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It was in 1901 that that compact development of British traction-engine design, the Foden steam wagon, made its first public appearance, and this was in connection with its participation in the War Office Trials for steam wagons of that year. The Mann cart and wagon, with loco boiler, had preceded it by six months, at the third Liverpool trials. It may be recalled that this evolution in the construction of steam-propelled self-contained units, caused a very considerable sensation in those early days when many manufacturers were experimenting with all kinds of arrangements of boiler and engine for this class of plant. It at once met with general approval because of the obvious practicability of its general scheming.
Hard luck attended the 1901 Peden participant, it will ir recalled, the existence of a grass-covered ditch, 'unsuspected by the driver, putting the lorry hors de combat in an entirely unanticipated manner. That initial set-back was a disappointment of only a temporary nature to these Foden pioneers. To-day there is an overwhelming number of this handy type of machine and of other makes which have been frankly moulded upon its sensible design. The Foden-model wagon is almost as familiar on our highways as a type, as is the taxicab or the motorbus.
Yet, here, in the middle of 1915, at a time when the whole of our civilian activities are obsessed by the greatest war of the world, it has suddenly been dis covered that the view past the funnel of a steam wagon of this type is not so clear as it should be, according to regidations.
We can only presume that it is the excessive zeal of a solitary City policeman which has suddenly brought about this epoch-making discovery. It is not to be presumed that it has taken the City of London Police fourteen years to discover that the Foden funnel is in the way. Constructors of steam wagons of this type are, it will be found, quite ready frankly to admit that the view obtainable by the driver of one of those wagons is not properly effective When he insists upon driving while he is sitting down, but they with right, maintain that this is not the correct position for the driver when he is actually steering and controlling hi s engine. Such seats as are' usually provided are hinged and are only intended to be employed when the driver is waiting for a load or, perhaps, when he is driving on a long journey and has reached a stretch of open and perfectly safe highway.- There is evidence of the manufacturers invariable readiness to insure that, so fax as possible, their productions shall be all that they can be made in respect of efficiency and eorrectitude of design, in the fact that prompt steps are already being taken in various directions even to improve on the already effective view which is -obtainable when the driverstands up, as he should do.
There is a legitimate complaint, we submit, concerning-the official attitude in such matters as these. There have been. other similar cases connected with motor vehicles ; a noteworthy one of course, is the sporadic excessive-axle-weight agitation which is A48 noticeable locally from time to time. The circumstance of which we complain is that, in this particu lar instance, the official mind should have taken fourteen years to decide that the Foden funnel and its adjacent arrangement of mechanism are obstructive to the driver's-eye view.
It may be said, and indeed it has been said in respect of the axle-weight discussion, that the Maker is to blame if he has deliberately or by default produced a type of machine which does not comply with the law. The responsibility for such deviation in. the first place is quite correctly, of course, to be placed on the maker's shoulders, but there is additional onus surely in the fact that almost any law or regulation becomes ineffective as it is allowed to become inoperative officially. How many prosecutions are instituted., for example, against drivers of horsevehicles who leave their equipment untethered at the side of the road? The law is very clear that this is an offence, but proceedings are seldom taken.
Can the official mind, after 14 years, decide that the driver of a Foden-type steam wagon cannot see the ground ahead of him effectively? The particular hardship of this suddenly-awakened enthusiasm, at a time when one might imagine such effort might be economically postponed, lies in the facts that acquiescence has induced the building up of a very large business connection without interference, until to-day, and See,ondly and, perhaps, more importantly, that so many users of this class of machine have felt confident, in view of the freedom from interference of the police, that such machines were in full accordance with the regulations.
Steps should be taken to avoid such intervals before the official mind is stirred into activity. Those who make the laws, of course, do not interpret them—in many cases they could not, nor are they required or expected to do so. But it is to be presumed that the other authority, who is charged with insuring that breaches shall not knowingly occur, should move more quickly than at an interval of fourteen years. If wrong is being done or regulations are being disregarded, action should be taken promptly and at once: It should not be left to a solitary policeman, or to his immediate superiors.
The motor vehicle is a legalizederxiaAine and has to be registered, and it owner is taxed and is subject to all kinds of regulations, some of the confusion of which it is hoped that early legislation will re, move. It should be possible, we submit, in view of such status, to submit a new design or a new cornplated machine to some competent ,departmental authority, in order to secure a certificate that that design is in all respects, from a structural point of view, in cOnforMity with the regulations at the time existing. It would not be possible, of course, to secure a certificate as to general fitness of design, but it should not be difficult to avoid such intermittent and irritating investigation as is evidenced in the case we are considering, by something similar to the Board of Trade certificate for boats and ships or to the Public Carriage Office's permits for publicservice motor vehicles in London. It should be settled once and for all that such a machine does not constructionally infringe the national regulations concerning use and construction. There should be no need for local variations. If one cannot ROB past the funnel of a Foden wagon in Blackburn, it is obviously equally difficult to obtain a clear view at Brighton. If an industrious police constable, after fourteen years of inactivity on the part of his superiors, suddenly discovers the obstruction to the view of a steam-wagon driver in King William Street, in the City of London, it is to be presumed similar observations could without difficulty be made by the village policeman in Boscastle or Borth. Regulations of this kind should be national and breaches should be dealt with promptly. Tacit permission to disregard them over a period of fourteen years should negative subsequent official action to put them in operation. If objection can at such an , interval be sustained, negligence is obviously chargeable against officialdom in the interval.
As for the actual breach in this case, if improvement can be effected, even at this late date, the makers of these types of steam wagons will, we feel sure, be the first to do their best to meet objections, so far as is reasonably possible. A.W.W.