A Life with Traction Engines

Neil Gough’s former Marshall and Burrell steam traction engines
Neil Gough’s former Marshall and Burrell steam traction engines

As soon as you start to talk about traction engines, Neil Gough’s eyes light up and his face breaks into a smile. His quiet enthusiasm is contagious. Neil discovered his passion for traction engines as a ten-year-old boy at the Parham Steam Rally, held at the foot of the Sussex Downs. I remember going and in those days there were rows of engines parading on the fields. It was at this event that a family friend, Peter Fagg, invited him onto his engine and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Neil is a highly respected engineer specialising in traction engine mechanics. His gifts are in demand among the select band of custodians who keep these extraordinary engines running across the British Isles and even as far afield as New Zealand.

From about ten years old, whenever he could, he travelled with Peter to steam rallies across the country, living in the van and helping to polish and maintain the engine. Neil bought his first engine in 1997 when he was 19 years old. “It was a Marshall, made in about 1925,” says Neil. “They were made in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. I paid £6,000 but it was in bits. After three years I had her running and it took another three years to paint her by hand.” Neil enjoyed the Marshall for many years and eventually sold her for £70,000, a testament to the quality of his work and the demand for these steam leviathans.

His latest engine and project is a McLaren road locomotive, circa 1912. The engineering works were located in Hunslet, Leeds, and run by the McLaren brothers, John and Henry. “This is the biggest road locomotive ever built,” Neil enthuses. “She’s top-notch but in poor condition. She’s had a chequered history and might have been a war department cancelled order – I’m still researching the engine’s history. She was exported to Australia and eventually blown up by scrap men. I’m planning to bring her back to her original state.” The engine was saved for preservation in 1978 and brought back to this country by Neil’s friend, Brian Hardy.

Neil Gough at work
Neil Gough at work in his busy engineering workshop

As we walk through the works, there are a number of clients’ engines being repaired. I am excited to discover the exacting tolerances Neil works to on engines of such enormous scale. “We work to a thousandth of an inch,” he says with quiet pride. The array of lathes and tools speak loudly of the calibre of this talented, modest engineer-enthusiast. To find gear-cutting, valve-facing, horizontal and vertical boring and so many other engineering skills under one roof is rare today. Everything is unique and handmade.

I ask Neil what is the thing he most likes about these traction engines and without hesitation he replies, “Driving them! It’s difficult and a skill. The challenge is that each engine has its own personality and quirks.”

A hand-built steam model pump engine by the late Ron Wheele
A hand-built steam model pump engine

If a traction engine is beyond your reach, perhaps you could consider a model steam pump engine, like the one illustrated. It will be offered for sale in Toovey’s specialist auction of collectors’ toys and models, together with a number of other model steam stationary engines, on Tuesday 9th July 2013. It was hand built by the late Ron Wheele, who carried out restoration work at Brighton Toy Museum and the Brighton Engineerium. This beautifully crafted model is estimated at £800-1,200.

Neil Gough is always delighted to share his passion for engines and engineering with enthusiasts. To find out more about Neil’s engineering services, contact him on 01903 891454 or go to his website www.steamrestorations.co.uk.

“The major steam rally for traction engines in Sussex is now held at Wiston,” says Neil. With more than thirty steam engines, vintage and classic vehicles and many exhibitors, this year’s Wiston Steam Rally will be held this coming weekend, on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th July. Who knows, you may discover that you share a passion for steam with Neil Gough! For more information go to www.sussexsteamrally.co.uk.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 3rd July 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Golden Age of Model Railways

Bassett-Lowke O gauge
A Bassett-Lowke O gauge electric 4-6-0 locomotive

This year marks the 21st anniversary of the Brighton Toy and Model Museum in Brighton. It was founded in 1991 by museum director Chris Littledale, whose passion for model railways is at the heart of this extraordinary, jewel-like museum. The museum’s centrepiece is a working, 1930s O-gauge railway layout.

From left to right, Alan and Rupert Toovey, directors of Toovey’s, and Chris Littledale, founder of Brighton Toy Museum

Chris Littledale describes his interest in trains as a lifelong passion, which he traces back to a live-steam model railway which he visited in Southsea with his uncle. “I still remember the smell, the steam and the noise,” Chris enthuses. “It seeded a lifelong passion for trains, which has never left me. When I was at boarding school, I found a second-hand O-gauge model railway for sale – it was beautiful!” Chris recalls that he so loved the set that he even tried to acquire a loan from the headmaster’s wife to purchase it, but was unsuccessful. All collectors have a list of the things which they have missed or failed to buy and it would seem that Chris is no exception. In his teens and early twenties, as his friends turned out their railways, he was on hand to buy their unwanted trains and accessories; they were wonderful things to his eyes. In those days just a pound or two would buy something lovely. By his twenties he was already restoring and repairing these childhood treasures. This collecting passion continued until one day there was model railway everywhere. “It was in cupboards, kitchen cabinets, even under the bed,” he acknowledges, “and I decided that I needed to share it all with others.” Collectors like Chris are often defined by this sense of custodianship, rather than ownership. Their delight in the acquisition of knowledge is frequently as strong as acquiring the object itself, and once we have acquired knowledge, we want to share it and our excitement with others.

Emma Toovey driving the Bassett-Lowke with Chris Littledale
Emma Toovey driving the Bassett-Lowke with Chris Littledale

Out of Chris Littledale’s generous desire to share his collection, the Brighton Toy and Model Museum was born. It fills a number of railway arches under the forecourt of Brighton railway station. The collection has many exhibits of national and international importance to the history of toys. On display are collections of Steiff and other soft toys, Meccano, Dinky, Tri-ang and Corgi vehicles and, of course, the trains. Today it draws people of similar passions from all over the world and is mostly run by volunteers.

A passion for trains is something which speaks into my own childhood. They say that the memories of those we love are as real to us as if they are our own. I grew up enthralled by Dad’s memories. My father, Alan Toovey, recounts, “I still remember vividly the noise and smell of the streamline L.M.S. Royal Scot express, liveried in blue and silver, coming at full tilt through Hatch End station, near Harrow, as I stood as a young boy on the footbridge, on my way to primary school.” This passion for trains has never left him. Enthusiasm for trains is something I have been rediscovering with my daughter, Emma, who you see here driving the rare Bassett-Lowke model of the Royal Scot with Chris Littledale.

A Hornby Trains No. 2 Special Pullman set
A Hornby Trains gauge O clockwork No. 2 Special Pullman set

This year celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Frank Hornby. He invented Meccano in 1901 and went on to make model trains after the Great War. The appeal of Hornby trains remains undiminished almost a century later. Many model trains are still affordable. Emma’s and my Hornby OO-gauge railway layout, with landscape and even a beach, is on a much more modest scale than Chris’ magnificent set at the museum, but it still delights. If you want to share in a passion for trains with fellow enthusiasts or relive childhood memories, visit the Brighton Toy and Model Museum. This is a place filled with life. The trains are not just static exhibits but are often run.

The museum is open Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm and Saturdays 11am to 5pm. To find out more, go to www.brightontoymuseum.co.uk or telephone 01273 749494.

More information on Toovey’s Specialist Sales of Toys, Dolls and Games can be found by clicking here.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 22nd May 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Chris Gale visits the Brighton Toy & Model Museum

Daddy Long Legs Electric Railway Model at Brighton Toy and Model Museum (on loan from Volks' Electric Railway Association)

On Saturday 2nd February, Toovey’s resident Toy, Doll and Game specialist, Chris Gale visited the Brighton Toy and Model Museum. Attending a talk given by Ian Gledhill about the Brighton inventor Magnus Volk (1851-1937).

It was Volk who established the first phone link in Brighton. He also installed the first electric light bulb and was responsible for the beginning of the city’s electrification.  One of his many inventions was the first electric railway in the world – Volk’s Railway which has been running along Brighton Seafront for 129 years. The other not less remarkable creation and probably the most recognisable was the Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Railway (Daddy Long Legs).

Chris said “Ian gave an enthusiastic and educational talk with photographs and a very rare short film of the Daddy Long Legs in action.”

Also on display at the museum, which Toovey’s sponsor, is a wonderful collection of toys and games including Hornby, Marklin, Bassett Lowke, Corgi Toys, Dinky Toys, dolls, and soft toys.  Chris now turns his attention to deadlining his forthcoming Specialist Sale of Toys on 27th February, in preparation for the auction on Tuesday 19th March.