The National Traction Engine Trust

Originally published in 'Old Glory' March 2012

THE CONVERSION DEBATE TOLLS ON:
A commentary and view from the NTET

Does the debate have much room to roll on? The view of all reasonable and responsible people is pretty well settled. Your correspondent, Steve Arrowsmith of the Road Roller Association says conversions are A BAD THING. Lyndon Shearman says the same and so does David Dean (OG 264). In fact 99% of people I know agree that conversions are a bad thing and so does the NTET.

However David Dean does question the ongoing commitment of the NTET to this as a policy and says that “there is now someone on the committee who is in the process of destroying a roller”. No, not on the Executive Committee, but Yes, someone has joined the General Council and they are in the process of rebuilding an engine and in doing so converting it from a roller into a tractor form. The NTET most definitely does NOT condone this and is opposed to this.

Many people still misunderstand the management of the Trust. The only committee is the Executive Committee that runs the Trust on a day to day basis. The Executive is 100% answerable for everything that it does or proposes to do, to the General Council. The GC is a very large body of unlimited numbers and exists to a.) represent the interests and input of members in the closest possible manner and b.) to scrutinise and ratify, or not, the actions of the Executive to ensure that the wishes of the membership are followed.

The policy of the NTET is very clear, and I quote from the full page regarding conversions in our recent and well distributed leaflet “A Brief Introduction to Traction Engines”. There are two pictures, a before and after, one of a lovely Fowler roller in preservation and something that looks like a tart’s handbag. I quote….

“One of the major objectives of the NTET is to preserve our steam heritage, including the original design of our road steam vehicles, their use and maintenance. Therefore the Trust does not support in any way the conversion of any steam road vehicle into a form which that particular machine never had during its working life.”

Similarly The NTET does not condone false histories. That is simple dishonesty and serves no good interest.

So far, so clear. BUT we must add, the NTET is the National TE Trust and is a charitable body and as such is a broad church that welcomes sinners in and has a clear role to represent the entire road steam movement. Therefore the Trust is always inclusive and works through education and persuasion, not to be radical or fundamentalist and not to create splits or “us and them” situations. Arguments are never won by confrontation. It is impossible for the Trust or anyone else for that matter to “crack down hard” on the practice of conversions, it simply is not illegal.

One area where we, the Trust, believe that the debate could roll forward is to look at the ethics in detail. What was ethically acceptable in 1962 or 1972 is not acceptable in 2002 or 2012. In the 60’s rollers were being torched, stripped stuffed and mounted in playgrounds and being restored. Conversion was ethically acceptable, then. The ethics of steam rallies is also important. In the future they will have an important role to play in presentation and education, but no one can, nor should, dictate to them what, where and how they display converted engines.

Similarly, the remains of engines so far left unrestored become fewer and more skeletal, and more often from foreign imports. If an engine is recreated out of a rusty boiler and cylinder of a roller and a few other bits and pieces, where do we draw the fine line between, a “restoration”, a “recreation”, a “replica” and a “conversion”. How many original bits are needed and how many are too many?

The Trust very much welcomes individuals such as the writers of last month’s correspondence and to OG for its article in helping keep the subject well up the preservation agenda. Members can always influence policy debate directly via the General Council, if only more members make their contributions to the debate, then it will progress.

Conversions are A BAD THING. There is no hypocrisy and the NTET has no intention of being reticent or quiet on conversions. The only conversion that the NTET will condone will be that of a General Council colleague who eventually sees the light and understands that original is best.

John Paulson,
Head of Communications,
on behalf of the National Traction Engine Trust.

 

27 Feb 2012