Farm Collector

A Steam Show in England

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.

The gas tractor exhibit, of special interest to me, had nearly
fifty entries. Many were familiar names, such as John Deere, Case,
Farmall, Massey-Harris, Allis Chalmers, Fordson and Oliver.
Incidently, Waterloo Boy is known as ‘Overtime’ there and
our 8-16 International is called the International
‘Junior’. Mr. W. Burraston of Radstock, Bath, showed his
Junior together with a 1934 Farmall on steel with a wide front end
and a nice 1927 Fordson. I had a long talk with him, mostly about
restoration difficulties. Other tractors shown, with less common
names, were Marshall, Bristol Crawler, Lanz, Scammell, Porsche,
Pattison, and Anzani.

The old Fordson was a very popular tractor in England during the
period between World War I and II. The shortage of farm help
resulting from military conscription was alleviated to a larg
extent by importing Fordsons from the United States and later by
building them in Dagenham and in Cork, Ireland. Many ways were
devised to alter the ignition system since the coils soon became
waterlogged in the damp English climate. Otherwise, they were well
suited to the small fields, and used in great quantity, with a few
still in use.

About thirty gasoline engines were exhibited, Again, some names
were familiar, such as Stover and International, but many were not,
such as Lister, Petter, Fowler, and Wolseley. Mr. and Mrs. J. A.
Foster of Gillingham, Dorset had an exhibit of Stover engines,
built in Freeport, Illinois, and when they discovered that we were
from Chicago, engaged us in a long conversation.

All with whom we talked were friendly and helpful. We had a few
minutes conversation with Colonel Anthony Bullivant, Chief Steward
and Chairman of the show who introduced us to several other engine
owners. Mr. Burraston, Mr. Russell, and Mr. Foster were friendly
and outgoing and genuinely interested in the show and in our
comments about it. We were invited to other shows in the area;
unfortunately our schedule did not permit our attending them.

Altogether, we had a memorable and rewarding experience, and one
to be recommended to all who can duplicate it.

  • Published on Jul 1, 1974
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