The Mamod Steam Roller and Traction Engine

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A few pages dedicated to the two most successful and memorable engines ever made by Mamod*
*In my view!

Mamod's best ever mobile?, the ultra rare '67 straight lever SR1a

The steam roller and traction engine are about the most widely recognised steam toys made by Mamod. Both engines have been in production for over 40 years and the quantities for each is in to the hundreds of thousands. In this short piece I will  look at the history of these two famous engines and give some background to the models which everyone recognises as 'Mamod'.

The Steam Roller SR1 and SR1a
It was at the end of the 1950s or begining of the sixties that Eric Malins came across the Mastrand Roller in a Gamages catalogue, it was this diminuative steam engine which was to be the inspiration for Mamod's first true mobile - the SR1 Steam Roller.
The SR1 roller appeared in January 1961 at the trade shows of the time. The engine was bigger than the Mastrand and featured highly polished aaluminum rolls, along with beautiful bright green and red paint. The roller oozed charm and was an instant winner. This new mobile was a nifty little mover and scurried along the floor at a not too realistic rate - as they still do to this day. This didn't seem to put off new owners one jot and the engine quickly became a best seller.
The roller of 1961, although looking identicle to today's version was made at a time when automation and rationalisation of parts was not so common at the Camden Street factory. Closer inspection with todays roller will reveal a number of features no longer in the current model. Firstly screw fixings were very much in evidence around the smoke box joint to the boiler and on the top of the firebox and engine frame. These were very much a more 'steam orientated' item than the pop rivets which were to replace them in 1965. Looking at the rear of the engine it will be noticed that the very first engines had no tow hook, this was because the brass vapourising burner was rivetted to the scuttle front plate. Looking even closer we notice that cranks were brassed and connected to a thinner crakshaft, they sometimes had the word 'Mamod' on them too. The connecting rods on some early rollers had integral eyelet type ends too. The main differences apparent to any collector will be the lack of direction control and the wheels or rolls. The roller did not become bi-directional until 1967 (with the introduction of the SR1a) and the aluminium rolls were replaced by mazak sometime around 1968. The turned brass whistle was retained until 1972.
More subtle changes like the colour of the Mamod green has varied over the years (see accompanying images). Initial rollers were apple green, which, over the years has matured into a dark 'brunswick' type green. The front smokebox 'lost' its Birmingham tag to the frontal text when Mamod moved to Brierly Hill works, although the name persisted on the front for a good few years afterwards - to use up stocks no doubt! Todays frontal treatment on the smokebox harks back to the very first Mamod decals of 1937-40. Steering rods changed from the early red painted types with more rounded ends through to the plain wooden ended versions as we see today. The plain sided firebox cowl gained extra holes around 1972 to accommodate the SW1 chassis girders, the SW1 sharing the same firebox as the SR and TE.
Other major changes apart from the use of rivets and direction controls are the introduction of solid fuel burners in 1977 and use of sight glasses in and around 1977/78. The adoption of different boxes is maybe a less well know change as the very first examples were plain cardboard with red and black letterpress line and tone graphics and typogrpahy. These were changes to the full colour 'blue box' types around 1968, which were in turn changed to the full colour 'white box' types around 1972. These were subsequently updated to full colour brown and full colour grey types in the mid/late 1970s.

TEs dating from 1967 and 1990

The Mamod Traction Engine TE1/TE1a/b
The Mamod Traction Engine (or Steam Tractor as it is also known) was first unveiled to the trade in January 1963, later in that year it was launched to the general public and quickly established itself as a number one best seller. More TEs and TE1a engines have been sold than any other mobile engine. It has become what most people regard as a 'Mamod' along with the SR1/a roller to some extent too. Although the engine is not a scale model of an English traction engine it has all the right ingredients to give it that quintessental English Traction Engine look, thanks in many respects to the clever die casting of the rear wheels.
The first Traction Engines (TEs) screwed together like their mobile brother the roller. Early TEs also had smooth canopies (later versions were ridged- from late 63-early 64?) again using a rather complicated (but strong) screw and bolt arrangement. Canopy graphics were simple gold decals - the later red type one intitially not being used. The engine as it was first designed made clever use of an exhaust throttle, in effect a choke, which gave some degree of speed control. It was still quick though as was its brother the Steam Roller. The engine also had a tow hook, which projected through the scuttle end, since the new steel 'pan type' burners had a handle which doubled up as a tow hook eyelet. Incidentally the SR adopted this arrangement too, thus bringing to an end the use of the brass type vapourising lamp being rivetted to its (SR) scuttle. Both engines had nothing to pull though (unless you exclude Meccano contraptions!) until 1969 with the introduction of the Open Wagon (OW1) and the Lumber Wagon (LB1). The TE continued in this form until 1965 when the screws were replaced by pop rivets, the canopy construction was simplified, although the copper funnel clip remained.  The major change to the TE came in 1967, when along with the roller and the stationary engine range, Malins gave the whole range a technical as well as cosmetic make-over.
From 1967 the TE1 Traction Engine became the TE1a Traction Engine, the 'a' suffix denoting the fact that it now had a reversing lever. The pipework was revised and the exhaust throttle dropped. Initially like the SR1a the new TE1a had a straight control lever, this was soon changed as accessing it from beneath the canopy was somewhat fiddly! The very first TE1a engines also carried a TE1 smokebox, that is the TE1 name was still on the front of the casting; presumably Malins' had a stock to use up! The use of a direction control made for a much more realistic and controllable model, sales went from strength to strength. The rest of the engine was basically unchanged from the previous TE1, there were small incremental changes to front axles, canopy clips and firebox sides in the next five years. In 1972, like all whistle equipped engines, the brass turned whistle was dropped and replaced by the spring reset whistle. 1972 saw the introdution of the Steam Wagon and hence TE1a engine aquired extra holes in the firebox sides, which were used to mount the SWs chassis plates - the TE/SR and SW all used the same firebox components.
As with all the Mamod range 1977 saw the introduction of solid fuel burners and sight glasses, although curiously some still used overflow plugs but with the new modified firebox end (in the form of a cut-out) to accommodate the new glass. The TE has carried on largely un-altered to this day, save for the varying paint colours on the boilers and the introduction of a brass version (TE1ab) with brown wheels in the 1990s along with the wheel hubs being made larger on the back castings some time in the late 1980s. With the production run of the TE well over 500,000 units now and the Roller over 200,000 units - these two staples of the Mamod range, irrespective of who owned Mamod (during the upheavals of the 1980s), are as popular now as they have always been.

Mamod Steam Rollers 1961-1973

For detailed images of the roller and tractor - click here!