Cumbrian engineer Alex Sharphouse has achieved his dream of building a classic 20th century steam engine from scratch.
For six years, he was a man with a mission: to recreate Talisman, a Fowler B6 Big Lion Road Locomotive, the ‘King of the Road’ of its era, capable of hauling loads in excess of 100 tonnes.
Now Alex’s journey to re-create Talisman has been captured in a mini-series of films to be shared on Facebook and YouTube in June called “How to Build a Steam Engine with Morris Lubricants”.
Shrewsbury-based Morris Lubricants, one of Europe’s top independent oil blenders and the company’s brand ambassador Guy Martin supported the mammoth task taken on by Alex, 39, who lives at Bouth, near Ulverston in the Lake District, and his small team of enthusiasts.
Only five Fowler B6 Locos were ever made, of which Talisman was one, and the last time one of these steam engines was built was in 1931. Included in the loads Talisman hauled around the country were huge Lancashire boilers.
“I had always wanted a Fowler road loco, but it had been impossible to find the exact one that I wanted, so my wife said: ‘Why don’t you make one?’,” explained Alex, who has been fascinated by steam engines since childhood.
He grew up idolising Fred Dibnah, the late steeplejack and television personality who had a passion for steam and mechanical engineering. It was fitting that Fred’s sons, Jack ad Roger, were part of the Talisman project team.
The story began when Alex bought the company name of John Fowler & Co (Leeds) Ltd, leading manufacturers of steam engines throughout the 1800s and 1900s, who built the original Talisman. The firm supplied its engines to the famous road haulage company Norman E Box, Manchester.
Having acquired the original drawings of Talisman, Alex got the project off the ground with funding from Morris Lubricants, who supported him throughout.
The ambitious project was given a massive boost in 2017 when Alex tracked down and bought a collection of the original Talisman parts from the family of a late collector in the New Forest.
“The paper trail revealed that the original Talisman had been involved in an accident and broke its crank while owned by Pickfords,” explained Alex. “It’s fantastic that we were able to buy these parts, which are a direct connection to the original Talisman.
“In terms of the project, it probably didn’t save us much time because we still had to clean the parts and make good what was worn out. But it was a massive boost and also quite intimidating to have had an original part to work to.”
Because the new engine has some original parts, the DVLA agreed to let Alex register it as Talisman after his painstaking detective work.
Following investment of around £250,000 and years of hard work and challenges recreating the vast majority of Talisman from scratch, Alex unveiled the impressive finished product at Shrewsbury Steam Rally last August to rave reviews and TV coverage.
“The new Talisman exactly matches the original engine, but we have used modern technology to build it, such as laser cutting and 3D moulding,” he explained. “The next generation is not going to be building steam engines; they will be restoring i-pads.
“Give it another 100 years and people are going to be talking about the Talisman as we talk about Stevenson and Brunel. I am a greater believer in Great Britain and keeping the traditional skills alive. We have built something that is going to be here for years and generations to come.”
The new engine weighs 20 tonnes, has back wheels seven feet high, has a nominal 10 horse engine (not to be confused with brake horse power), the equivalent of a very large, modern lorry, a top speed of 20mph on the road and a boiler pressure of 200 PSI. Unusually for locomotives of the time, it is fully sprung.
Future plans include demonstrating the steam engine’s capabilities by pulling a 100-tonne load, just like the original Talisman and a promotional tour in association with Morris Lubricants.
“We are proud to be associated with Morris Lubricants, a British company with such history and style and their support comes from the heart,” said Alex. “It’s a perfect match and the company genuinely believes this was a great thing to do.
“Because the owners are steam enthusiasts, the company was quick to provide extra funding when I found the original Talisman parts. The support from Morris has been fantastic because they have been in business for 150 years and produce high quality products, including oil for steam engines.”
Guy Martin enjoyed contributing to the Talisman build and was very enthusiastic about project. “When I saw the engine for the first time, I thought it was cracking,” he said. “Then I thought who younger than me or Alex is doing this type of thing.
“If we don’t do it, the next generation will be resurrecting spectrums rather than buggering around with steam engines.”
Morris Lubricants’ executive chairman Andrew Goddard said: “It was a massive undertaking to recreate what in the steam world is a legendary engine but, knowing Alex and the high standard of his work, I was in no doubt that Talisman would be spot on.
“As a company with a heritage in steam, we are very proud to be associated with this venture and have some exciting plans to promote Talisman when the Coronavirus pandemic has cleared.”
Members of the Goddard family are keen steam enthusiasts themselves, owning two Burrell traction engines and a Sentinel steam waggon. Andrew’s brother, Edward, is Shrewsbury Steam Rally chairman and their parents, David and Diana, are directors of Morris Lubricants.
Morris Lubricants has been manufacturing lubricants in Shrewsbury since 1869 and is new recognised as one of Europe’s leading oil blenders and marketers, with a reputation for quality and service.
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