A Woolpit Steam-Up

Marshall traction engine

Marshall traction engine #49725, built 1908. Rear wheel re-tyred from an American gun carriage.

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In the Jan/Feb issue of the Iron Men Album I wrote an article about the Dorset Steam Fair, which is the largest such rally to be held in Britain. Perhaps readers might now like to read about a small rally, which is typical of many being held most weekends, during the rally season, throughout the United Kingdom.

One such event is staged in the village of Woolpit, in Suffolk, and I chose this one not only because of its typicality, but because of its American associations. The parish of Woolpit, covering about 1900 acres, seems to have been a thriving settlement since the first century A.D. and it has a well documented history from around the year 1005 A.D. up to the present time.

Perhaps the most detailed documentation is of the years 1942-1946, when Woolpit was the center of three aerodromes at Rougham, Great Ashfield and Rattlesden. Stationed there were, respectively, the 94th, 385th and 447th Bomb Groups and their supporting units, and therefore Woolpit is probably well known to quite a few readers. Indeed, on the day of the Woolpit rally, May 30th (it was also held on May 31st), a large party of veterans and their families were in the village being entertained at the local museum, where a comprehensive display of photographs and memorabilia were on view.

The site of the rally was on the edge of the village in a large farmyard in which there were two picturesque ponds. Many of the displays were staged around the ponds and on one of them, several radio controlled models of ships were being put through their paces.

I am generally able to get into a rally before the public is allowed in, and this is a time of hectic activity. Although many of the heavy exhibits arrived at Woolpit the day before the rally, many were still coming in on the opening day, and the opportunities were there for taking photographs not usually obtainable when the exhibits are lined up in close proximity to each other. There is also time for chats with engine drivers, during which many interesting facts come to light.

One such chat was held with Ernie Eagle, owner of a 1908 Marshall Agricultural Steam Engine Works No. 49725. This machine spent most of the time between 1940-1974 in threshing and wood sawing, and during the 1960s its back wheels had been retyred using the rims and tyres from an American gun carriage. I could still make out the inscription moulded into the Goodyear rubber, which was A586 Oct. 43, followed by 20x9x16 (Can any reader explain what these figures refer to?)

Whilst on the subject of guns, on site was a 1916 Wallis and Steevens 7NHP steam engine, Works No. 7497, which was used for hauling guns during the 1914-1918 World War.

A haulage vehicle of a different kind was a huge American 45 ton Diamond T Tank Transporter Tractor Unit, Model 980, made in 1944. Around 25 years ago, it had its original engine replaced with a Rolls Royce unit, and a small crane was attached so that it could be used as a substantial break-down vehicle.

On view, amongst the ten steam engines present, was what is believed to be the oldest Burrell traction engine in preservation. Its Works No. is 748 and it was made in 1877 and has been restored after standing derelict for about thirty years.

Another Burrell, a Showman's engine, Works No. 3433, built in 1912, was supplying the power to drive a 54 Key Wellerhaus organ. This was made in 1865 and is one of the oldest organs in Britain.

Only one roller was on view, an 8-ton Aveling & Porter steamer, Works No. 10784, but I was pleased to be shown a Wallis & Steevens Advance diesel roller (OF/D 44966) which was out of sight of the general public as it was undergoing repairs. This is another engine with American associations, as it was used on the Rattlesden aerodrome during the war, after which it was acquired by the Woolpit cricket team for rolling their pitches. It is interesting to note that during the making of a typical 'drome like Rattlesden, 500,000 yards of concrete and 32,000 yards of Tarmac were laid, so many rollers must have been used for this construction work and for the maintenance thereafter. Do any readers have any information on this subject (such as numbers and types of rollers involved)? I am sure it would be of great interest to British roller enthusiasts.

About a hundred stationary engines were on show, including several American made machines such as Amanco, Fairbanks-Morse and Pilter. A proud owner, Alan Underwood, was displaying a working 2 HP Galloway gasolene engine, a Boss of the Farm model, engine No. 027844, made in Waterloo, Iowa, around 1918. This was in first class condition, and Alan was particularly pleased that he had been able to obtain, from the U. S. A., original nameplates and transfers.

A 1957 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special was one of the forty or so vintage cars on display, and a number of American made farm tractors were the center of attraction.

Several three to four inch scale model engines were steaming around the rally grounds giving rides in their towed trailers to many delighted small children. Only one ploughing engine was at the rally, and this was made in 1920 by the little known firm of Walsh & Clark of Guiseley, Leeds. It is owned by the Museum of East Anglican Life, Stowmarket Suffolk. It runs on paraffin which is stored in the boiler barrel and it holds enough for four days ploughing. A pair of engines were able to plough between 7-10 acres during a ten hour day.

Farming machinery on display, used around fifty years ago, included a threshing drum, a chaffcutter, a 1935 McCormick self binder, a Gar-rett seed drill, and a 1937 Blackstone No. 1 potato digger.

The population of Woolpit is about 1500 and it is expected that around 5000 people will have visited the rally during the two days. Families were much in evidence when I was there, not only to see the machines but to browse around the many various stalls which had a variety of goods for sale, and to participate in the amusement side shows.

I think it is true to say that the Woolpit rally was staged mainly for the benefit of the local community (all proceeds are donated to local charities), as it provided a really enjoyable day out for families and friends, whereas the large rally, such as Dorset, caters more for the requirements of actual enthusiasts.

Pat Freeman is Publicity Officer of the Road Roller Association of Great Britain and would be pleased to answer questions on rollers. Cost of joining RRA is 10 sterling per 12 months and includes the journal Rolling four times a year post free. Sendqueries, orremittance, to him at the above address.