flash steam generator seemed a greater attraction. I did not consider at this time the fact that you take some petrol, add diesel to make it burn hotter, mix it with air to make an explosive mixture and then fire it a under your seat. Father had purchased a 1906 White Model "F" so I decided to give Hardwick a telephone call. It was just in time as he died two weeks later! He told me that he had fire everywhere when he tried to get the car going and had sold it to one Laurie Leader from Colchester Car Auctions in the early 1980's.

I telephoned Laurie Leader. He did not want to sell the car but a photograph arrived next morning and an invitation to view her. It just so happened that we were off to Colchester that weekend to take my lather's old steam generator to Willingale Tubes Ltd to have a new one made. His steam generator that was fitted was a tube that looked as if it had been wrapped around a tree with no thought of White's original water cascade structure. My White turned out to also have the same cobbled-up steam generator.

We were taken to see the White and I decided that this was what I was going to restore. Negotiations took a couple of weeks and then the car was delivered to me in Cornwall by a professional carrier in a lorry. Unfortunately, during the journey, chains had been beating against the back of the body and caused considerable damage.

I was thrilled with the general condition of the car but soon found problems. The thermostat fitted was off a 1902 White (yes, it is now fitted to my 1902 White), designed to regulate petrol flow and not bypass water as does the 1908 one. The steam generator was unusable. The water tank had no bottom. The fuel tank was held in by bits of wood but on the White is a rigid structure which keeps the rear end rigid. As a result of the now weaker structure, a couple of extra bars had been added to the back of the The only thing to do was to strip the car to the chassis and start again. Harold Harry and I had her in bits in three days and in six months she was back together with new paint work, steam generator and fuel tank. Several essential parts now needed sorting. The lack of wear on many parts such as the steering box show the car had done little work.

The car had no registration number and as far as I was concerned at the time, no known history before the 1969 auction. First, I contacted the Veteran Car Club. They have records probably produced by Frederick Coleman's business of Whites in Carlow Street, Camden Town, London N.W. The engine number L 391 agreed with the chassis number 6028 that we had found on the wooden chassis with its steel flitch plates. The numbers from the rear axle with two-speed gearbox, the condenser and the flowmotor were also correct. The owner had been a W. Garton. About six months later I borrowed a copy of Montagu and Bird's book Steam Cars 1770 to 1970 and before I got to it, my son Michael found a picture of "The Garton family photographed in their two White touring cars at Sarisbury Green, Southampton, 1906." One car looked remarkably like my 1908 White and the registration number was clearly visible so I got onto the Hampshire record office where it had been registered and thence to their archives where Miss Philippa White (who was unaware White cars existed) was happy to send me the details of the car showing that this was indeed my car and that William Garton ran it up to 1915. After many letters and some assistance from writer and historian Michael Worthington-Williams, I managed to obtain the original registration number. I was able to contact Michael Norris-Hill who owned the glass-plate negative of that picture and supplied me with prints from it. He was a relative of Mr. William Garton and told me more about him.

Within a week of purchasing my car, someone telephoned my father with the news that he had a Model "L" parts list and a fan from a relative's White. The former was essential for the restoration. He had heard about the two Whites' return to Cornwall.

I had often talked to a patient of mine called Saxon Littler who had restored a White in the 1950's. I was disappointed that my car did not turn out to be that one- but father's White was it. Saxon had died by 1988.

Two instruments were missing, the steam gauge and the pyrometer. An appeal to several White owners in America resulted in a response for which I will always be grateful. Mel Howell supplied me with these gauges and, over the next three years, Dick Hempel wrote to me several hundred pages of information to help me out as I ran into difficulties. I hope to print these out for other White restorers eventually but I do supply the information when requested.

Many others helped and in return I produced some parts such as thermostat castings for the 1908 and 1910 cars and some pilot light tops. The 1910 castings I produced by mistake, copying Jack Crabtree's 1910 White's thermostat and only after casting them Dick Hempel told me that they were different. We altered the casting box to make the 1908 ones. Machining the threads proved interesting as we had to use a 32 inch swing lathe in the Penzance dockyard. I was later to telephone Jack Crabtree with the news that I had found him a 1910 Parts List. He requested that I purchase his White as he was terminally ill. I did so and am only now finding this car's history.

Although six months after purchasing it the White was back together, another year was taken before steaming in sorting the smaller bits, making parts such as the thermostat and doing the plumbing. I always endeavoured to use the original specification as Dick Hempel had impressed upon me that it was the only way that a White would run properly. I had lost the winter's work through having a bit of lung removed but that allowed for the ongoing research. I discovered that Alec Hodsdon had done a lot of work on the car in the 1960's but he had died. I believe that it was Alun Griffiths who pointed out that a White was pictured in 1943 in a scrap yard in "The Steam Car And Steam Aviation" magazine. This was my car. It took me a couple more years to find the rescuer Austin Farrar, and only in 1996 did he have a ride in her; a 100 mile trip around Norfolk on our "day off' from the Norfolk tour.

Another stroke of luck came to me in about 1993 when I purchased another parts list for a White. In the back was a hand-written letter from Alec Hodsdon stating that he had sold the White for £2750 and within a year it had been resold at Norman Coles auction for £6,800. Again this had to be my car.

From my first steam up in 1990 to April 1993 I continued to struggle with the plumbing and fire, producing spectacular flames and singeing my beard and hair. My top hat became known as the "Cornish Fire Extinguisher". The car would run around a rally field, but on the road she had no power and would always blow back. ~ had never seen another White working to get an idea of where the problem lay. Having rechecked many times the operation of the flowmotor, the by-passes, the fuel jets and the vapouriser, eventually I had come to the conclusion that the main burner was the problem and that the slots were too small. I found out that Alec Hodsdon had made the burner top but he had milled the slots only about 0.012 inch instead of 0.025 inch. Enlarging them was impossible as thecast iron would not take re-machining without breaking after being used and heated many times.

Only when I purchased Jack Crabtree's White and used that car's old and damaged burner did things alter. Dramatically, on the first steaming with the 1910 burner, the car was in steam in a minute instead of three minutes from the main burner being turned on. I could drive her on the road and the pressure (4SOpsi) and steam tempera- ture (750 deg F.) remained almost constant. All the work on the fuel control had made that system function well. I started to enjoy the road work in the car.

Pride comes before the fall! Within days, I made a serious but simple driving error. There are three levers for the White owner to juggle on the right. I did not stop to change gear as recommended but slipped her through the gear as usual, but on this occasion I pushed the reversing lever instead of the gear lever as I chatted to a friend in the passenger seat. There was a nasty noise as we jerked to a stop. I drove home but within a week the damage started to become evident. I had loosened a crank taper and it twisted, making me limp home - an engine rebuild job. The flywheel soon came Page 14 The Steam Car loose as the bolts had been stretched. The metal rim on the rear right wheel twisted on the wood partly due to corroded pins inside. I had broken a tooth off the bottom gear and later the propeller shaft end also came adrift on the Goss Moor on the return trip from visiting my parents for lunch (72 miles each way). Later Whites do not take reversing the valve-gear when going forwards but it is an essential on going down hills in the 1902 White Stanhope which is not compound and has D-valves.

With all working well again except that I had to use the bottom end of a spare engine (H4) as Lucy's was not ready, we set off for the Welsh Mountains in Snowdonia. "Why bring a White, you will never get that around the tour" was the greeting. We made the first day's trip of 80 miles to the bottom of Snowdon and back, to most peoples' surprise. The next day we stormed the Tal-y-llyn pass in top gear while several Stanleys stopped to make more steam near the top. In fact, for the last seven years, we have not missed a tour day although we still have a few blow backs requiring use of the top hat. We hope the new burner this year will finally sort out that problem.

The engine was very noisy with the H4 bottom half on it. Paul Morgan had broken the lower half of his 1903 engine and so had Arthur of his 1904 Model ~E". Their engines were also noisy. Mine improved a bit when I had fitted the correct lower half but it was only when I was reading again Edmonson's Manual of 1910 where he goes into the detail on the performance of the White, that I noted that Whites insisted on 25% lardy-oil (or tallow) in the oil. We had "tallow-substitute" in our oil which turned out to be rape-seed oil. I made up some Morris ST 1000 oil with 20% tallow melted into it. The difference was dramatic. The car now ticks over almost silently and is smoother and more powerful. The bores and the ball bearings in the all-ball-bearing crankcase no longer rust. This winter I have almost finished putting new bearings in the rear axle and making a new pinion shaft which had fractured through an oilway. With a new burner we will be ready for a new season. The Thursday gang of Harold Harry, Peter Reid and Michael Christopher should be back on polishing duty.

Lucy's history for the twentieth century now is almost complete. Imported in 1908 as a chassis by Frederick Coleman, bodied by Cann & Co of London and sold to William Garton who ran her until 1915. His house was commandeered as a hospital and the body removed from the car but stored in a woodshed so that the car could be used for war service. She probably was found to be too complicated and was put aside, as yet I know not where, being sent to the scrap yard most likely in the scrap drive at the start of World War II. She was rescued from there in 1944 by Austin Farrar and stored until 1958. She was then purchased by Alec Hodsdon who did much work on her but did not do enough research to make her work properly. He sold her in 1967 probably to Norman Cole and she was resold in an auction in 1969 to Hardwick of Ewell who in turn sold her to Laurie Leader. She still was not in a fit state to steam. Finally Lucy was purchased by me in 1988 and put into running order for the first time since 1915.

Some running parts are surprising. If you look at the rear tyres when she came out of the scrap yard, I still used those (pre-1915?) until 1996 when I put on two new Michelins. They lasted two years before I had to replace them as they had bulged. I put the old ones back on for another year but am now fitting new Dunlops on there! I did use very thick inner-tubes but the tyres gave no trouble and still have some tread.



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