James Cycle Co was one of the world’s leading innovators in the design of tricycles, including motorised versions. Among other inventions, they patented their own tricycle axle in 1907 (the ‘Special’ Axle), braked front axles, and further developed the earlier ‘convertible’ concept for bicycles and tricycles, where a crossbar could be raised or lowered to turn a ladies machine into a gents.
Their 1929 light van, the James ‘Samson Handyvan’ subsequently became simply the ‘Handyvan.’ So they used the ‘Samson’ name instead for their new carrier tricycle with patented front steering arrangement (above). My personal belief is that there was more to it than just the transfer of the name: I think that the unique front steering set up for the Samson Carrier Tricycle was a by-product of the development of the Handyvan, i.e. they initially considered a version with two front wheels.
They did develop a motorised version of the Samson Carrier Tricycle by mating a James Autocycle rear end with the carrier tricycle front end, designating it the James Auto-Tricycle Carrier (below). It was powered by a 98cc Villiers Junior engine. Unfortunately, its production was affected by the advent of World War Two, with the James factory being one of the early casualties of German bombing (James Cycle Co factories had been a major supplier of ordnance in World War One).
1937 Beard Carrier Tricycle
(James Samson Design)
26 x 1 3/4″ Rear Wheel
16 x 1 3/4 Front Wheels
Although they are similar, as you can see by comparing the 1937 James catalogue illustration, below, there are some detail differences between the Beard and the James. The James has front wheel hub brakes, whereas the Beard has only a rear handbrake; and the James’ carrier is open at the front. The chain-linkeage steering mechanism is a unique feature.
DEVELOPMENT of FRONT-STEERING CARRIER TRICYCLES
Some of the earliest tricycles (1880s) were front steerers, but front-steering parcel carriers started to be developed toward the end of the Victorian era. There were many variations on steering apparatus, both to improve previous ideas and to sidetrack current patents.
The box tricycle did not really come into its own until the 1930s, when cycle manufacturers made a variety of styles. However, by this time, companies had also started producing motorised versions – by mating up the rear end of a motorcycle with the front part of a front steering pedal-tricycle. So the pedal versions were superseded only a few years after they were developed. With the outbreak of war in 1939, production focussed instead on vehicles useful for the war effort.
With a shortage of cars and motorcycles after 1945 – the priority was exports to bring in much-needed foreign exchange – there was a resurgence of interest in cycle-based delivery options. But all these contraptions were dependent on the rider, and one thing that both the pedal and motorised versions had in common was that they were awful to ride. The motorised versions were death-traps, and few were made after 1950 (most prewar ones were exported to Africa). The carrier tricycles were light enough to push uphill unladen …but once goods were added they became impractical to use unless over flat ground.
1897 WARMAN BOX TRICYCLE PATENT
1939 PERRY’S EASYSTEER
1988 WAYNE MCMULLEN PATENT
1928 JAMES CYCLE Co CATALOGUE
Definitive information on James tricycles can be difficult to obtain; the James factory was almost completely destroyed in an air raid during World War Two and, along with it, went all the company records. Information on pre-war James machines has, therefore, been pieced together, mainly from old catalogues.
You can see a range of James products in this sample from the 1928 catalogue. The company also manufactured commercial tricycles and tradesmen’s bikes, which evolved into the motorized three-wheeler ‘Samson Handyvan’ of 1929.
MOTORISED CARRIER TRICYCLES
We don’t know for sure if the above ‘Auto-Tricycle Carrier’ actually went into production. Not only did the War halt manufacture of such vehicles, it was also unstable at speed when loaded with anything but light goods …and the carrying capacity was minimal.
However, various motorcycle-based carrier tricycles were made. Some years ago, I owned this 1934 Excelsior Manxman Goods Trike. It required restoration, and I sold it in the same state as it was in when I bought it (below).
GRANDEX TRIKON CARRIER
1935 ROYAL ENFIELD CARRIER TRICYCLE