Our latest acquisition is a genuine ex–Great Western Railway Lister Auto–Truck.
The vehicle was purchased new by the G.W.R in about 1938 for use at Newport Station, and subsequently sold to a Caduggan's flour mill at Usk in Wales who registered the Auto–Truck (reg. HWO 51) in 1949 to allow it to cross a public road. In 2003 it turned up in the hands of a farmer at Usk in a derelict state and was bought for restoration, it lost its old registration number and was re-registered as 743 UXF. It was then sold, unrestored, to Alex Thorpe who wrote the following article about its restoration.
743 UXF was originally owned and operated by the Great Western Railway before being sold to a flour mill in Wales. The truck is a type SS3 fitted with a single cylinder 600cc JAP petrol engine dating from 1938 when we believe the truck to have been manufactured.
When I purchased the truck it was going to be a simple job of tidying up the paintwork and then taking it to some shows, however when it arrived this plan was quickly ditched in favour of full restoration. Due to its generally poor condition it would have been difficult to tidy it up without doing a complete job.
As we began to disassemble the power unit, things didn't get much better. Many problems were found which would need fixing, including several bent or damaged panels, a broken spring, only one bolt holding a panel to the frame, brakes that didn't work, seized chains and many other disasters. After several weekends work all that was left was a large number of parts needing a lot of work to clean up and repair before rebuilding could begin.
It was decided that the easiest way of cleaning parts would be to send them for shot blasting and priming. This turned out to be more expensive than planned! The lesson here being to get a quote – don't just ask someone to do the work, even if you know them. Having said this, shot blasting turned out to save a lot of time and mess, and gave a far better finish than would otherwise have been achieved.
Now at the point of reassembly, there was the difficult choice of choosing the correct colour to paint the parts of the truck. With no previous pictures to go on the decision was made to use the oldest colour of paint to be found on the truck which was grey. Then I had to decide whether to spray or brush paint, and as it was the middle of winter the spraying option was chosen.
The rebuild started with the easiest part, the chassis. This only involved straightening the brake rods, making two new support brackets and fitting new pins and playing around with the springs until it sat level. Following from this the next area to be tackled was the power unit. This was however to cause more problems than I was expecting, partly because I had never paid any attention to petrol trucks, which made it difficult to work out where many components ought to go. Fortunately, contact with other members and archive photos solved many of the problems.
The front wheel assembly was fitted to the chassis due to the difficulty manoeuvring the whole power unit when it was assembled. The next step was to repair the wheel cover, a job which was delegated due to lack of welding ability! Once this was done, attention was turned to the gearbox and clutch and drive chains–and another mistake! I assumed that as the truck been a runner and could be driven these would be OK and wouldn't need any work, so they were refitted as they were – a decision that caused many problems later. The next component to be fitted was the engine. This finally gave us the chance to check that it did in fact run, and with much relief it coughed into life briefly.
Following this the remainder of the power unit was assembled then came the job of refitting the heavy rear body, made much easier by the use of a forklift truck. Now at the point of being driveable the clutch problem became apparent. In fact it was seized solid. I did not want to remove the whole top of the power unit to take the clutch out and having tried every other method I could think of to free it off, as a last resort I tried filling it with penetrating oil. Success!! – the clutch was free and after cleaning it with brake cleaner we now had a drivable truck. This just left fitting of the remaining panels and the last major job, the manufacture of a new silencer from the remains of the old one.
Having only finished the truck a few days before the Kemble Show, its first outing, a lot of adjustments still needed to be done and those at the show will know the problems we had (the truck had only run for a maximum of five minutes before this show). It made it around the arena on the first day with a lot of smoke (the commentator thought it was diesel), then it kept stopping and refusing to start all evening and a lot of time I could not select any gears either! This gave everyone plenty to do, as various parts were dismantled and refitted in an attempt to get it running. The problem was actually the advance lever moving. Between Kemble and the next outing a lot of adjustments were made and by the time of the Great Dorset Steam Fair at the end of August, we had a problem free Auto-Truck which managed to lead the display around the arena for all five days, much to my relief.
Thanks are due to the ever knowledgeable and patient Bill Faulkner, without whose help 743 UXF would still be a pile of bits and to John Hedges for supplying me with the truck in the first place.
We contacted the previous owners to ascertain a little more of the truck's history.
A puzzle is the choice of paint colour. Alex Thorpe states that the first coat of paint was grey. I am not in the least surprised as I would expect the truck to be painted in grey primer, followed by top coat Lister green. Could Alex have mistaken the primer for its first finished colour? In the case of commercial vehicles, many manufacturers would supply in grey primer paint for the fleet operator to finish in their own livery. In that case, was the truck painted G.W.R chocolate or maybe factory brown?
There is a nice photograph of three of these trucks transporting parcels in the goods shed at Bristol, published in the book 'G.W.R Road Vehicles Appendix' The photo clearly shows a dark livery definitely not light grey.
A phone conversation with John Hedges, who bought the truck for restoration, seems to confirm that the truck was originally grey. The green paint in the photos in the above article was sploshed on at a later date. The standard Lister colour, however was mid bronze green, so if and why this particular truck was painted grey remains a mystery.
It is intended to display the truck at Kidderminster Town on the concourse as soon as we can make it safe from attack by prying fingers or souvenir hunters. It has many parts that easily 'come off in your hand'... and of course we will paint on the famous GWR logo.