King Coal fires Frank’s ambition to build steam powered Land Rover

A COLOURFUL Saddleworth businessman has stoked up  another unique “first” in an impressive  list of personal high achieving accomplishments.

Frank Rothwell with Mildred

Industrialist Frank Rothwell from Greenfield has just built and driven the world’s first, coal-fired steam powered Land Rover.

However, it’s not miles to the gallon the dynamic 67-year-old is calculating for his novel mode of transport … it’s how far it can travel on a bucket of coal!

“I wanted to create a vehicle resembling  ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’  and that is just as much fun,” he explained.  “I’m really pleased it’s worked out so well.”

Frank originally a farm tractor mechanic and founder of Manchester Cabins, bought a kit of a half size  Foden steam wagon of the 1920’s era which he assembled in 2016/17.

The model was coal powered, weighed about a tonne, was registered for use on the road and painted in the livery of John Willie Lees, the brewer from Middleton Junction.

“Originally, it was calculated to take 1000 hours to build the steam wagon but I did it in 600 because all the parts come in kit form and the skills required are the same as a tractor mechanic.’

After the model was complete he looked for another challenge.

“Building the steam wagon was a real labour of love,” he said.

“I worked out if the engine could power a small steam waggon then, with some adaptions, it could propel a Land Rover, which is about the same weight and is  one of the world’s most versatile vehicles.’

But after some fag packet calculations he devised a plan and bought a robust 50 year old Land Rover called Mildred to convert into a steam driven machine.

Frank removed the old petrol engine, gear box, transfer box and front differential from Mildred.  He then fitted the fire box and boiler from his steam wagon and hand-crafted mechanical apparatus to construct the driving mechanism.

“A  video of Mildred was broadcast on BBC news and Northwest Tonight and has gone viral on social media with nearly a million visits.

“I feel a bit like Fred Dibnah, who was famed for his steam driven traction engines, “he said  with a smile.

“But converting a fully fledged  petrol Land Rover has taken steam operated vehicles to a different level.”

Mildred’s  conventional radiator has been replaced with a  large boiler,  a pressure gauge topped by a chimney which perches between the front headlights.

And he’s installed a intricate drive mechanism on the Land Rover’s dashboard so, once he’s built up a head of steam, engages a gear releases the brakes and trundles safely down country  lanes near his Greenfield home.

“Mildred is 100 per cent road legal and I’m planning to take her to local shows and events   during the summer.” he added.

Mr Rothwell has notched up a catalogue of impressive feats including the first man to sail  32,000 miles around the whole of America in a figure of eight which involved going through the Panama canal twice and climbing the challenging Mount Kilimanjaro.

Earlier this year, he toughed it out against 15 other entrants in Channel 4’s, The Island with Bear Grylls.

Locally he is chairman of  Union of Oldham Dance Troupes and an impassioned fund raiser for  Mahdlo Youth Zone Oldham and a governor at Oasis Academy, Oldham.

See Mildred in action online:


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