Rolling Restoration Part 1: Barford & Perkins D4 Series No.R025...

Rolling Restoration Part 1: Barford & Perkins D4 Series No.R025…

Welcome to a new theme in the blog – looking at road rollers and associated equipment in all of its many shapes and sizes.

The aim is to provide another heading under which this information can be found, and in due course it will all be located behind an icon on the revised website.  R025 has been covered in the blog over the last 12 months or so in some detail, so the best way to find out the progress of the project in detail as it happened is to search ‘R025’ in the search box, and read back through all of the posts.  However, to give it some sense of narrative, I am duplicating some of it here too – as a single point of reference.

It won’t just be R025 that we look at in this particular stream, as we shall see.  All posts will, for now at least, appear in the usual stream online – apologies for those who prefer trains or trams, but you can always ignore these particular posts!!!

So, we start with R025, purchased in November 2012 from a scrap dealer in Tweedsmouth near Berwick.  It was in attractively complete condition, though was clearly going to be a challenge for the restoration team who would gather to restore it.

Built by Barford & Perkins in Peterborough, the leading motor roller firm, its design can be traced back to their first internal combustion design in 1904.  They broke the tradition of the time by motorising the more familiar horse drawn roller technology rather than trying to update the tried and tested steam designs of the day.  B&P, through their association with AGE (Agricultural and General Engineers), formed in 1919 in an attempt to form a collective of firms to compete better with foreign competition.  It was not a success.  The charismatic Edward Barford, who would in 1933 merge Aveling & Porter with Barford & Perkins to create Aveling Barford, would recall in his autobiography ‘Reminiscences of a Lance Corporal of Industry‘ (he preferred this rank to ‘Captain of Industry) the decline of AGE and the ruin of the companies within the group, the lack of vision or panache of the descendants of the great firms involved in tackling the problem and the sinister influence of one G. E. Rowland.

Aveling Barford arose from the ashes of AGE with great assistance from Ruston and Hornsby and R Lister.  With this assistance came an obligation to move the works from Rochester (where B&P had moved its motor roller production to in 1931) to Grantham, where Rustons had a vacant factory premises.  The move was made, the largest move ever carried out by the London & North Eastern Railway with as many as thirty wagon loads of equipment being moved per day through the autumn and winter of 1933.  We leave the story there as Aveling Barford was a very different beast to the one who built R025, though in time we may come back to the story.  For those wanting more information, I’ve put a select bibliography at the end of this post.

R025 was one of 20 ordered by the “Air Ministry”. “R025″ was delivered to Leuchars, Fife. Dispatched 13/2/ 1925. The original engine was an Albion 4cyl with works numbers 2016. This batch (R011 to R030) was recorded as being painted in “R.A.F. Blue” (BSC633). It had a later type frame than the early D4 model. The type was very popular for grass work such as horse racing course owners. Newmarket, Hull and Newbury were early owners before the D4 model was adopted as an airfield roller by the War Office (Flying Office, Netheravon Royal. Flying Cor.) from March 1914.

Most of the batch that included R025 (although this particular one is not specifically listed) were listed as “Sold from R.A.F. Surplus Sales” to new owners in various locations in France, England and Scotland about 1934 – Listed in Barford Perkins records where they were contacted by the new owner or collated from reliable reports. Incidentally all “Air Ministry” model D4’s were supplied with a canopy.  It was sold off in the 1930s, though its history before we acquired it is unclear at the moment.

Below: As we first saw R025 – very rusty but full of promise!


Below: Of particular appeal was that the original engine was still fitted – an Albion 4-cylinder petrol unit.  The magneto had also survived, likewise the radiator – such items often being replaced over a working life.  Though the latter was probably re-cored, the header tanks were original, though in poor condition.


Below: The roller came into the Erecting Shop in April 2013 and work rapidly began to dismantle it ready for restoration to as-built condition to begin.


Below: The engine removed and standing in a cradle made specially for it.


Below: A view taken before removal of the engine showing its link through to the gearbox, with end bulkhead standing between.


Below: Rapidly becoming a kit of parts…


Below: Rather than have the skilled volunteers spend many many weekends scraping the roller back to bare metal and priming it, we had it shot-blasted – meaning that such work was completed before their next working session (which takes place each Saturday, with smaller jobs, contract work and procurement in between).  The blasters also clean and prime the metal saving a huge amount of valuable time and giving the project a real boost in terms of progress.


Below: From primer to undercoat…


Below: … and from undercoat to the first coat of RAF blue.


Below: The rolling chassis was completed before Christmas 2013 – only eight months since the project started and also having dealt with some major issues in terms of the work needed to rebuild the axles and journals.


Below: Chris Armstrong, the RHEC Technician, is seen here building up the worn journal on the rear axle, to enable it to be turned to original size.  This is an alternative solution to turning it down and fitting a bush, and was favoured due the presence of the differential at this end of the axle and the need to bore the large rear rolls.  The weld is added in spiral, to counteract any distortion if it were applied in strips.  There is quite a distance of weld to add – one rod adding about three inches to the spiral, thus far the work having taken a couple of days to complete (in between other things).


Below: The B&P motor roller’s axles and front rolls returned from Dyer Engineering, a local firm with a superb workshop and large (and fairly youthful) skilled engineering workforce.  The rolls were subject to welding-up to eliminate wear and then machining to suit. The rear axle is seen to the left, the front axle behind with quite substantial amounts of build-up evident on the journals.


Below: The front rolls centre bushes had worn oval, so these were bored out to a true circle and the corresponding journals on the front axle built up accordingly (seen above).  This should be work this roller will never ever need again, eliminating many years of work and abuse which we should be able to prevent through careful care and maintenance in the future.  Not cheap to do, but it ensures the quality of the finished restoration will be consistent throughout.


Below: Chris and John, R025s main restoration team, hit it hard one Saturday, refitting rolls onto axles and then re-wheeling the chassis.  Chris is seen here adding the underkeep to the rear axleboxes.


Below: A close up view of the right hand side of the rear rolls – fitted with a differential as well as the drive gear (seen to the right).  taken before the re-fitting of the drive chains.


Below:Still plenty of bits and pieces to go at!


Below: Chris Lee is leading the volunteer team on the restoration of motor roller R025.  Having more or less stripped the roller, he has been making new components, such as the pins for the differential gears.  After a mammoth effort, the originals were eventually removed and new ones made to replace them – old and new are seen here along with the gear which runs on them.


Below: A close up of the new Simplex drive chain and sprocket, taking the output from the gearbox to the rear axle and differential.  There is something very appealing about new chain links like this!

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Below: With a rolling chassis more or less complete by the end of 2013, January 2014 saw work start on the engine, seen here looking into the non-flywheel end with governor, camshaft and magneto drives evident.


Below: An overall view of the block as it was being stripped.  No cracks found and most of the work required to focus on general wear and tear of the moving bits.


Below: The engine inverted and with the sump removed to reveal the crankshaft, the pistons already having been removed by this time.

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Below: A tray of pistons and connecting rods.  The crankshaft will require commercial attention to grind the journals true, plus new bearings for the big-ends and carrying bearings.  A large job due to its size and not likely to be cheap!


Below: One shell bearing had ‘run’ as seen here.  Lack of oil lubrication would have been the cause.  The roller has a total loss system (dry sump) with the pump having a reservoir that would require filling daily, and the sump would be drained daily.  Oil would pass through the system once (not to say it wasn’t simply poured back in at the other end of course!).  Much more like a steam engine than an internal combustion engine of the type we are more familiar with!


Below: The team at work – an earlier view taken during dismantling.  The new Erecting Shop facility, with a solid floor, good lighting, storage, work benches and overhead gantry cranes has been a real asset to the project and its rapid progress.


So, at the end of January 2014 the rolling chassis is, well, rolling; then engine is dismantled and work to overhaul it is underway, the radiator is with a specialist for rebuilding, the gearbox awaits a start and the platework and panels also await attention.  There is a new canopy to build (we have drawings now) and a seat/toolbox to replicate.  But, at the present rate of progress the completion of R025 in 2015 must remain a distinct possibility…


I have put a good number of roller related trade catalogues onto this site at and would be very pleased to hear from anyone who has others that I could borrow or purchase – particularly relating to Barford and Perkins and especially their catalogue numbers 597 (general motor roller range) and 601 (A Series).

The following titles are recommended to anyone interested in motor rollers specifically, though some coverage of steam is also given in these titles (apologies for doing this the lazy way!):

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