Belgrave, Llandrindod Wells, Radnorshire, Great Britain
I was surprised and very pleased to see the photograph of Mr. William Marshall which included myself in your issue for this month. I am one of the lucky ones who benefit by your arrangement with Mr. Pratt for getting copies ever here. It has amazed me how much interest there is in your Country in these elderly engines, for we do tend to imagine that your folk are only interested in what came tomorrow. That you are able to run to such an elaborate and expensively produced magazine with so many pictures goes to show the number, and wealth, of your supporters. Four day Rallies certainly make me wonder, do the organizers, or the engine owners, or the spectators have to work for their living and if so how come four days off in a row?.
Still, we had a little local do last month at Andover, Hampshire, with about 19 engines and I drove my little Burrell Showmans tractor with a trailer of coal, water and tools for 85 miles in modern traffic to get there, all on my lonesome. Went on from there to the National Rally, where there were about 25 engines at Appleford, near Oxford. Here it rained all day and only the threshing engines could get about in any form, while the Showmans engines put their belts on and made light with their dynamos, 'driving light' as we say. All except me, having steamed a good deal farther than any other engine there my little tractor got leaky tubes and as the weather was hopeless I did not attempt to do anything about it. Next weekend we expanded the tubes, lit up, and were home, 115 miles in a day and a half.
All this was with my little Burrell 4NHP, three speed tractor, built in 1912. I also own a big Fowler, also a Showman's engine, 3 speed, 4 shaft, 7NHP. She sports a 350 amp. dynamo and so can light up half a fairground if required. She was built in 1918, six years younger than the Burrell. These two are painted maroon with yellow wheels and look very well together on a fairground, a kind of 'Mother and Son' effect. At Portland .Fair recently we had four in a row with my old 'Queen Mary', the Fowler, lighting the lot of them.
I have recently acquired a Clayton and Shuttle worth tractor, not a Showman, but with rubber tyres and a cab. She has not been done up yet although I have retubed her and had her in steam.
I enclose photos of the two Showmans engines, which, of course, you may keep if you wish.
Now you will realize that my chief interest lies in the showmans type of engines and I rather gather the impression that there never were many, of indeed any, engines of this type in the States, and I wonder if you can confirm this. That your circuses travel by rail we gather from the films, although how they got from the station (depot I think you say) to the to ber (the field where they are to show) is obscure. Presumeably by horses. Our circuses traditionally travel by road and in most cases retained horses until they switched direct to diesels, with no steam era between. Some had one or two tractors to pull beast wagons and drive light.
But our travelling showmen used tractions over a period of fifty years, ranging from 3 to 20 tons in weight and usually of the general pattern represented by my photos. They hauled the rides from, town to town and drove light, or later when the rides had electric drive, the rides as well. Three trailers is the legal limit on our roads (and that for Showmen only) and a complete set of Dogems or an Ark would be loaded behind one engine. Big engines handled the rides, tractors the living vans and side stuff. The engine acted as a show-piece, advertising the coming of the fair and often stood at the gate to the showground when driving light. I have seen seven in one field, but at the big fairs in the north of England twenty or more in a bunch was quite usual, all fully brassed up and polished to reflect the lights. With their dynamos purring, the engine rocking to her own beat, and the tap, tap of the belt they made a fine sight.
I don't doubt for one moment that the old threshing and haulage engines, and the ploughing engines, were very fine engines, but if you have never seen a really good Showman's engine in show condition, then you've missed something.
I mention ploughing engines. It appears that all yours were direct traction ploughing engines. Did you never use the single or double engine system of cable ploughing or are your fields too big? Most of ours were on this pattern.
To avoid confusion, the address at the top of this letter is my present postal address as I am working here, exiled into Wales, but my engines live at Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England and I hope to return to them before very long.
May I wish you the very best for yourself and your Magazine.