On the road with a tricar

As soon as motor cycles evolved into practicable machines tradesmen started to make use of them. As this rider’s report explains, riding for cash is not the same as riding for fun.

TO MANY READERS, driving a tricar is perhaps an every-day occurrence, which occasions no more comment in the ordinary way than taking a tram ride. The vivid description of a motor Ride in these days, given to friends at the club in the evening, fails to arouse the interest of those thrilling hair’s breadth escapes of six or seven years ago, when anything in the motor hue seemed as uncertain as our own climate. Perhaps I may be excused for relating here an account of a nightly trip I made of thirty-one miles (approximately) on a tricar. Its purpose is probably not original, but to say the least it is a novel one. A brief description of some of my breakdowns ind hurried repairs—the former caused by continual hard driving—may be of some interest and perhaps of service to the uninitiated in motor cycle matters.
Riding for pleasure and riding against time night after night for employment are two entirely different forms of entertainment. For instance, the tourist can, as a rule, smoke his cigarette and leisurely make his adjustment. I cannot indulge to this extent; every minute is of the utmost importance,
And it naturally behooves me to make a very careful inspection of the machine before starting out consequently a short time is required for tinkering, adjusting. oiling up, etc, every afternoon.
Before going further, the nature of my flying errand may as well be explained. It is the delivery of ‘The local evening enlightener’ (late edition) which has a circulation in most villages and small towns within a radius of fifteen miles of Kettering. To get them there by train in anything like reasonable time is awkward, owing to many of the places being miles from a railway station. The inconvenient times of trains would not facilitate matters either, for the particular edition required.

Preparing the Load.
We will just imagine for a moment it is 5.20 p.m. I am at the doors of my ‘garage’—a shed carefully constructed of liberal portions of sugar boxes and corrugated zinc—close to the printing works. A shrill whistle imparts information to the effect that the papers are rapidly going through the rotary printer, and will be tied up ready to drop into the box on the front of the tricar in five or six minutes’ time. I get to the door of the works, when fourteen parcels of varying size are hurriedly dropped into the box in convenient order, and in less than two minutes I am off.
The road out of Kettering, like all roads in the vicinity of towns, is terribly bumpy—can’t go very fast for the first mile at any rate; I must make up time later on down hills. After negotiating a stiff climb, about 1 in 8, and a mile of decent running, I arrive at Burton Latimer, about three miles, in seven or eight minutes. “Up to time to-night,” says the recipient of the parcel, as he snatches it out almost before the tricar is stationary. “Yes,” I bawl back to him, at the same time letting in the clutch.
My next halt is Finedon. Out of Burton Latimer there is a moderately stiff climb, which the little tricar manages as a rule without changing gear. After then the road is fairly good until nearing Finedon. As I jam on both brakes on a slight down grade outside H——’s boot factory, I am met by a few gentlemen with sporting proclivities, who, after a scramble for a copy, evince deep interest in the result of the five o’clock race.
Irthlingborough is not more than a couple of miles distant. With luck I am there in a very few minutes after leaving Finedon. Here a lad is stationed at a certain spot, as indeed there is at every calling place along the route, who lightens my load by one parcel. Here my hurry receives a check in the nature of an extremely narrow street and a fair amount of traffic for the next mile, at the end of which I cross the river Nene, and I am at Higham Ferrers L&NW Rail way Station. Three small packages handed in here. One more mile carries me into Higham itself—a quaint mixture of an old-fashioned town and an over-grown factory village, boasting of a mayor and corporation.  A glance at the church clock shows I am inside schedule time by three minutes, and relieved of one more bundle.

Dodging the Traffic.
The bootmaking town of Rushden practically joins Higham, and it is at the aforementioned place my 5hp Humber tricar is going to be relieved of a considerable portion of its burden. For the next few minutes I am busy dodging swarms of cyclists, boot operatives turning out of the factories, railway lorries, various forms of farmyard habitués, and dairy-producing quadrupeds.
At Rushden I turn and retrace my tracks through Higham, where I leave the main road, making my way to Stanwick. A portion of this road beggars description. For a distance it is traversed daily by huge waggons carrying stone from the quarries close by. Over this it is impossible to travel at more than ten miles per hour. A small consignment is thrown overboard at Stanwick. After performing evolutions, which would do credit to a figure skater, round its sharp comers and narrow curly streets, I am running towards Raunds, noted for its manufacture of army boots. “Jigger’s running well to-night,” I am thinking, when suddenly a nasty metallic snap and g-r-r-r-r. The engine is suddenly doing 2,000 a minute. I know only too well what has happened—driving chain gone. I pull to the side; out goes my remaining freight, and a hurried search for that spare chain. I say “search”, for there are a hundred and one things in the way of spares at the bottom of that box. I find it and attempt to fit it. Half a link short; more adjusting necessary. In about ten minutes I am away again, and making up for lost time.
As I pull up at Raunds I am greeted with a round of applause from a contingent of juveniles, whose nightly recreation seems to consist of awaiting my arrival for the purpose of making unkind remarks relating to my punctuality, or want of it. To-night the cheery reception is not genuine, but sarcasm, because I am behind time. There seems to be renewed anxiety regarding the winner of the five o’clock at this spot, judging by the apparent impatience of those waiting to secure a paper.

A Treacherous Descent.
1 stay but half a minute, and then make for the little village of Ringstead. This is one of the best bits of road I traverse, practically straight and uninterrupted. I rattle off two miles at, well, perhaps exceeding that speed legally prescribed. Down into Ringstead, I waste no time—a treacherous descent into the village, a very narrow road, and a right-angle turn at the bottom, the alternative being a row of cottages with iron railings as a substitute for a buffer in case of failing brakes. I may say the hill is quite straight to the bottom, and resembles a deep, narrow, railway cutting; there are no houses on either side or roads leading into it—two important points which help to excuse me for shooting it at my best speed. Here again I am received by a little crowd composed of the junior portion of the community; there is a bit of a scramble as to who shall be the temporary possessor of the small consignment.
I am now nearing the end of my mad rush. Up out of Ringstead is a good steep grade, which ‘the old ‘bus’, being practically empty, rattles up in good style. In something like a mile I am coasting down a short, steep hill, round a hairpin turn, nicely banked in the wrong direction, fairly inviting anything on three or four wheels to topple over, and I am in the pretty little village of Denford, which nestles amid a bountiful supply of foliage on the banks of the Nene. Rid of one more package, the road to Thrapston runs along the valley beside a backwater, which encroaches on the road—in one place to such an extent as to render it almost impassable in flood time. I make a point of hugging the business side of the road on foggy nights; my old machine is very good in many ways, but swimming is not one of its strong points.
Another mile, we arrive at Thrapston—a small old- fashioned market town. A glance at the clock, I see I am ten minutes behind time—just the time taken to fit that spare chain—more abuse from the agent’s paper boys. My feelings are not hurt, however; fortunately, I cannot hear all they say. Scarcely a moment has elapsed when the streets reverberate and echo the sweet-sounding strains of Evening Telegraph. I turn into the Swan Hotel yard, for the hurrying part of my ride is now over, and I am not long in making my way to the smoking room, where I can recline at mine ease for a brief interval.

1906 deliverytrike
The author and his trusty Humber. Tricars were soon superseded by tradesmen’s sidecar outfits but combos would earn their keep well into the 1930s.

The Return Journey.
My journey home—nine miles—is, as a rule, uneventful. At Woodford I throw overboard a small cargo, and the business portion of my outing concludes, after which I enjoy a steady run home of seven miles.
The foregoing gives a little idea of how I spent my evenings—hail, rain or snow—from Easter to the late autumn of 1906. Probably the reader has been drawing on his imagination and picturing me careering along on a fine summer’s evening, when the ride is more or less enjoyable. Let him again draw on his imagination, and see me starting out on a cold foggy night in November, when my headlight will fail to penetrate more than a dozen yards ahead, and I am fearfully apprehensive as to the number of carts going in my direction—without rear lights of course—or cattle being driven along the road in darkness; the anxiety and care I display on a dark night in dodging shadows and imaginary obstacles, only to escape being knocked into eternity by the genuine thing. It has been a constant source of trouble to me that legislation has not provided a law compelling cattle to carry a front or ‘tail’ light. At the same time, I must say that with continual night riding one cultivates a sublime indifference to possible obstacles, or it may be that one’s eyes grow accustomed to the darkness. Luckily, I can boast of only two victims—one a dog, the other a sheep—only slightly wounded in both cases, and no damage to myself or machine.
My mechanical troubles have naturally been numerous, being out in all weathers; broken chains have perhaps wasted more time than anything. I cannot remember how often it has occurred or how many new ones I have had. One thing is certain—the average tricar driving chain is totally inadequate for the work it has to do. The parts which have given me the least trouble are the clutch and two-speed gear; both, after 9,000 miles, show not the slightest sign of wear. I need hardly mention I have worn out several rear covers. The mudguards originally on the machine soon rattled themselves to pieces; at one time they were mended with copper wire every few miles until I had stronger ones fitted by a local blacksmith. I found the spring saddle pillar absolutely indispensable. Two accumulators wired to a two-way switch often kept me out of trouble. As to lamps, I have long since ceased to juggle and conjure with so-called motor cycle lamps. I use a Salsbury Flaro; admitted it looks ridiculously out of proportion, but it answers its purpose—it gives a light by which I am able to discern objects 100 yards ahead.
It is my impression the usual methods adopted for carrying the coil and accumulators are anything but satisfactory. They are often in burglar-proof cases, and for general inconvenience and inaccessibility are genuine feats of human ingenuity. I may say I never use a non-skid cover; side-slip is not one of my terrors. The machine often slides yards off the straight, but on being well acquainted with its achievements I have quite a contempt for its fruitless gyrations. No doubt such performances in London traffic would have serious results, but on country roads it is different.

Stoppages and the Causes.
Inlet valves were at one time a continual trouble until I had some made locally, much thicker in the stem, admitting a stout, flat key. Only twice have I failed to complete the journey. Once a broken piston brought about my retirement another occasion a broken exhaust valve (I had unintentionally mislaid the spare one before starting out).
Involuntary stops have been numerous. One I can call to mind which was puzzling for a few minutes was caused by the round disc, or what is known as the butterfly throttle, dropping down the induction pipe and lodging snugly over the spray nipple of the carburetter.
On another occasion I am afraid I was the victim of some individual humorously inclined. There was a wedding party at which I was to attend; 8pm was the appointed time for the evening’s festivities to commence. A good part of the afternoon was spent in tuning up and making careful examinations with a view of minimising any chance of delay on the road. At 5.25 I attempted to start up, but all my kindly words and persuasive methods failed to induce that engine to fire even once. I kept tugging at the handle, varying the exercise by examining something or other. Everything seemed in perfect order, and yet it refused. I had been injecting petrol into the inlet, which was customary; some got on my hand, I looked at it, I smelt of it, and was not long in deciding that I had been expending my vital energy in a vain attempt to start up on water. A description of my conversation to the motor is unfit for publication. The reader may guess my feelings. The water was everywhere it shouldn’t be—in the tank, in the carburetter, in the engine (in fact it was a full half hour before the poor thing could be jerked into active service). Oh, if I could only find the man who filled my petrol can with a gallon of water! Once on the road, fortunately, all went well.
Much of my trouble, no doubt, has been accentuated by the terrible roads (in places) and always driving at practically top speed. I must confess the tricar has been as much a trouble to keep in order as three motor bicycles, due, of course, to the unfair usage it received. In justice to it, however, it should be mentioned it was not specially built for the work, and was not quite new when I signed on for the arduous task it was called upon to perform.
The fuel–that is, petrol–lubricating oil, and carbide cost on an average 6s 6d to 7s per week. New tyres helped to swell the expenses sheet. Two new rear covers have been fitted besides the one already on when purchased. Two have been retreaded, and two new front covers have been found necessary.
A Business Success.
Taking all things into consideration from a business
standpoint, it is no exaggeration to claim the venture a huge success. In the daylight I have arrived at Thrapston with but few exceptions within the hour, including ten calls. In the dark I have averaged eighty minutes for the same distance.
As a healthy recreation and an appetiser I have found nothing better, and it is with deep regret I look back upon my nightly excursions, which are now abandoned.

IT IS SURELY no coincidence that the following advert appeared in The Motor Cycle in 1908: “Humber Tricar, coach-built, water-cooled, two-speed gear box, tyres, etc, in good condition, complete, less engine and accumulators: £8—Butcher, Irthlingborough, Northants.”