The marvel of motors: Ron Ballard’s earliest memories, c.1923

Ron Ballard in his pedal car at Catchgates, 1920s

Ron Ballard in his pedal car at Catchgates, 1920s

Before he died, Ron Ballard, Tracy’s father-in-law, wrote down some of his earliest memories of life in the village.  Like many little boys, he was fascinated by cars and engines. Here he describes his recollections of the first motorised vehicles in Abberley during the 1920s.

I could just make out funny coloured lights and some talking.  Had I just been born?

Next I could make out the drive at Catchgates toys and flags.  I was carefully shepherded away from the gates, away from the main road.

My brother had a pedal car which we drove round the yard all decorated with flags but it was soon over-ridden by the exciting things going on the main road just over the gate – a spot that I was warned to stay clear of.  Right opposite was a drive going off to Nurtons Farm.

Mr.  Phillip Owen lived at Nurtons and my father used to take farm produce up there to be taken to the market.  It was a very good service carried by horses.  Soon Phillip couldn’t find enough room on his dray that he bought more.  So he bought more and such was the demand that his sons now growing up persuaded him to invest in motor transport.  I understand that he must have up to 30 busses and trucks operating between Abberley, Kidderminster and Stourport.

However Phillip Owen saw me with my father at Nurton’s and gave me a broken cherry branch, which was heavily loaded (my it was good).

Catchgates in the drive looking over the gate was a very good place to see the transport of the day as the drivers often stalled their engines in the dip or stopped to take on water.  They came down the hill in a cloud of steam and black smoke.

Down the hill came the Model T Ford.  It would stall when it turned to go up to Nurtons.  Charlie the driver would put something under the back wheel and went to the front to swing the handle, eventually it would start, the back wheel would spin round, Charlie jumped in and amid a shower of gravel it took off.  Charlie was the pig man and drove for his boss Phillip.

I used to take rabbits up the drive to transport to Kidderminster.  They were hung on the crossbar, back wheels and handlebars until one got its head in the cycle spokes and I ended up in a pile in the road.  My fault for carrying too many!

One day the headmaster called us out of school to watch the road from the school to the village being tarmac’d.   We could see a column of dust rising by the village and heading our way.  A horse was pulling a large circular brush set at an angle to the road.  It pushed the stones and dust into a row on the side of the road.

Whilst this was being done the tar-pot was made ready.  This was a deep metal tray kept hot by a fire underneath and mounted on four wheels.  A wooden barrel of bitumen was rolled on top and heated by the fire.  When the tar (bitumen) was of suitable consistency it was fed down the two fillers into special brushes, which spread the hot tar over the road.

A heavy hot job as the pipes etc.  had to be armoured with coils of wire to prevent them wearing out.  This was spread on the road whilst chippings were spread by hand and the surface and the chippings rolled in by a huge steam roller.

During the night much of this equipment was parked in our drive.  The next day I was offered a ride in the roller.  I was shown the gear box – two forward and one reverse.


Nurtons Farm, Stockton Rd, Abberley, is now registered as a Dairy Farm

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