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Feats of Endurance


Like other manufacturers, Thornycroft recognised the value of publicity gained from the good running and reliability of its vehicles in arduous conditions. These were feats of endurance not just for the lorries, but also for their drivers.

River crossing in India

Thornycroft lorries were used by the Indian Army, and performed well under arduous conditions. Sgt B C Tinton of the Army Service Corps was in charge of a convoy ferrying supplies from a railhead to a location 70 miles (113km) away, using various makes of lorry, including Thornycrofts. The lorries needed to be worked intensively to maintain supplies, but the greatest obstacle to progress was crossing the River Tochi in the North-West Frontier Province, when in flood. Crossing was by means of a causeway at right angles to the river, normally covered by 3-4ins (7.6-10.2cm) of water. However, Sgt Tinton wrote of an occasion in 1923 when the causeway was impassable for almost any type of motor-transport vehicle, owing to floods caused by heavy rains and snow melting further up country. The water depth rose to 3ft (0.91m) with a flow strength to match. For three days no attempt was made to cross the causeway with lorries, but some stores were carried across on camels. This was unsatisfactory as the stores still had to be carried some 19 miles (31km) after the crossing, and, despite using 400 camels, the stores could not be passed quickly enough to meet demand.

On the third day Sgt Tinton suggested to the CO that Thornycroft lorries, with their relatively highly-placed carburettors and magnetos, could pass through the stream. Permission was given to try, but the first vehicle gave out on Sgt Tinton in mid-stream with water in the carburettor. He cleaned out the carb in the swirling waters and restarted the lorry, which made it to the other side. The strength of the current would have swept a lorry with disc wheels off the causeway, but, fortunately, the Thornycroft had spoked wheels. Using his ingenuity, Sgt Tinton made up a makeshift protection for the carburettor of a second lorry and crossed the stream in one go. Using the same method, he managed to get 15 lorries across that day, three of which got stuck with water-logged carbs which had to be cleaned out. However, with 15 vehicles on the other side, it was possible to maintain a better supply rate by using camels to cross the river.

The river was still in flood after several days, and, with no sign of abatement, it was decided to use six Thornycroft vehicles for towing the other vehicles across fully-loaded. About 50 Albion and Peerless vehicles were transferred the first day, and the exercise was still in progress when Sgt Tinton wrote his report of the incident. All carburettors and magnetos were dismantled after towing the lorries through the stream, but it was more satisfactory than transferring supplies between lorries and camels.

South African success

In the first week of August 1925, the Transvaal Automobile Club ran its annual three day reliability trial over a 415 mile (668km) triangular course, starting and finishing at Johannesburg. This was the first year that a section of the trials has been set aside for commercial vehicles. However only four commercials were entered, and two of them did not start. One of the two entrants left in the running was a standard Thornycroft A1 1.5 ton (1,524kg) lorry entered by the company's Transvaal agents; the other was an American 'speed wagon'. If competition for the Thornycroft only came from one vehicle, then simply to complete the trial without any major problems would have been an achievement as the route was very punishing.

Although the first 76 miles (122km) of the first day's driving were fair, the remaining 121 miles (195km) were very demanding. The second day (159 miles (259km)) was worse, and all but the last 20 miles (32km) were so bad that car drivers had to keep within 10mph (16kph) over long stretches for their own safety. On the third day a distance of 59 miles (95km) was covered, and included a 29 mile (47km) section so treacherous that the Roads Department of the Transvaal always recommended that drivers should take an alternative, much longer route (56 miles (90km)) to avoid it. The surface of the third day's route ranged from deep fine sand to pot-holes several inches deep. The route included a 35 mile (56km) section with no side drainage, for which rain water was carried away by the installation, at right angles, of 4in (10cm) high ridges about every 60yds (55m) over which vehicles had to be driven at walking pace!

The two lorries were carrying a full load over the entire course. Indeed, the Thornycroft was carrying 1.96 tons (1,991kg) of scrap iron, considerably more than its 1.5 ton (1,524kg) rated load. The driver. Mr N Robertson of Robertson Moss, Thornycroft's Transvaal agents, was accompanied by an official observer. To their great credit, both lorries completed the course. Final results for each vehicle were calculated according to a formula based on petrol consumption, load-carrying ability, and operating cost per ton-mile. In addition, an efficiency factor was calculated separately, starting off at 100 marks and deducting marks for repairs en route and for breakages revealed by examination at the finish. Efficiency marks deducted for the Thornycroft were as follows:

  • Half mark for tightening a front headlight (possibly a mounting);
  • Six marks for starting up on the second (very cold) morning. The Thornycroft was evidently reluctant to start at the low ambient temperature;
  • Two marks for lifting the bonnet to tickle the carburettor. Tickling involved manually filling the carburettor float chamber with petrol to enable starting, using a purpose-designed fitting incorporated with the carb;
  • Two marks for tightening the petrol pipe union.

From the above bullet points, total efficiency deductions were 10.5 marks, giving an efficiency for the Thornycroft of 100-10.5 = 89.5.

Results: The Thornycroft A1 recorded the following figures. Petrol consumption: 14.39mpg (19.6 litres/100km), average speed: 19.37mph (31.17kph), load carrying ability: 42.48 ton-miles/hour (69.44 tonne-km/hour), operating cost: 2.09d/ton-mile (0.53p/tonne-km). These figures gave a mark of 100 using the formula (not shown here). Combining this mark with efficiency marks gave a total mark of 100+89.5 = 189.5. This result was better than that of the American 'speed wagon' (176.5), thus the Thornycroft A1 took the Stanton Trophy for best performance. That both lorries completed this tough event was an achievement in itself.

Among several laudatory newspaper reports, perhaps the most telling was The Johannesburg Sunday Times "Both the American speed wagon and the Thornycroft were heavily laden, carrying a normal load. That they should cover over 400 miles (644km) of execrable roads with practically clean sheets and not a symptom of engine trouble, is the strongest argument to the wide adoption of this form of transportation as an important auxiliary to the South African Railway". And this was in 1925!

A Thornycroft A1 secured the Stanton Trophy for the 1926 event, averaging 24.97mph (40.18kph) with a full load - notably faster than the previous year.

Across Australia by Thornycroft

In 1926 a Thornycroft A1 1.5 ton (1,524kg) lorry completed a trip across Australia from Adelaide to Port Darwin and return. The double journey involved about 3,600 miles (5,792km) of tough driving, much of it over rough country and mere tracks. Loaded to capacity, the A1 returned 14mpg (20.1 litres/100km) and there was no mechanical trouble whatsoever during the trip.

The journey was organised by Capt E D A Bagot, to assess the possibility of running a regular road mail service between Adelaide and Port Darwin. His party travelled in three US-built Studebaker cars, while the Thornycroft lorry was used for carrying petrol and oil supplies needed for the journey. However, before the journey started, the Thornycroft laid down advance supplies en route at Alice Springs. This involved the Thornycroft ferrying the supplies from Oodnadatta (the northern terminus of the South Australian Railway) to Alice Springs. The lorry then returned to Oodnadatta (a round trip of about 570 miles (917km)) for the return train trip back to Adelaide.

The Thornycroft had to cross rivers, heavy sand tracks, areas strewn with large loose stones and other difficult stretches existing in the Northern Territory. In a letter to Thornycroft's agents in Adelaide - Duncan and Fraser, Ltd - Capt Bagot wrote: "Those people who have a knowledge of the conditions of Central Australia, must marvel at the performance….". Of the vehicle, Capt Bagot wrote: "it never failed to accomplish anything it was asked to do".

Thornycroft, whose slogan was 'TRUST A THORNYCROFT WITH YOUR TRANSPORT', commented on the Australian trip thus: "A Lorry that can "carry on" so creditably under such arduous conditions can safely be relied upon to give 100% satisfaction in ordinary service. No better proof could be given of the ample reserves of power and strength possessed by Thornycroft A1 Motor Vehicles". Biased, perhaps, but true.