When George Thomas Tuby travelled round his run of fairs, he was not without his home comforts. For his ‘pullman’ living van with the traditional ‘well’ as you walked in, something fitted by Orton and Spooner to most of the wagons they built low for railway transport, was luxurious in the extreme and, as Arthur Tuby explains, it had more space than most of its type because there was no kitchen in it.
However, cooking presented no difficulties, because not only was there a separate kitchen wagon, there were the servants to see the food was served piping hot. And they travelled with and slept in that kitchen wagon which, on the fairgrounds, was known as the ‘Dorothy’ or ‘Molly’ wagon. But, in keeping with travelling life, it was also a packing wagon carrying a set of swings and a juvenile from fair to fair. And on the fair itself, when their domestic duties were over it would be the servant girls who would operate these smaller attractions. In those days there were not the police checks as there are today and it was possible for the travellers to pack in a way which would not be allowed today. For as Arthur knows, the legs and top of the swings were packed on the side of the ‘Dorothy’ wagon.
And although it was a load which increased the width of the wagon, no one bothered. All the cooking was done by the two girls on the Hostess stove in the ‘Dorothy’ wagon and they did all the other domestic work for the family, washing and also cleaning ‘Tom’ Tuby’s main living wagon.
Then one would look after the juvenile dobies and the other the swings. This system was not peculiar to ‘Tom’ Tuby. All the main show folk, people like the Farrar family also took domestics with them when they travelled. A woman called Nellie Booth worked for Farrars and like the young girls who worked for the Tuby family, when they closed the juveniles down and had put the sheets round she would like to go for a ride on the big machines. She wanted a ride on Farrar’s Dragons. However, the machine had started and she ran and jumped to get on, but somehow fell and her arm went onto the tram the cars ran on, taking her arm off. However, she recovered and lived through into her eighties. Yet another accident caused by punter carelessness. However if the Tuby family wanted to, they could travel with a kitchen which was built up outside. It was painted like imitation bricks and had a canvas cover on the top.
This was the age when, for the showmen, everything had a name. As well as the ‘Dorothy’ or ‘Molly’ wagon and their own nick name of ‘Bog’ for each other, their steam generator was called ‘Phil Garlic’.
This engine was similar to the centre engine in a set of three abreasts with a dynamo and belt on. Steam, for people like ‘Tom’ Tuby, arrived in the nineteenth century. True, there had been steam propelled vehicles earlier. The French man, Nicholas Cugnot built a steam propelled road vehicle in 1769. There was the British effort of William Murdoch in 1786. However, if we define a traction engine as a steam propelled vehicle capable of hauling trailers on a road, then the first English traction engine has to be credited to Walter Hancock in 1834. While road legislation favouring the horse and restrictive to steam held back development, by the middle of the nineteenth century, designs were coming into being in the form we know the traction engine today and soon the firms who were to serve the needs of the showmen were producing them.
As far as ‘Tom’ Tuby was concerned, when it came to engines, there was only one firm to buy from and that was Charles Burrell at Thetford. He bought seven new engines from them and next to Pat Collins was their best customer.
It is said that, when they were discussing the purchase of their seventh and last engine which turned out to be Ex-Mayor, the sons were in favour of a Fowler, a rather narrower engine with the single gear driving to the back axle. ‘Tom’ Tuby is alleged to have told them they could have any engine they like providing it was built by Charles Burrell. However, the first showman to use steam for haulage was the American circus proprietor James Washington Myers. In 1859 he entered into an agreement with the now defunct firm of Bray’s Traction Engine Company of Folkestone for the hire of a Bray 12nhp. Engine for hauling his six vans on a three months provincial tour. It was not surprising that, to create an added impression on top of the novelty of the steam engine, the engine and its wagon train were painted in many bright colours and decorated with a huge golden dragon.
It was 41 years later, in March 1900, that ‘Tom’ Tuby bought his first engine. The was No 2268, and 8 nhp. Double crank compound,. The Councillor setting the stage for his civic process to be followed through the engine names.
The came 2793, The Leader in 1906. This was another 8 nhp double crank compound, and it was followed in 1910 by a similar engine, Doncaster. No 3284, again with similar specifications. No 2793, St Ledger later to be re-named The Alderman arrived in 1911. There was 3885, The Mayor in 1921 and then No 4000, Ex-Mayor, was delivered in 1925. This 10nhp DCC is the only Tuby engine to survive in preservation. Ex-Mayor was a rather unusual engine. It was delivered to the Tuby family at the Lynn Mart in February 1925, and while it was built as a special Scenic engine with the auxiliary dynamo, and bunker crane tower it had 7 ¼ ” x 11 ¼” x 12″ cylinders, and 7ft ‘contractors’ engine rear wheels.
Here it is interesting to reflect on the rather meaningless term, ‘Nominal Horse Power’. This dates back to the seventeenth century when it was declared by Parliament that a loaded wagon could be hauled on a road by a maximum of eight horse
s. When the traction engine made its arrival, manufacturers needed a term which would indicate its power when compared to horses. So the NHP came into use and potential purchasers were able to appreciate the work it could do when they compared its power with the horse team they were used to. ‘Tom’ Tuby’s engines were always a sight to marvel at. Their colour scheme saw them painted in the old Great Eastern Railway royal blue with yellow wheels and were always maintained in splendid condition. Tuby’s engines and loads travelled extensively between King’s Lynn and their more northern run and were particularly well known in Lincolnshire and the Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire coal fields.
2268, The Councillor as we have seen was involved in a run away accident in 1923, on the Mexborough to Darnley, Sheffield road. It was driven by driver Bird with George Edgar as the steersman.
It is believed that it was replaced temporarily by a hired Foster, No 14403, James Walter. While ‘Tom’ Tuby owned The Councillor at this time, it was on permanent loan to his son, Tom, and he was allowed to take Norah after The Councillor finished in a scrap yard before being sold to John North, the Sheffield showman. It is said that driver, Frank Cheffins went with the engine to North’s, but Arthur Tuby, while agreeing that this drive did transfer from Tubys to Norths, does not believe he was working for Tubys when the accident happened. The Councillor was re-registered by John Thomas North to become ET.3412. It travelled with a set of gallopers and then a Noah’s Ark. In 1932 it was replaced by an Armstrong Saunier diesel tractor.
3372 Norah as we have seen, worked with Annie Tuby and her sons until the early years of the war, when an irate pub landlord sold her for scrap as the Tuby family had forgotten her and omitted to pay for storage.
It was saved by Frank Cheffins, who became so fond of the engine, that although he had moved to Norths, he could not bear the thought of her being scrapped, he bought her and took her to his farm in South Lincolnshire. Frank, who joined Tuby’s about 1931, could not drive a showman’s engine. Arthur recalls that he had been a fitter by trade, serving his apprenticeship with the steam builders, Marshalls of Gainsborough. He had always wanted to work on the fairs driving one of those majestic showmen’s engines. Harry Tuby was in Gainsborough and was short of a driver. Mark Hodgson, who had been a driver for the firm for over thirty years, decided that he was too old for the fair ground life, left and started work on steam rollers.
Frank Cheffins took his place and was taught his driving skills by Harry Tuby. It was one of the drivers who brought more drama into the story. His son was serving with the army in Germany after the last war when a German woman was shot and murdered.
Much later, when he was back home, out of the army, he got into trouble and went to prison. It was while he was serving his sentence that he asked to see the prison Governor and confessed to this murder in Germany. He had been unable to keep it to himself any longer. The police were called, he was returned to Germany, was tried and executed. 3163, Doncaster and 3284 The Alderman used to work with the steam switchback and Arthur Tuby has particular memories of The Alderman the engine which, when it came out new was named after the famous race, St. Ledger. When his grandfather became Alderman of the town the name was changed to celebrate this civic honour. Arthur used to drive The Alderman and today has the name plate taken from the engine when it was sold for scrap and brought in £26. And it was Arthur who steamed it from their premises at Stainforth the scrap yard which was to be its last resting place. Doncaster was also scrapped on their present site at Mexborough.
Arthur recalls that it was sold to showman, Mr Percival who burned it up on his ground as scrap. And it was from this same yard at Mexborough that Frank Cheffins went to buy Ex-Mayor, the engine which with The Mayor worked with the Victory Horses.
Other drivers employed by the Tuby’s were Arthur ‘Yorkey’ Gregory who was with Doncaster and George Power who drove Norah. Frank Cheffins himself has related the working capacity of these engines. For he drove The Councillor when he was with Norths, from Sheffield, over the Woodhead Pass to Hollingworth Lake. The journey started at 6.30am and finished at 11pm. While Frank believed Ex-Mayor was the fines engine he ever drove, he felt that some may argue over the gearing – whether the single gear had any advantage over the double gear and vice versa. No 2793, The Leader which worked with the Coliseum bioscope show, and which the family described as a ‘big engine’ was later sold to John Evans of Edinburgh when 3372 Norah was delivered. He named 2793 King George.
It was later to pass into the hands of showmen, William Murphy of Newcastle, John Powell of Jarrow and the Palm Beach Amusements of Jarrow, Co. Durham. In the opinion of Arthur Tuby, The Mayor was the finest engine they had and he enjoyed driving it.
He believes that it was the equal, if not a better engine than Ex-Mayor and it was sold for £25 for scrap just after the war when the family were converting to diesels through ex-W.D. vehicles. 3163, Doncaster, was one of the larger boiler type of Burrell, with room for an exciter platform. It returned to the St. Nicholas Works, Thetford, to have a secondary generator fitted. In 1922 it went back to Thetford to have a Burrell turret crane fitted to work with the Scenic Whales. When the whales ceased to travel 3163 was stored at Doncaster, later to be scrapped as we have seen. When Ex-Mayor was delivered to King’s Lynn it was fitted with steel shod wheels, with the standard strakes on the rear ones. However, as new regulations came in, Tuby’s had solid rubber tyres fitted almost immediately to comply with them. And George Rhodes Tuby is just one member of the family who can remember buying sold tyres from Doncaster Corporation Transport and cutting them to fit the traction engine’s wheels.
And then the holes had to be drilled by hand so the tyres could be bolted into position. It was not a task any showman looked forward to. After her spell at Lynn Mart where No 4000 was really on exhibition, it was driven under her own steam by Arthur Tuby Snr to their then winter quarters at Doncaster.
When she was ordered it was intended that No 4000 would work with the Scenic ride. However, as we have seen, this was sold to Pat Collins in 1924, and Ex-Mayor remained with the Noah’s Ark for her working life. She travelled in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, driven for most of the time by her eventual saviour, Frank Cheffins. And there is an interesting story told of ‘Tom’ Tuby when he was interviewing a man for a job as an engine driver. “Have you ever dropped a plug?” asked G.T. “No” replied the man, trying to give an impression of the perfect driver. But he was trying to impress the wrong man. “Then go away”, a surprised driver was told. “A man who has not made mistakes and done the wrong things and learned by those experiences is no good for me”.
‘Tom’ Tuby was a true fairground character. He always wore a blue pin-striped shirt, a blue over coat and a top hat. And many of his adult patrons became almost friends as they attended his fairs year in and year out.
And for these, there was usually a glass of whisky and a chat when the ‘penny showman’ was in town. It has to be remembered that while people like ‘Tom’ Tuby spend most of their time in their living wagons, this was by choice. He bought a house in Doncaster for this final years but this could hardly have been better than his magnificent ‘home on wheels’. Built by Orton and Spooner, the inside ‘well’ gave more room despite the fact it had to conform to railway tunnel sizes. There was a handsome clerestory roof, and inside was a unique form of opulence. Mahogany panelling, superb cut glass and mirrors, top quality carpets and furnishings and a highly ornate ceiling.
A fitting home for a man whose name became legend in the areas he travelled. And a man whose efforts brought relief for thousands of those who were less well off. One engine rarely mentioned in Tuby stories is the Foster No 14403, James Walter.
This was a temporary replacement for The Councillor and was brought from Carrbrook, Sheffield by their driver, Jim Lewis with another fairground personality, ‘Hoopla Jack’. James Walter was immediately coupled up to the three abreast. But was anything but successful. Within a short time, George Thomas Tuby sent Jim Lewis with the engine to Doncaster where it was left. Jim Lewis last saw it in 1933 or 1934 at Wigan May Fair, coupled to W.H.Marshall’s Hey Day and driven by Ernest Marshall. Away from stem, however, George Rhodes Tuby’s belief in the fairground fraternity finding their transport in vehicles which the armed forces no longer required at the end of the war, came true when he was able to purchase a Mack from a sale at Kirmington airfield in Lincolnshire and a Scammell from a similar sale at Byrom Park near Knottingly, Ferry Bridge. The Mack cost him £90 and the Scammell £450 and this was without a gear box. It had to be re-built by George Rhodes before he could use it.
The Mack was a petrol engined vehicle but George Rhodes decided to convert it to diesel. In 1951 a small engineering firm near Coalville in Leicestershire, helped him fit a diesel engine he had obtained himself.
It cost £155 for the fitting and the necessary parts needed for the conversion. George considered it money well spent with diesel about 3d a gallon compared with 10 ½d of that petrol cost. And daughter Pauleen recalls the story of the shock showmen suffered when George Rhodes got his first diesel engine. It was about 1937 when he shattered the old stream ideas and thinking. He bought a Blackstone engine, which was started by a small motor cycle type J.A.P. engine, as scrap and it was all in pieces. But he repaired and assembled it and connected a generator to it. It was fixed to a car chassis and towed about by a motor car. All the others had their traction engines or centre engines which had to get steam up before they could operate the rides. George Rhodes spent the afternoon in the swimming baths while the others were getting steam up. And when he returned, everyone, including his mother, seeing Norah standing there with no fire, thought they would never open that night. No one had seen the Blackstone running because he had worked on it in private. Imagine their disbelief, after hours of work getting traction and centre engines ready, to see young George walk up to his Blackstone, kick the J.A.P. off and he was ready, the first to open. These were the days when the fair would open at dinner time as the workers came out of the factories for their break. In the past it had been a case of having to get steam up for half an hour and then shut down until 6pm. But George Rhodes changed all that. Showmen were seeing for the first time their true future. A means whereby merely pressing a button was going to see the rides ready to operate.