Locomotive Steam-Carriage for the common roads, built for the Earl of Caithness

Locomotive Steam-Carriage for the common roads, built for the Earl of Caithness. Source: the 1860 Illustrated London News. The accompanying article explains that in the picture the “splashers” (fenders) have been removed to show the mechanism. A fireman, whose role was the same as one on a railway locomotive, would stand on the platform at the rear. — George P. Landow [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary from the Illustrated London News

Some time back we gave an illustration of a steam-camage which was driven from Buckingham to Windsor Castle. The accompanying Engraving represents a similar one, built for the Earl of Caithness, with which his Lordship, accompanied by Lady Caithness, the Rev. W. Ross, and Mr. Rickett, “travelled north;” in fact, drove from Inverness to Barrogell Castle, a distance of 150 miles, virtually in two days, and which is considered the boldest and most difficult enterprise recorded in the annals of road locomotion. A trial trip to a point 150 miles ahead, with a full load of passengers and luggage, over some of the most mountainous districts of Scotland, the party for the most part unacquainted with the route, and the supplies of coal and water therefore uncertain; sometimes ascending hills of 1 in 7, towering up to a splendid sea view, and again descending the winding roads cut in the hill sides, crossing the mountain gorges at an acute angle by a narrow bridge, down an unprotected gallery of rocks, without the slightest accident or danger, certainly speaks well for the noble conductor, and also for the inventor of the carriage. It is stated that his Lordship travelled the first stage from Inverness to Beauly, a distance of fourteen miles, in one hour and twenty minutes, notwithstanding frequent stoppages for horses and once for water. After leaving Beauly, on those parts of the road where some distance forward could be seen, he attained a speed of eighteen miles an hour, and could have kept, it up for any distance with ease and safety. He drove up the hills without difficulty, and, proceeding down the very steep declivity near where the road joins the other from Tain, the control his Lordship had over it was most satisfactory, and enabled him to descend at any rate he pleased with perfect case and safety.

On the Monday he started from Golspie at an early hour, numbers assembling to see if it would manage the steep ascent leading to Dunrobin Castle; but, as usual, drove right on, amidst hearty cheers, to the town of Helmsdale, about fifteen miles, when, on stopping for water, egress from the carriage was almost impossible from the crowd of Gaelic fishermen assembled. The town is situated at the foot of “the Ord of Caithness,” a noted mountain, which, it was said, would bring the engine to a stand if anything could; and oft was the cry repeated, “Ye’ll ne’er get o’er the Ord!” The ascent commences immediately on leaving the town with an incline of about 1 in 10, and continues for five miles frequently 1 in 7. Winding up the precipitous route, the deep, strong, but regular beat of the engine told that, though severely taxed, the task was not more than it could manage, and without once stopping or flagging it reached the summit, when the party congratulated themselves on the crisis of the enterprise being so satisfactorily passed. For the descent into Berridale Glen his Lordship had provided a special drag, but found that; with the party walking down, the ordinary screw-breaks were quite sufficient to keep it perfectly under control.

At Wick, about seventeen miles from his Lordship's residence, the arrival of the carriage was anxiously expected. Horsemen went out to meet it, and the firing of cannon announced its approach. The whole town appeared to have turned out, for the streets were thronged; and, being situated a hundred miles and more from any railway, steam on the highroads was hailed with emthusiam. Hia Lordship stopped more than an hour for refreshment, and then, amid the gathering shades of night, drove on to Barrogell; but the nights are not dark in that treeless county, and his Lordship drove as merrily as by daylight to within a few miles of John o’ Groats.

These carriages are designed by Mr. Rickett to carry three persons at ten miles per hour on any ordinary roads, which they appear satisfactorily to accomplish. They require about the same space as a horse and chaise, carry sufficient water for ten to fifteen miles, and coal for thiity miles, weigh thirty cwt., and are well mounted on springs, the only noise being that of the escaping steam, which can be stopped instantly when horses appear frightened. The arrangement is such that the carriage and the engine are distinct, and the duties pertaining to each divided. The fireman keeps up the supply of power by attention to the fire and water, while the person occupying the front right-hand seat turns it on as he thinks proper, having absolute control in the use of the steam and in guiding the carriage.

In the Engraving the splashers are taken off the wheels in order to show the machinery, which when working is protected from dust and dirt.


“Ricketts Road Locomotive.” Illustrated London News (15 September 1860): 261. Internet Archive copy of a volume in the Princeton University Library. Web. 23 November 2015.

Last modified 23 November 2015