Brighton Here I Come – But Only Just By O.A.

Denly The Invalid Tricycle Association’s London to Brighton Run has a particular fascination for me. It is not held frequently - thank goodness – in fact, the first was in the Autumn of 1958 and the second was in the Autumn of 1960 and is the subject of this harrowing tale. The question I ask myself before departure is, will my old faithful tricycle get me to Brighton, and I can never answer the question until after I have arrived! A Veteran Among Tricycles My invalid tricycle is an Argson de luxe, which has seen much service and is coming up to thirteen years old, and although a post-war model it bears all the features of a pre-war type. I am sure the makers will not mind my referring to it as a bone-shaker and the exposed-to-all-weathers variety. In fact, I noted at the start from London’s Festival Hall Car Park that amongst all the other invalid tricycles competing there was only one other open machine. But although my tricycle has some claim to antiquity amongst present-day tricycles, the engine has a much greater claim to antiquity. The original 147 c.c. Villiers two-stroke engine took such a bashing in its first year of life in driving me and my tricycle across the Swiss Alps and later through Holland, Belgium and the Ardennes, that the Villiers Engineering Co. Ltd. Kindly replaced it with a more powerful 196 c.c. engine. This engine continued to give good service, although by the 1958 London to Brighton Run it had begun to emit bronchitic noises as well as clouds of smoke, and could certainly be classed temperamental. In spite of several stops I reached Brighton that year, but it was clearly high time for an engine overhaul. So towards the the end of 1958 I called at the Villiers Service Department proudly carrying the engine which I had removed from my tricycle. The look on the Service Manager’s face convinced me that he had had a shock. He turned to a mechanic and said “Take it away!”. This hurt me as I was very attached to that engine and I asked what was wrong. He replied that he might be able to find some spare parts for such an old engine if he circularised Villiers agents throughout the country, and this from the birthplace of the Villiers engine! Engine No. 392/150 turned out to be a Mark 2E engine, which went out of production in 1938, and to this day I am still ignorant of its actual year of birth. Face-lift The Service Department worked wonders on this old engine. The magneto was described as shocking; a new crankshaft was needed; air was getting in through the bearings so new bearings were fitted; and a new big end and a new piston completed the job. They had certainly put new life into the old engine, and after I had fitted it back into the tricycle the engine fired at the first pull of the levers, and it was running so sweetly that I almost missed the old knocking noises.

During 1959 the Argson tricycle was fitted with a new lighting system and twin rear lights that really worked, and a pair of trafficators that also worked. I was truly proud of the old tricycle that had at one time cost me £5 to purchase from the Ministry of Pensions. At that time it was L.P.B. 98 at the front and L.B.P 98 at the back, but even the number plates have been modernised to agree back and front. I set off So in the Autumn of 1960 I set off in high hopes that I was about to enjoy a trouble-free run from London to Brighton. The previous afternoon a rush charge had been put into the battery to ensure working trafficators for the run and lights on the last stage of the journey back home. The weather could not have been more threatening, and the night before I had started in a downpour. Fortunately it was only eight miles to the Wolverhampton railway station and the first stage of the journey to London was safely completed by rail. I could hardly believe my luck when the rain stopped the next morning, and I set off from the Festival Hall Car Park in fine conditions, but well protected against the wet and cold. As I hummed along at a steady 17 m.p.h., through Brixton, Streatham, Purley and Redhill, gaily passing the scenes of my many breakdowns on the previous run, my thoughts turned lightly to the speech I would make after accepting the award for winning the 1960 London to Brighton Run. At the official half-way stop at the Thorns Hotel the tricycle and engine were runnung as sweetly as ever, and with a song in my heart I decided to make the return journey from Brighton to London by road, catching the 6 p.m. train from Paddington and I would be back home in Brewood shortly after 9 p.m.! Singing as I go My tricycle was so well under control that I was able to gain a little time to stop for some liquid refreshment at noon and later to meet my parents at the roadside and stop for a chat. The Sussex Downs looked wonderful and I am sure I was singing aloud as I swept down into Brighton and weaved my way through the traffic. 100 yards to go and already I could see the inviting sea ahead. But it was not to be; the engine stopped and no efforts of mine would start it again! Up came a policeman who commented on the fine place I had chosen to stop. Chosen indeed! So near and yet so far. Determined not to be beaten I handpropelled myself to the Palace Pier and left along Madeira Drive to the finishing line. Encumbered with all my anti-rain gear, the sweat was pouring off me, and alas I was the last to cross the finishing line. The trouble was soon diagnosed, or so I thought. I had run out of petrol although I was a little puzzled to know what had happened to two gallons in a journey of less than sixty miles. However a gallon was added and I was able to head the convoy proudly along the front to the Metropole, and it was only by hanging on to Marjorie’s machine that I avoided the indignity of sitting in the middle of the road whilst the convoy of tricycles passed! Tea was by then out of the question,

but I was greatly touched to receive as a consolation prize a small dish depicting a 1903 Daimler with a fringed canopy above. Northward Ho! After dismantling and reassembling the carburettor I set off for London, suffering only one further stoppage along the Brighton front before heading north. Progress was good to start with, but as the stoppages became more frequent I worked my way through the trains I wouldn’t catch from Paddington. Around Gatwick the rain started and it was soon dark, to add to my depression. There were many offers of help, including many from returning I.T.A. members, who had presumably by then enjoyed a good tea in Brighton. Yet again the carburettor was dismantled, this time by the capable hands of Mr. Jones of South London – who I learnt afterwards was the winner of the Run – who laconically commented that it was about time I treated myself to a new carburettor. No sooner had he disappeared into the dark and rain than my engine stopped again. By this time it was bucketing down so I hand-propelled into the shelter of a garage to discover my petrol pipe completely adrift! Disintegrating rubber from a short connection piece had been getting into the carburettor and had been the cause of all the trouble. So fitted up with a new connecting piece – what a bit of luck to find one on a Sunday night – I set off again into the dark and sleeting rain, only to discover that the carburettor refused to turn off the supply of petrol and I could not stop the engine racing away. But that was better than not going at all, and by that time I was so tired and wet, that I was determined to keep going in an attempt to make Paddington in time for the last train back to Wolverhampton that night. Up the final straight So with my engine roaring away and struggling with the steering as I had a wheelchair slung on the side of the tricycle, I ploughed on towards London, finally charging through London’s traffic feeling as if I had assumed the cloak of Mephistopheles. One kind soul, after depositing his family at home, returned in his car to help me on my way, to be informed by the A.A. that I had last been seen the London side of Croydon in a cloud of steam and smoke! With less than five minutes to spare I roared into Paddington Station, and I treated myself to a first-class compartment and a stiff drink on the journey back to Wolverhampton. I cannot recall ever being so wet in my life before, and I hope never again. As I set off from Wolverhampton station I discovered that I had no lights – the trafficator switch had been knocked on in the guards’ van at the beginning of the train journey and for the past three hours the battery had steadily drained away. At the dead of night and in pitch darkness I covered the last eight miles, and fortunately the night was too wild for the police to be abroad. Once again Villiers Service Department have come to the rescue and have kindly supplied me with a new carburettor to fit the old but faithful engine, and although my wife is determined that 1960 is to be my last London to Brighton run I shall not be surprised if I am at the start of the next one.

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