Similarities and differences of American and British steam rallies came clear to us as my wife Margaret and I visited the Carrington Park Rally in Lincolnshire, England this spring.
Our guides were Roger and Celia West. Roger is editor of Steaming, the quarterly magazine of the National Traction Engine Club; Celia serves as his co-worker in many ways in preparing the magazine for printing. The office is in their home in Market Harborough, a small picturesque Midlands town.
The chuff-chuff of steam, and the smoke rising from the stacks, spoke the international language which draws all traction engine buffs together. The day was fair, and the crowd was large. Everyone had a good time. This was genuinely a holiday event, as are the shows in the U.S. and Canada.
Carrington Park is one of a series of rallies approved by the NTEC. All the approved rallies are listed in a folder issued in spring, starting with events in April. The schedule continues into November, closing with the Beaulieu Firework Fair handled through the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.
The Carrington Park Rally was held on Sunday and Monday, May 30 and 31. You must remember that although this was Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., the British do not observe our Memorial Day. Yet it was a special weekend there nevertheless, a Spring Bank Holiday weekend.
Roger and Celia very kindly picked us up at the home in London in which we were staying, and drove us to their home, about 80 miles north. We talked shop, of course. Roger, a dyed-in-the-wool steam enthusiast, is an encyclopedia of information. An architectural draftsman, he owns his own steam roller and helps in the restoration of other traction engines in the headquarters of the Welland Valley Club at Market Harborough. He has an excellent collection of photographs and books dealing with steam transportation, his main interest, as well as with traction engines.
Celia is an excellent cook as well as aide to Roger in typing and proofreading. She also enjoys gardening. She works in the sales office of an engineering firm. We had a delicious late snack, and after a hearty breakfast Monday morning, were taken to Carrington Park by the Wests. First we stopped at the local club's shop where engine restoration is underway. Then it was off to Carrington Park.
The field covered about half a dozen acres, and on it were assembled dozens of tents and temporary structures housing vendors and purveyors of many kinds. The field was level and well cropped by a flock of sheep, which were transferred to an adjacent tract for the duration of the rally. The traction engines were lined up in a large area, all spic and span, highly polished. Many of the British engines are boldly painted in full restoration, with a lot of brass.
Showmen's engines are part of the display, and also do some work. These are mammoth pieces of engineering, holdovers from the time when they were in regular use. They were equal to the early lorries (trucks) for road haulage. Once at the scene of a fair or a carnival, they provided electric power for operating merry-go-rounds and other rides with their organs, and also could be used for night lighting.
Now they are primarily exhibition pieces, carefully groomed, each with its own name 'Dreadnought', 'King Arthur,' or similar titles. But several were in actual operation, primarily powering fair organs. These organs play marches and other tunes from perforated boards which carry the notes. The sound is that of an organ, but there are also other effects, such as drum rolls and bells.
Tractors and stationary gas engines were also on display, in a section all their own. Every so often you would see an American name; in some casessuch as John Deere these were American built about 1942 under 'Lease Lend Agreement' and shipped over 1942 onwards in the thousands.
A large roped-off area was provided for parading and displaying in motion. Safety requirements are very strict. On this display area, the engine owners were awarded prizes for various distinctions.
'Steam Heat' is the wording on the T-shirts of the dancers at Carrington Park. Part of a showman's engine is at front left; steam from one at merry-go-round is right center.
You could buy all kinds of souvenirs and take all kinds of rides at the rally. NTEC t-shirts and other items sold well. A small merry-go-round, for tiny tots, was operated by woman power a curvaceous young woman turning a central geared wheel to keep the carousel revolving. One of the most popular attractions was a giant inflated rubber version of a trampoline, with dozens of children happily jumping up and down.
One of the show engines powered music for Penny Rigden's dancers, a three-member troupe of attractive showgirls on a stage. They drew sizeable audiences. At one point they recruited some of the young men from the work crew to don costumes and join them in entertaining with a can-can dance.
A liquid refreshment tent sold all kinds of drinks, from pop to scotch, and the lines were long because it was a warm day.
Roger and Celia, who are fully knowledgeable about the engines and owners, introduced us to various exhibitors. Then we were guests at a delightful picnic spread by Celia on a blanket under the shade of an ancient tree. After that it was off to the city of Peterbow, where we boarded an Inter City 125 fast train for London. Train speeds hit 125 miles an hour not the usual thing on our roadbeds.
NTEC estimates there are 2,000 steam traction engines in restoration in the British Isles. So far as we know, no estimate has been made for the U.S. and Canada, but we are in the process of trying to assemble the sum. The number of rallies in Britain is not limited to those under NTEC sponsorship; others are held as well.