David King: Norfolk mechanical genius and ‘Man of Steam’
PUBLISHED: 17:05 06 January 2011
Inventor and engineer David King, who has died aged 78, made his final journey in a restored steam wagon.
A self-taught mechanical genius, he was dubbed the “Man of Steam” by Anglia Television broadcaster Dick Joice, of Bygones fame, who wrote a 50-page book published in 1978 about his achivements.
David Henry King was born in Great Yarmouth on August 28, 1932, into a family of millers in Wymondham, dating from the early 1800s. Early last century, his father, who was not mill minded, built the town’s first steam-driven dynamo to generate electricity.
He was the youngest of four, with a brother 14 years older. Sent to Thetford Grammar School, it proved a challenge for pupil and teachers alike. He reluctantly joined his father, Henry, in his saw mill and furniture business, Alfred King & Son Timber Merchants at the Railway Works, Wymondham.
He was to develop his natural mechanical talent, even designing an all-electric wooden scooter. He passed his test on the machine and fortunately the batteries had enough life to complete the route set by the examiner.
As the family business struggled in the late 1950s, he designed a folding wooden caravan. His Foldavan, costing £218 and made of an ash frame and mahoghany ply, could be collapsed in under two minutes, single handed. About 20 were made and some have survived today.
In 1963, the business was closed and Mr King, who had married in July 1959, moved to Suffield, near North Walsham. There, he built his first marine compound engine, costing £200, which was featured in a specialist journal. It was to keep him busy and usually he had two years of orders in hand.
He designed steam launches, which became a passion, and built wind turbines to power his workshop. In July 1964, he made a miniature six-foot wide stern-wheel Mississippi paddle steamer, called Charlie Allnutt after a character in the Oscar-winning film, African Queen.
Asked to make a 10.25in narrow gauge steam locomotive, he designed four-carriage articulated rolling stock including a very stable bogie for the Wells to Walsingham Light Railway. It is also the world’s longest railway of its gauge.
He restored a rare piece of Norfolk motoring history in 1995 – a Soame Steam Cart, originally built in 1897 by Marsham blacksmith, George Samuel Soame. This iron-wheeled cart, which featured in the 1953 motoring classic, Genevieve, was bought by Dick Joice in 1993 and his widow, Jean, asked Mr King to restore it for the Holkham Bygones Collection.
It took him three years to build a 5in scale Marshall traction engine for Mr Joice as everything had to be done from scratch.
He made machines, which became a collector’s dream from fairground organs to a low-powered fog engine driven gramophone called the Phogrofone.
Insulin dependent since his teenage years, he rode around Norfolk for the Diabetic Association and aged 69 completed the Land’s End to John O’Groats ride for the same charity.
A special constable, and as chairman of the parish council in 1993, he helped to revive the village festival. A churchwarden, he found time on Sunday to run “advanced motorist” courses for years, achieving a 100pc record.
His final task was to restore a steam engine, Ernie, for Steve Bush, of Swanton Abbot. And fittingly, it took him to St Faith’s Crematorium, Norwich, for his funeral.
He leaves a widow, Valerie, a daughter Sally, and son Richard, and his two children.
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