The building of “Little Dandy”


Luke Byrne lived in Boley outside the town of Gorey in County Wexford in a small family holding working as a farm hand. He was married to Nora and they had three sons, Leslie, Henry and Joseph. Luke, who had no engineering or mechanical training, was inventive with a drive that could be compared to Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first man to conquer Mount Everest. He was by no means financially wealthy but his dream to build a Steam Traction engine from scratch drove him forward and in his spare time he built his engine, over a four year period between 1977 and 1981, a feat of pure genius.

The Byrne family were all talented with their hands way back to Great Grandfather, Poole Byrne, who was a Black Smith with Avoca Mines in Co Wicklow.

Pool Byrne’s son Luke Byrne was a small farmer, working about thirty acres, outside Gorey in Co Wexford.

Then there was Luke’s son, also Luke, who was born in 1918. Son Luke and his brother Henry set up aa timber gutting business on the farm, planking timber with a portable sawmill run by a stationary four horsepower Ransom steam engine. Luke’s deep personal fascination for steam engines drove him to fulfil his dream and he built “Little Dandy” from scratch.

Luke, bearing in mind that he had no engineering training, began sourcing components back in 1977 and completed the build in 1981. With little or no funding, bits and pieces were sought from scrap sources and engineered into the build:

Front wheels from a straw pitcher, back wheels from a Ransom which he had to widen by welding two together, driving cog wheel on rear wheel from a mowing machine, the cylinder head recovered from a beached dredger on Ballymoney Strand. The drive gears, the high gear was from a David Brown tractor and he cut the low ratio gear from 1.5 inch sheet steel in which he cut the teeth himself with a file.

“Little Dandy” was born. Classified as a “Freelance Engine”, a Traction Engine with a single cylinder producing two and a half horse poorer and weighing a bit over three ton. One might ask where the name “Little Dandy” came from. Well, there was an elderly gentleman who Luke would meet regularly at the local shop. He had a little dog called “Dandy”. That was it “Little Dandy”.

Luke and his wife Nora had two sons, Leslie and Joseph. Both boys inherited the fascination of steam and both look after the engines Luke had built.