Beamish Transport Objects In Focus... Number 3

Beamish Transport Objects In Focus… Number 3

A Rolling Restoration – Restoring Barford & Perkins Airfield Roller R025…

Beamish has a long track-record of restoring mechanical objects, not least those that have apparently little or no chance of otherwise having any kind of operating future.  The Friends of Beamish volunteers have been instrumental in many of these, and so for this post we will look at the restoration of a petrol motor roller, number R025, and which was something of an ‘impulse’ buy from a scrap dealer in November 2012.  It came from a location in Tweedsmouth near Berwick after I visited the site following a tip-off from someone who had seen it from the window of a passing train and reported it on an online forum dedicated to traction engine and steam roller matters. 

R025 as first viewed at the yard in Tweedsmouth in which it was stored. The pale blue colour is clear, as is the yellow. It is said that as a result of near-misses between these RAF rollers and landing aircraft, they were repainted from blue to yellow in order to be more visible to pilots. I don’t know whether this is true or apocryphal, but it nevertheless makes for a good story!

Enquires led to a contact, and the roller was examined in an otherwise derelict yard.  The site was part of what had been 52D, Tweedsmouth Engine Shed, which closed on the 19th June 1966.  The remaining section of building was part of the North Eastern Railway square roundhouse built in 1877/78 and which had latterly been used as a builders merchants until two fires in 2009 and 2010 sealed its fate.  

A close-up view of the gearbox, showing the heavy construction of the roller and relative simplicity of the design.

R025 was in attractively complete condition, though was clearly going to be a challenge for the restoration team who would gather to restore it.  It was therefore decided to start work at an early stage, and build a momentum, rather than place it into store.  There was also a growing interest in playing cricket at Beamish and the events field was in use for various mini-league games – so a grass roller would be quite a useful tool potentially!  The roller was swiftly collected and moved to the new Regional Heritage Engineering Centre workshop for the Friends to assess.

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 could trace their roots back to 1840, as agricultural machinery manufacturers. In 1919 the company joined AGE (Agricultural and General Engineers), formed in 1920 in an attempt to form a collective of firms to compete better with foreign competition. This failed spectacularly in 1932 but the profitable Barford & Perkins element still had potential and a rescue bid was formulated, that would see B&P merge with one of the other big names in UK road rolling history.

Where it all began, in Barford & Perkins own words. Taken from their catalogue reference 597 titled simply ‘Motor Rollers’

The charismatic Edward Barford would, in 1933 merge Aveling & Porter (also part of the AGE holding company) 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.

The Late Bill Dickins supplied a number of useful images from his collection when we were starting the restoration of R025, and they are reproduced here in his memory. They depict what are almost certainly D4 models, with the two cylinder engines originally fitted, firstly by Simms, later Albion.  The first two views look like factory shots, whilst the third looks more like a family photo album view.   Photo: Bill Dickins Collection
Photo: Bill Dickins Collection
Photo: Bill Dickins Collection
Here is a Barford & Perkins D4 roller in the original configuration, fitted with a two cylinder Albion petrol engine.  Whilst similar to the later D4, such as R025, the gearbox is able to fit entirely within the frames (unlike the four cylinder version where the longer engine forced it to straddle the off side frame member).  Also, the absence of a radiator, cooling instead being effected by the chamber and fins beneath the driver’s seat. Bill Dickins Collection
 These three views were of great interest and value to our restoration of R025, showing as they do a D4 fitted with Albion four cylinder petrol engine.  The details showing the canopy, driver’s seat and toolbox (note that the first view shows a D4 sans the toolbox section) are of particular use, also the magneto ‘kill’ switch on the bulkhead inboard of the engine and the gearbox casing (on the longer engined four cylinder versions this was forced to straddle the frame member). The link on the frame member on the off side is intriguing, I take it to be a fitting to enable a gang mower to be towed by the roller (I’ve seen a photo of this somewhere and Barford & Perkins were keen to stress the flexibility to carry out such a role in their sales literature).  Also useful is the positioning of the registration number, with one example having the small alloy casting ‘Pioneer’ badge curved to fit the headstock with the registration number split either side of this. Photo: Bill Dickins Collection
Photo: Bill Dickins Collection
Photo: Bill Dickins Collection

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 our historical narrative there as Aveling Barford was a very different beast to the company which built R025.

From my own collection is this superb photograph from the 1931 Public Works Exhibition (where?) showing Barford & Perkins very Art-Deco stand, with a Q Series middle background and A 2 1/2 Series in the foreground, note that it has already had a notice affixed showing it has been sold. Left and right I think are Y Series rollers (aimed primarily at sportsground owners).  To the rear left is a large roller from the T Series (TH, TWJ and TWK – ranging from 8 to 12 tons).  On the adjacent stand to the left is the Aveling & Porter display, with whome B&P were closely tied in this year, B&P moving from Peterborough to Rochester to share works space with A&P,  Thomas Aveling having died.  Both firms were part of the troubled A.G.E (Agricultural & General Engineers), formed in 1919 and set to collapse amid controversial circumstances in February 1932.  Edward Barford then set about recovering A&P plus B&P from the receivers, with assistance from Rustons, to form Aveling Barford at a new location in Grantham in 1933.

Readers wanting to explore this section in more detail are invited to follow the link below to an earlier post on this site containing further information on Barford & Perkins:

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.

Another extract from Catalogue 597, specifically the entry for the D4 roller series. Note the reference to the supply of rollers to the Air Ministry in 1925.

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 up to the point that the scrap dealer from whom we acquired it is unknown.

Restoration commences

In April 2013 the roller was moved into the Regional Heritage Engineering Centre (RHEC) for restoration to commence. The Friends engineering volunteers would lead the work, with the museum providing support, either from its own engineering staff or by placing outside contracts for some work. It was felt that this would make the most of the available skills whilst enabling the project to be completed within a reasonable amount of time (say three years – though it took a little longer in the end!). This view shows work has already started on the dismantling of R025 in order to assess just how much work would need to be done.
Right from the start it was agreed by all that this would be a restoration to the highest quality, with an emphasis on originality (and recreation of original components if required, rather than substitution with more modern equivalents). The roller would be restored to as close to its original specification and condition as possible (the main limit being knowing what that was) and would be an operational exhibit at Beamish when completed. This view shows the engine, following removal of the bonnets and radiator.
A core of volunteers came to work on the project, bringing a variety of skills and a wealth of experience and expertise. Here, John Hodder is seen working on dismantling the engine. John went on to lead the Model T restoration team, whose work has so often appeared on this blog. Chris Lee took on the role of project coordinator, and is seen in a number of the photographs that appear in this post.
The roller reduced to its constituent components. One of the ways the museum could support the project team was to take large items that this away for shot-blasting and spray painting. By doing this the team could leave on a Saturday, returning the following weekend to find items prepared and painted ready for their attention.
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 was 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, the work taking a number of days to complete.
The completed weld prior to machining – this was carried out by a contractor, Dyer Engineering in nearby Annfield Plain, due to the length of the axle and the timescale that we needed to carry it out in.
The B&P motor roller’s axles and front rolls returned from Dyer Engineering, a firm with a superb workshop and large (and fairly youthful) skilled engineering workforce. The rear axle is seen to the left, the front axle behind with quite substantial amounts of build-up evident on the journals.
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 ensured the mechanical integrity of the finished restoration would be consistent throughout, with no weak spots to trouble us in operation of the roller.
The main frame of the roller, following shot-blasting and priming in red oxide.
As well as the frame, a pallet of other components were shot-blasted and primed, returning as a useful stockpile of parts for the team to work on. Shot-blasting provides a very effective way of removing rust, old paint and other verdigris. It also abrades the metal and this makes a good base for the paint to be applied to.
The first coats of undercoat are applied over the primer, including both the rear rolls and the main frame.
The first coats of RAF blue have been applied in this view, the colour being selected to match the original specification for the roller when supplied to the RAF. The front rolls had yet to be painted, having just been fitted onto their overhauled axle.
 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!
Another view of the drive chain, running from the output shaft (connected to the gearbox) to the rear axle and differential.  The chain itself is new (and really quite expensive!), likewise the gear on the output shaft.  However, new components should ensure durability and reliability, the original being beyond economic salvation for the project.
The end of the output shaft seen in the previous view is better seen here – Chris made a new shaft, to replace the original. The small cog is the gear that takes the output drive from the gearbox and converts it to the final drive to the rear axle. This is enclosed within a gear guard and is mounted, untidily (and for reasons described in the history section earlier), outside of the main frame members.
Drawings for the seat and toolbox were obtained from Lincolnshire Archive (who have catalogued the B&P collection and are able to scan and make available specific documents and drawings for use in research or restoration), enabling a brand new replica of this unit to be manufactured.
The brake drum and caliper are seen here. A new steel ring was fitted to the latter, and later fitted with a new (modern – not asbestos!) brake lining.
The fuel tank fitted to R025 at the time of purchase was not the original, and is seen here on the left. We discussed our options to either retain this or fit a replica B&P pattern example. However, I happened to purchase an A Series B&P roller for spare parts around this time, which came with a genuine B&P fuel tank. Whilst smaller than that originally fitted, it is at least a genuine Barford item, and was in sound condition to enable restoration for the project. A larger fuel tank is unlikely to ever be required in any case, given the cossetted working life for R025 in the future.
The rebuild of the Albion 4-cylinder 25HP petrol engine was always going to be a challenging element of the project, and the team proved well up to the task. The first job was to completely dismantle the engine and separate all of the components.
With the cylinder head removed, quite clean and tidy bores were revealed – which was therefore at least one job that wouldn’t need tackling. Chris’ assessment was that the pistons are probably new, the engine having been re-bored at some point, and would appear to have done very little work since then.
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.
The engine inverted and with the sump removed to reveal the crankshaft, the pistons already having been removed by this time.
The crankshaft has received attention before, with one journal being undersize. The crankshaft was sent away for specialist attention (in Darlington as I recall), its large size meaning that it couldn’t be ground by most contractors who carry out such work.
A tray of pistons and connecting rods.  The crankshaft would require commercial attention to grind the journals true, plus new bearings for the big-ends and carrying bearings. One shell bearing had ‘run’, caused by lack of oil lubrication.  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!
The re-ground and overhauled crankshaft following overhaul and receipt back at Beamish. This was one of the more expensive tasks carried out, in a total list of contract jobs probably exceeding £10,000 – on top of which are the many hundreds of hours freely given by the volunteer team and allocated as part of the museum’s contribution through staff/engineering time. Restoration of this standard is not cheap!
The engine being reassembled, with the overhauled crankshaft in situ. Notice the copper wire locking of nuts and the network of oil pipes delivering oil to the bearings from the pump. As mentioned above, this oil would then settle in the sump, to be drained prior to the next filling of the pump and day of operation.
The Simms magneto was professionally overhauled and returned ready to fit. The two key elements to success of a petrol engine are fuel supply and reliable spark, so there really is no sense in trying to use an old and worn magneto (which also provides the distribution of the spark to each cylinder). Overhaul is usually expensive, but it is essential to the reliable operation of any petrol engine so fitted, not least that on R025.
The cylinder block laid out on the bench, with gaskets being prepared. Templates were made in order for the copper gasket to be made by a contractor, the template being just visible beneath the block to block gasket (in green). The cardboard sleeve at the bottom of the pile contains the copper head gasket.
The cylinder block affixed to the crankcase and the engine mounted back in the roller frame. Note the grey box attached to the crankcase (left, with brass T handle on top). This is the oil pump, the brass handle being rotated many times (for five minutes, according to the manual) once the oil has been topped up, to prime the system and ensure the engine is not started with dry bearings. I managed to obtain a copy of the B&P Motor Roller users manual, a scanned copy can be read below:

The April 2015 Great North Steam Fair gave the opportunity for R025 to appear in public for the first time, alongside a varied collection or motor rollers assembled as one of the displays for the event (the museum’s 1953 GB roller is seen in the background, built by Aveling Barford and a project for the future… and )
This roller (above and below) is another Barford & Perkins D4 example, this time fitted with the two-cylinder engine and water tank cooling (note the fins of the tank at the rear of the roller). It is not fitted with a radiator and note the gearbox and final drive contained within the frame of the roller. This example is owned and being conserved/restored by Andy Seeley, with a strong emphasis on retaining the original ‘working clothes’ appearance.
This 1905 Barford & Perkins Model C roller, albeit not fitted with the original engine, was displayed at the 2015 event at Beamish by the late Bill Dickins, and is the oldest motor roller in the World.
In these two views, above and below, R025 ventures out under tow, in order to check the rolling components and ensure that the lubrication etc. was effective and working correctly. Without a radiator at this time, the roller was unable to propel itself, but the Case tractor was well up to the job of providing the motive power and steering – note the steering chains were removed to enable R025 to behave as a trailer in this consist.
Restoration of the radiator was let out as a commercial contract as this was believed to be the best way of achieving a quality result in what is quite a specialist area. The completed radiator did not hold water and it was very disappointing to receive something back that was not fit for purpose. Undaunted, the team dismantled the radiator then made additional flange components that Chris, as the museum’s contribution to this work, carefully welded into place. The work was lengthy and painstaking, but the result finally matched the quality we were looking for. The completed header and bottom tanks are seen here, prior to fitting back onto the radiator core.
The re-restored radiator is seen after fitting to the roller frame. This also enabled work on the bonnets to be progressed as well.
This short film shows the Albion engine of R025 running – a very proud moment for the restoration team.
The restored gearbox – note the bright rings of bronze, which are the new bushes fitted throughout the gearbox to remove the slack and wear that inevitably occurs through use. Also visible is the oil box – very reminiscent of steam locomotive (road and rail) practice, and which through use of a woollen wick, drip feeds a steady supply of oil to the bearings and journals running within them.
In collecting parts for my own B&P rollers, I had managed to acquire a reasonably complete set of makers plates and badges. From these, castings were made for R025, in order to ensure a full compliment of plates. Most distinctive are the crossed-picks, seen on the Pioneer badge, which is fitted to the headstock at the front of the roller.
R025’s canopy was entirely absent when purchased for the museum. The mounting points were evident, however, and these, plus a set of drawings for the D4 canopy purchased from the Lincolnshire Archive enabled a replica canopy to be fabricated. Here the uprights and their braces have been made and fitted and are awaiting the rolled roof sheets.
The roof hoops for the canopy were fabricated to match the drawings, and area seen here in the raw, ready for painting.
Chris and Jeff complete the rolled roof beading – one of the final manufacturing jobs in the comprehensive restoration of R025.
With the roof finished and fitted, only the painting remains to be completed in the summer of 2017. The space in the background, with newly painted yellow floor, was to be enclosed in order to create a dedicated painting area within the RHEC – a space that has proved its value many times over since completion!

Completion – October 2017

R025 was displayed at the October Power from the Past weekend, before being placed into store pending a move to the Roadmender’s depot at Rowley Station. This view shows the engine and lubricating pump clearly. Other details to note are the cotton braid, to prevent the bonnets rattling when closed, and the sprung bonnet retention catches.
Two views of R025 showing the high-quality of the restoration, one which we believe to be amongst the most comprehensive and original carried out on a motor roller, particularly of this size and vintage. It is worth remembering that it is 90 years old!
We haven’t yet taken it off-site, but a grass runway airfield might be a fun ‘awayday’ for sometime in the future! I have seen reference to identification marks being painted onto the roof, to aid visibility for landing pilots, but without firm evidence of this, the roof is blue. As referred to earlier, there must have been something in this idea, as the roller was later painted a much more visible yellow colour!
R025 finally finds its home in the Roadmenders depot at Rowley, where it keeps company with several other rollers and construction/maintenance equipment. Ideally it should have an airfield-type hut somewhere near the events field, so that it can roll the grass (this being its primary purpose) – something we may come back to in the future…

One for the future…

When the Model Ts have all been restored, I have in mind that the smaller A Type motor roller that we have at Beamish might be subject to restoration… This example is the 2.5Ton version, with weightier rear rolls. The engine is at the rear (a Brotherhood four-cylinder petrol engine), driving via the gearbox (adjacent to the steering column) the rear rolls by chain. Much more on the A Types can be found on this site here: and here:

For readers interested in learning more about Barford & Perkins motor rollers, and some of the other makes available, a number of trade catalogues and manuals are available on this site – link below for easy reference. Various references are made to R025 on the blog, and a search ‘R025’ will take you to the relevant posts.