The International Steam Pages


Portable Paradise, 2007

For our 2007 bash, Yuehong and I realised that we had to go to places in the margins of rice mill steam, even if it would mean considerable time travelling. I had always wanted to visit Kachin State in the far north of Burma, it was now more open to visitors than before and its proximity to China would mean that it would soon change forever and not for the better. Fortunately, the arrival of new coaching stock from China - second hand from the metre gauge railway running from Kunming in Yunnan to Vietnam - ensured that the overnight journey from Mandalay would be far quicker and far more comfortable than the guide books suggested.

We saw few mills, all small but each a treasure with not a standard Marshall or Tangye to be seen. We savoured each to the full, knowing it would be our only visit. One particular feature of smaller mills is that they often use engines which were formerly paired with a boiler as part of a so-called 'portable engine', although I prefer the term 'transportable' as even when equipped with a set of wheels the engine would have needed some considerable effort to move locations. In fact, we have only twice recorded an 'intact' portable engine and even this Foster in Yangon seen early in the trip had long lost its wheels:

There are two common features that make it relatively easy to identify the engine half of a portable. The first and most reliable is the presence of a saddle under the cylinder block. The second is the presence of a regulator mounted low down so that it can be easily reached by the operator. A less reliable third one is that my wife is very fond of such strange looking creatures and usually I have to wait a long time for my turn to photograph them. In fact, nearly half the images on this page are hers.

The first one we saw had no identification, if you pressed me I would plump for a Marshall because of the round shape of the crosshead guide and at least one part number cast on it. The governor is not original, I believe that it was mounted on the redundant base just to the left of the valve chest (as seen in the third engine below):

 In which case, there was once a front regulator and the blanked off parts remain.

"When I grow up, I'm going to be an engine driver, just like my Dad!"

That was a great start, but just up the road was an even greater treasure, a twin cylinder Garrett engine:

The boiler appears to be the original partner:

More was to come...

This was a Davey Paxman, again I think the boiler is original.

At the back was a derelict ex-portable engine, quite unlike anything I have seen before. Now (2010) Derek Rayner tells me "It is actually the cylinder from an Aveling-Barford steam roller, sent in large numbers after WW2 to India, Ceylon and Malaya. If it is larger than the one in the picture below, in India, then it's a compound. This example is a single (piston valve) 6 tonner.

This is that similar roller:

Late in the afternoon at our final port of call for the day we found a 'retired' portable which had last been used about two years before. The original mill has been abandoned and a new mini-mill built next door, powered by what appears to be a gasifier, ecologically sound still, but not of any interest to me, I confess!

It was another twin cylinder machine:

And in this case identification was no problem at all, Marshall 24111 which will date it to about 1895:

Despite the lack of identification on the boiler, I would guess that it was its original partner:


These are the individual pages from the 2007 trip:

Read more about our travels in:


Rob and Yuehong Dickinson

Email: webmaster@internationalsteam.co.uk