Information Remembering the
ESB’s powerful Foden

Rated to haul 70-ton, this DG6/70 Foden heavy-haulage tractor unit worked for 27 years bringing electricity to every corner of Ireland. It used a Ford Anglia car engine to power one of its winches.

Museum tokens
Why preserve
The collection
About the museum
Foden's of Sandbach in Cheshire, famed as a builder of traction engines, can trace its origins back to 1856. Following the repeal, in 1896, of legislation requiring a man carrying a red flag to walk in front of every mechanically propelled vehicle, the company developed successive ranges of highly successful steam wagons. They, and arch-rival Sentinel, practically monopolised the market.

Shortly after introducing their last range of new steamers, Foden’s in the early 1930s saw the internal combustion engine as their future and, after building some petrol-engined vehicles, concentrated on diesel lorries. The R and S types were followed in 1937 by the DG range, powered by Gardner LW series engines having 4, 5, or 6 cylinders in which each bore had a capacity of 1.4 litres.
In addition to load-carrying lorries, Foden also continued to build heavy-duty ballasted drawbar tractors. These were seen as logical successors to the steam traction engines.

From the late 1920s until after World War Two, the ESB used petrol tractors for heavy haulage, also hiring steam traction engines when necessary. The rural electrification scheme was inaugurated in 1946, greatly increasing the need to transport heavy indivisible loads to every part of the country.

A DG6/70 tractor was therefore ordered through Foden's Irish agents, Poole's of Westland Row (Dublin) and, like all Foden tractors, was a special.

Delivered on 6th May 1947, it was registered ZH 1278 on 10th September. The Gardner 6LW engine is of 8.4 litres capacity, putting out 112bhp at 1,700 rpm.

Although it is rated to haul 70 tons, the half shafts can be replaced with ones having a different ratio to enable heavier loads to be handled at reduced speed.

It was one of two Fodens operated by the ESB, the second of which (ZO 2603) arrived in 1952; this vehicle is privately preserved.

Used for 27 years, ZH 1278 worked all over the State, and also in Northern Ireland, prior to being retired in 1974. In its later years it was fitted with a second winch at the rear, a Woodfield powered by a Ford Anglia engine. This was used to haul heavy cables across deep valleys and through ducts.

On withdrawal, the Foden was presented to the Museum by the ESB. They also contributed to its 1986 restoration by FÁS, when it regained its original ESB red livery and logo.

It has since appeared in several parades and is sometimes used to shunt other vehicles around the Museum.

From those who worked with it, ZH 1278 has elicited numerous reminiscences of lifestyles and work practices in a vanished Ireland. It is one of two Fodens among the four heavy haulage tractors in the Museum collection: The other — the Office of Public Works’ Cummins-engined 497 WZE [145] — is a Foden 100-tonner of 1979.

Musaem Náishínta Iompar na hÉireann