Chariots of War I Have Driven.
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No. 5.—THE COMMER.
Experiences at the Front With an Old Commer.
By One of Our "Despatches" Contributors.
The Commer's proved and recognized success as a chariot of war is no matter for surprise when one considers that the makers were among the earliest to take up commercial-vehicle manufacture in a, commercial manner, They seem to have determined from the start to depart from passenger-car design and practice wherever these did not accord with their ideas of suitability in a commercial vehicle. Consequently, the Commer. has many special features ; it is in some respects unique, and decidedly is not a strengthened or extra-heavy touring car, but a real heavy-duty vehicle.,
Allotted the Veteran Lorry.
I remember With something of affection the old Commer that I had in charge to bring Overseas. Disappointment at being allotted the veteran lorry of those detailed to our newly-formed company, an ammunition park, was my first feeling. Secretly my hopes had been built around some new vehicle embodying my cherished ideals, and which should always be my pleasure and pride. I had hoped for a subsidy type Leyland or Dennis, a Napier or such-like make, built on what I might term conventional heavy-vehicle lines. But no, Fate and the staffsergeant who told us off to our lorries decreed that I was to adopt this early effort of one of the pioneer motor-lorry makers. I must confess -that I regarded its chain drive and chain cases with disfavour and had never fancied the Commer gearbox and gearchange control. In case any 'reader is not familiar with the unique gearbox of the Commer, I may explain that the change-gear lever is mounted under the steering wheel. The method of changing gear, either up or down, is as follows :—The lever is moved to the notch for the higher or lower gear which the driver believes will be required for approaching conditions, but the gear does not change until the driver declutches, which he does at what he judges to be the right moment for changing gear. With this system gears can be changed silently, without damage to gearwheels or strain on the transmission, and quicker than usual, provided the driver foresees the need for the change instead of waiting until a change is imperative before he commences operations. Some judgment of relative engine and vehicle speeds 'is also necessary, as with the ordinary type of gearbox, Some Objections to Chain Drive.
My main objections to chain drive, viz., higher cost of maintenance because of chain and sprocket renewals, and noise do not apply in the case of a war lorry. But the danger of incorrect chain adjustment, the cleaning difficulty and extra parts for attention at the hands of the driver remain.Such were may ideas, and hence my initial disappointment at finding myself driver of this old Commer.
However, I had already realized that one cannot pick and choose one's job in the Army ; and having fully made up my mind when enlisting to accept with composure whatever the gods of chance might send in the way of duties or experiences, I examined my new charge with determination to make the best of her.
Not In a New Condition.
Minor adjustments and repairs had to be made at once, one of them being to a ball-joint of the throttle rod which was held together with copper wire. There were no tools whatsoever on the lorry, but on pointing this out an attenuated kit was provided from stores. I mention these details to indicate, that my, Commer was not in new condition.
Never having mastered the Corn
mer Co.'s alphabetical classification of their various models, the number-plate conveyed no definite information to me. But I was left in no doubt about the ripe age of this lorry by a civilian expert who came round apparently m the capacity of adviser to our company officers. He looked at her rather dubiously and prophetically explained that the fan was of an old type which might give trouble but could be replaced by one of an improved design. I say prophetically because, curiously enough, on the first run, which was to a certain port, the pillar supporting the fan broke within 20 miles of the start. The fan, whirled about by
the belt, damaged the radiator,' water pipes and rubber connections. These were patched with insulating tape and wire, and we soon caught up with 'the main convoy which had left us behind. Convoys move slowly and the free-lance lorry easily catches them ; but overtaking is another matter and by no means easy unless the column has been well drilled into keeping the side of the road. Motorcyclists and drivers of light cars or ambulances can tell tales about that. The incident, of the smashed fan, for the fan itself had suffered heavily, proved to be the first of a series of roadside happenings to my Commer, all of which, however, yielded a certain amount of interest as experiences. No Food or Drink for 20 Hours.
Otherwise_ this drive was notable because no. food or drink was officially provided for any of us for some 20 hours, i.e., from 3 a.m. till 10 p.m. Moreover, no opportunity. was afforded for buying anything, so we were doubly grateful to residents on the route who distributed cups of tea and snacks to a fortunate few.
The Interest of an Old "Barge."
For some reasons it is preferable to be the driver of an old lorry than a new one on war service. Witn a first-class new vehicle one's job is apt to become uneventful and monotonous, whereas the old " barges " can generally be relied upon for unreliability, and interesting experiences result.
My second day on the Commer, was largely spent in driving about docks, picking up and distributing rations. On this work I had to take fnylorrx into all sorts of holes and corners, over very rough tracks and across scores of railway lines at places where no level crossings had been made. I found the Cornseergear change and control easy, in these trying conditions ; in fact, I got to like them. At the same time I-discovered the steering lock was hardly adequate. Perhaps the makers of this excellent machine have been influenced by the. tendency of some drivers to abuse a big steering lock, thereby throwing a .great strain on wheels, axle and springs. On war service a big steering lock is desirable for Such operations as drawing out of a closely-parked stationary column of vehicles, driving through awkward gateways with overhanging
c4B timber or steel loads, while sharp turns and, in hilly country, hairpin bends are not infrequently to be negotiated.
The arrangement of the throttle control lever so that it can be used with equal facility by either right or left hand is unusual, but a distinct advantage where only hand fuel-control is fitted. Nevertheless I missed the more usual accelerator pedal, and my personal tastes incline to that style of control of the fuel supply. I have never understood ' why some makers, and sound makers like Albion and Commer, omit to provide a foot accelerator. Undoubtedly it is the more convenient for town work or any traffic, driving.
Commer Always Ready to Start.
One feature of this Commer lorry which I much appreciated during the few days was in charge of her was the readiness of the motor to .start at any time, warm or cold. I have since noticed the same thing in a marked degree with other Commers which have come under my observation. The starting handle was substantial and of just the right proportions, with a comfortable grip, and so arranged that it was bound to remain in line with the crankshaft. These are small matters, but one comes across so many lorries with badly-designed or badly-made starting cranks that they are worthy of mention.
Gear Ratio that Suits Worst Conditions.
While most British-made lorries give one the impression of being geared too high for the heavy work on war service, the Commer combines a gear ratio that suits the worst conditions with a fair turn of speed ; that is to say, speed without the feeling that one is overdriving the engine. Yet this maker does not use large engines. Is it that the free use of ball bearings throughout the chassis helps to make the Commer transmission ' more than usually efficient ?
The Oil Tell-tale Obscured by War Paint.
The man who gave my lorry its
• coat of war paint had done his job thoroughly rather than with discretion. He had completely obscured with paint both glasses of the oil tell-tale on top of the dashboard, so one of my earliest cares was to scrape this surplus paint off. The Commer engine is lubricated by what I venture to say is the best all-round system for a. war lorry. Oil is pumped from the reservoir at the bottom of the crankcase into troughs which are kept constantly full, and is there picked up by the connecting rods and thrown on to cylinder walls and gudgeon bearings, also the ball bearings of the crankshaft. Between the reservoir and the troughs is a filter, also the tell-tale in full view of the driver, who can see at a glance whether oil is circulating.
Pipes Large Enough to Deal with Viscous Oil.
The pipes are of adequate size to deal with oil rendered extra viscous by cold weather. This is in contrast with the practice of a number of makers who use small-bore Pipes along which motor oil will not flow when cold, or gauges which are 'overstrainedthrough excessive pressure resulting from cold, thick oil being. pumped into them. On war serum one has to use the engine oil which happens to be available, and it is essential that the engine of the war chariot be designed to use oil of any ordinary viscosity. Some days we get oil i _which s fluid as paraffin ; on. others oil is iss_ued which will barelY flow at atmospheric tem. perature. The glasses of the Commer tell-tale never became obscured by oil splashes so as to render, the tell-tale temporarily worthless, a common failing with sight
Springs and Absorbers Appre
The road springs on Commers are unusually long, while this particular one was fitted with spiral shock absorbers at the rear ends of the back springs. Usually we carried little or no load, so I had good reason for appreciating this combination of long flexible springs and shock absorbers. Road surfaces were generally bad, or abominable, having been injured by the transit of hundreds of motor lorries over them to the Western Front.
(To be continued.)