A Steam Show in England

| July/August 1974

1927 W. Nelson Street, Chicago, Illinois 60657

When planning a trip to England this summer, my wife and son and I decided to try to include a visit to a steam show there. Accordingly, I wrote to Iron-Men Album requesting the name of a contributor from England and was supplied with that of Mr. Stanley White. I sent him a copy of our proposed itinerary which he forwarded to the World's Fair newspaper, which contains a listing of outdoor carnivals, fairs, and other amusements. The director, Mr. M. F. Mellor, sent me copies of World's Fair containing steam rally dates from which I selected the Great Bath and West Steam Fair at Shepton Mallet on July 7 and 8 as the most convenient to our plans. In this way we were able to arrange hotel reservations, etc., to accommodate a visit to the show.

We landed at Heathrow Airport outside of London on July 6, rented a car there, and drove to London to spend our first night. The next day, after some sightseeing in London, we drove on to Glouchester. On the 8th we left Glouchester very early, went thru Bristol and on to Shepton Mallet, arriving at the show about 9 A.M.

The show was somewhat like our shows at Kings, or Pontiac, or Geneseo, or Chilton, Wis., but with some notable exceptions. A carnival atmosphere prevailed, with side shows, a shooting gallery, a coconut shy, stands selling yard goods, clothing, dishes and glassware - in short, a commercial enterprise that had little to do with steam or old farm machinery. I mentioned this to Jim Russell, of Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire with whom I had a long talk, and he said their experience was that these things were necessary to make the show a financial success. He also said that this show has been an annual event at this location for 196 years, since its start in 1777, and its long life was proof of good planning!

Much less activity was evident in threshing, baling, sawmilling, etc., than at our shows, in fact, although many steam engines, gas tractors, and gas engines were running and a few tractors were moved around, no other work was done during the half-day we spent there.

On the other side of the coin, however, many of the exhibits were very interesting. Nine gaily painted showman s engines were on display with colorful striping, nickel plate, polished brass, and rows upon rows of lights. Without exception they were equipped with large generators which could be belted to the bandwheel to supply electricity to the carousels and other rides that they transported from one show to another. Many have been in constant use as lately as the middle 1960's. Another exhibit not usually found in our shows was that of band organs, or calliopes, of which five were in evidence. These furnished a constant musical background for the show. A couple of steam trucks were also shown, and I was told that there is one still in use in the yard of a steel plant in Sheffield. Without exception, the steam exhibits were rebuilt and repainted like new, with special attention given to authentic details and colors.