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
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
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
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
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
‘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
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