By Katie Magee
A petrolhead pensioner has forked out £24,000 building his very own steam-powered Thomas the Tank Engine car for his daily commute to work.
Frank Rothwell cooked up a plan to gut a 50-year-old red Land Rover and replace the motor’s original engine with a steam engine – complete with its very own boiler.
After dedicating more than 400 hours to the project the 67-year-old traction engine enthusiast and former contestant on Bear Grylls’ The Island, proudly took his new motor out for a spin.
The custom-built motor works like a steam train with the boiler being fired by coal which then heats the water up to steam pressure which runs the small engine.
Businessman Frank from Oldham, Greater Manchester, said: “We all need a hobby and I like doing things that are difficult.
“I’d already built a 1910 steam wagon and got a real kick out of that so just thought what else can I do?
“I wanted it to be something unique and recognisable and something which no-one had ever done before.”
Frank bought the mildew-ridden Land Rover from a manufacturing company but didn’t reveal his ambitious plans to the sellers.
Frank said: “The original owners of the Land Rover called the car engine Mildred because of all the mildew – that’s the type of state the car used to be in.
“I decided not to tell them what I was doing as think if you have any ideas, then the best idea is not to tell anyone.”
The granddad-of-three said he’d only encountered a couple of mechanical hiccups along the way but was confident he could pull it off.
Frank said: “In the back of my mind I knew it could be done because of my skills, it’s just second nature to me to get things done.
“It was a case of having the money and obviously the time to do it.”
The quirky 50-year-old motor coincides with another special occasion in his life – as it also marks half a century since Frank and his wife started dating.
“My wife Judith thinks I’m crazy and hasn’t even had a ride on it yet – but at least it keeps me out of the pub.
“My grandchildren absolutely love it, they find it so exciting to have a ride on it and chug along.
“I think it’s really good for children of this era to do things like lighting fires and using coal because they have little access to using things like that these days.”
Getting back to nature is something that is second nature to Frank having toughed it out in the six-week test of mental and physical strength last year.
Frank said: “I think I was picked because of all the stuff I’ve done in the past and I’m not afraid to get stuck in.
“At times the other people didn’t want to do anything so it was difficult to keep quiet and not say anything – some were quite lazy.”
Despite initially keeping his plans under wraps, the car fanatic has ambitions to spread the word about his steam-powered motor.
Frank said: “I have a plea to Chris Evans and his North West Car Fest event – I would love to bring the car along so the people of the north finally know what a proper motor looks like.”