IF you are sitting comfortably, Paul Stretton of Bishop Auckland has a story for you.
“Right into the 1930s, the railway companies used horse and carts to move goods from their stations,” he begins, “and although they were ideal, being very manoeuvrable in narrow streets and yards, they were slow and the number of men familiar with horses was decreasing.
“The railway companies therefore looked to update by mechanical means and contacted commercial vehicle manufacturers. One of these, Napier, made a prototype called Mechanical Horse but their hearts weren’t in it and they sold the project to the Scammell company which went into production in 1932.”
Loading article content
The Scammell Mechanical Horse was a three-wheeled tractor unit – it could pull heavy loads and its single wheel at the front enabled it to pivot and turn in very small spaces – just like the real horses.
“It was a great success, used by many companies and exported around the world,” continues Paul. “The Mechanical Horse was updated in 1948 and renamed the Scarab – it is a Scammell Scarab that is in the picture in Memories 318.”
Paul, of course, was not the only person to identify the curious snub-nosed vehicle photographed in December 1960 in Darlington’s Skinnergate. In fact, we were overwhelmed by people wanting to tell us about them – many thanks to you all.
As you will know, Memories so often deals in the fascinatingly trivial that our supplement resembles the QI panel gameshow on BBC TV. John Weighell of Neasham, therefore, finds himself in the Alan Davies chair.
“Two models were made: a three-tonner with a 1,125cc petrol engine and a six-tonner with a 2,043cc petrol engine,” he says, racking up points for his interesting knowledge. But then he sets off the klaxon for an obvious but wrong answer. “It was called a Scarab as the front resembled the wings of a scarab beetle,” he says.
This seems to be a common misconception because the snub-nose does indeed look the folded wings of a scarab, but everything we can find points to a different explanation for the name. The Scarab was a development of the Mechanical Horse. An early name for it was the Arabian Horse. So take the first two letters of Scammell and put them with the first four letters of Arabian and the Scarab is born.
Or perhaps only Stephen Fry knows the truth.
Phil Hunt says: “The circle below the Scammel name on the front is a single headlight and below this is the image of a horse’s head, because the Mechanical Horse and the Arabian Horse replaced horse transport for final delivery of railway freight. Scarabs were still in use into the 1960s and I remember regular close encounters with them while cycling past Billingsgate fish market in London on the way to work at that time.”
David Swan pointed out that two-tone Scarabs, like in our picture, were usually painted in BR’s maroon and cream livery – “blood and custard”, says Peter White in Sedgefield. David Walsh in east Cleveland adds: “I was a yard shunter in the mid 1960s and our yard had a dozen or so Scarabs which all sported the maroon and cream livery, regardless of the regional BR branding, like North-Eastern orange, Eastern blue or Southern green.”
Steve Hodgson reports that there were many Scarabs at the Bank Top yards; Susan Jaleel in Darlington says they were common in the centre of Manchester in the 1960s; Tony Herrington in Coundon remembers there were two working out of Northallerton station in the 1950s, and Alan Wheadon wonders if Patons & Baldwin, the world’s largest wool factory at Darlington’s Lingfield Point, also had a Scarab or two running around.
Peter Daniels in Bishop Auckland says: “Every station with goods facilities seems to have had one. Where have they all gone? – but what was once a common sight is never seen today.”
OTHER people wrote with their personal memories of a Scarab. “When I left the RAF in 1959, I got a job as a truck driver with BR at Northallerton,” says Tony Eaton in Northallerton. “Generally I drove Bedford four-wheelers but occasionally drove a Scarab. The old Scarab I trained on had to be started by a built-in starting handle with the choke positioned close by on the outside of the bonnet. It had, I think, just three gated forward gears and a top speed of about 30mph. As it was an articulated vehicle, I was taught how to reverse a trailer by turning the steering wheel in the opposite direction to where the trailer had to go.
“I once delivered several steel girders of about 25 feet in length on a Scarab with a long trailer and I had to reverse it from the main road into the site, quite an accomplishment, or so I thought at the time.”
The memory of Barry Chapman of Norton is the most bizarre. He said: “Sixty years ago, on March 9, 1957, I flew to Khartoum, in Sudan, to be chief engineer for the main drainage scheme that was to be installed in the city. Everyone at the time was having to use buckets – there was only one flush toilet in the city, at the president’s palace.
“The collection of what was in the buckets every night was using large trailers pulled initially by camels, but then I was surprised to see the camels being replaced by a Scammell. The 360 degree turning circle of the three wheeler made it ideal for the narrow streets.”