A McLaren convertible down under
By: Web Editor
With no surviving McLaren convertible engines in the UK, Roger Hamlin meets custodian Andrew Shaw of the Feilding Steam Traction Society and its double crank compound ‘Mac’ No 917 – one of two such examples still in existence on New Zealand.
Andrew Shaw is a long-standing member of the Steam Traction Society based in Feilding, North Island, New Zealand, although he commonly goes under the moniker of ‘Steamboat’ – a name achieved because he hails from Wanganui where the steam powered paddler Waimarie is based. Andrew was heavily involved with the running of the steamer up and down the river. At the same time Steve McClune was also working on Waimarie and after asking Andrew if he would like to come down to Maewa to have a play with his traction engines, he did and has never looked back.
Andrew continued to spend time at Maewa, helping out wherever he could. It didn’t take him long before he was driving engines, not only at the ‘club’ but on the road as well. How it happened he isn’t quite sure, but he soon became custodian of the society’s McLaren convertible steam engine. It’s highly likely that whenever you see the McLaren out and about, Andrew will not be very far away. As a society ambassador he has taken her to rallies throughout the lower half of North Island and has even taken her all the way up to Napier – on a 120-mile run by road.
1907-built N Class 3-speed 7nhp double crank compound McLaren No 917 was purchased new via agents WA McLaren (a branch of the same McLaren family) by Masterton Borough Council as a convertible, and could be used either as a road roller or a road locomotive. It is believed that from the day of her arrival in New Zealand she was configured as a road roller and only changed to become a road locomotive six years ago, when society members removed the rolls and placed the engine on her traction wheels that had been re-rubbered. It is believed that this is the only convertible McLaren traction engine that still has all the gear that it was supplied with when delivered new.
It stayed with Masterton Borough Council for the whole of its working life, mainly rolling roads in and around the Masterton district – indeed when it first came to Feilding for preservation it was hired out to local councils for rolling roads, which brought in a useful source of revenue to society funds.
The Mac was retired in 1965, following the development of a few mechanical problems. As soon as society members got wind that she was now idle and was on the open market, members decided to pool their resources and put in a bid to purchase her. This was still 1965, and it is believed that the equivalent of £150 was paid for her purchase. Masterton Borough Council is not averse to its own heritage, for it purchased an Aveling & Porter road roller still in working order from Carterton Borough Council and it is still in the council’s possession today.
At the time, in 1965, the Steam Traction Society had not been in operation for very long. When the McLaren arrived at the society’s headquarters at Maewa, just outside the town of Feilding, it was soon placed into one of the very few sheds on the property at that time. Repairs were needed on the boiler, which were undertaken quite quickly, but most of the repairs were needed in the firebox. With a few tubes also replaced, it did not take long to get the old Mac up and running again. At this time all the traction engines on site at Maewa were individually owned, save for Ransomes traction engine No 24090, so the addition of the McLaren as a ‘club engine’ meant that more hands were available to speed the restoration.
The Mac was kept in roller form until 1995, the reason for the change to road loco being that the rear rolls were starting to wear rather thin. Not wanting to cause further damage, the traction engine wheels that came with it were soon added, along with the front wheels and axle. At this time other minor engineering work was undertaken and it has also received two paint jobs since then.
Three years ago, a minor problem came in the form of the crankshaft bearing breaking. This necessitated removal of the canopy so that anything else that needed attention would be easier to access. The bearing was replaced and also a new set of high pressure piston rings was added. The valve faces also received some attention.
The old rolls are stored on site in the open, although there is no mention yet for returning it to roller form. It would indeed be a shame if the rolls got neglected, it being so rare that an engine still has its original dual-configuration parts to hand.
During this coming winter, Andrew intends to repaint the engine in genuine McLaren livery – black with red wheels. “She’ll then look like a real McLaren,” says Andrew.
One of the major reasons for the repaint is that in 2013 the society will celebrate its 50th anniversary, which will be a major milestone in the history of steam preservation for the North Island. All New Zealand engines that have ever been ‘through the club’ will be invited to attend and it will be very interesting to see how many respond. Old Glory, will, of course, be there.
McLaren enthusiast Henry Roskilly of Tavistock advises that now-preserved sister engine McLaren 7nhp convertible No 919 left the works in May 1907, was exported to New Zealand through WA McLaren, worked for Malvern County Council as a roller and is now owned by Alan Brittan.
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