Traction engine convoy makes epic trek across Suffolk

Long Shop traction engines

Two Garretts were on display at the Long Shop in Leiston - Empress on the left with its owner John Smith and Charles Baker with Agathis. - Credit: Sam Baker

A steam convoy has made its way across Suffolk for an emotional return to the factory where it was built nearly a century ago.

Charles Baker and Nigel Taylor drove “Agathis”, a Garrett 4CD traction engine from Cornard Mill near Sudbury to Leiston Long Shop, where it was built in 1924, for the museum's big opening weekend.

Agathis burns wood, not coal, and averages 10 pieces to the mile in the fire. The two-day trip used up about two tons of wood and more than 300 gallons of water. Mr Baker bought Agathis with his sister Harriet in 2005 and from 2011 to 2015 it was fully restored. 

Steam convoy

The convoy took two days to travel across Suffolk. - Credit: Sam Baker

Along with the engine, he also bought a living wagon also made by Garretts of Leiston. Later Mr Baker and his wife Sam bought a Garrett trailer and a cart used to carry wood for fuel. The entire road train travelled across Suffolk over two days with Mr Baker and Mr Taylor staying in the living wagon overnight.

The average speed of the convoy was eight to 10 miles an hour - and it took an two hours to build up steam in the morning and an hour to damp down in the evening.

The engine worked commercially for about 25 years after it was bought by a Hengrave-based contractor. It was first restored in 1954 and started a new career visiting steam rallies.

It was joined at the Long Shop by the Empress - another Garrett traction engine paying its first visit back to its birthplace since it was built in 1920.

Traction engines

Empress and Agathis met up at Otley College before completing their journey to Leiston. Empress was driven by Glen Prince and Graham Austin while Nigel Taylor and Charles Baker were in charge of Agathis and its convoy. - Credit: Sam Baker

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The two engines travelled together on Saturday before arriving in Leiston in the afternoon. They spent Sunday at the Long Shop as the museum held a reopening event to mark the start of the summer season.

The Long Shop event was just the first day out for Agathis this year - next month she is due to visit Bressingham Steam Museum on June 26/27. Tickets for that have to be booked in advance.

Mr Baker's family has a long history of operating steam wagons. In 1918 his great grandfather Sydney bought a steam lorry called Arethusa. 

1921 steam picture

In 1921 Charles' Great Grandfather Sydney sold the steam lorry Arethusa to Rackhams of Wickham Market. - Credit: Sam Baker

That ended up being sold to the Rackham family of Deben Mill in Wickham Market in 1921 - and that handover was re-created on last weekend's trip across Suffolk when Agathis stopped off there during the last leg of its journey to Leiston.

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