Sunday, June 8th, we decided that, as a change from watching motor races, we would attend a race for traction engines. This entailed, first of all, half-an-hour’s run to Reading, happily free of congestion on this dull morning. Then on along the road to Panghourne and along beside the peaceful Thames to Streatley, here to fork left on to that winding undulating road over the downs towards Wantage, where the speedometer needle of the Morgan Plus Four stood at between 60 and 70 mph. As we turned off into the lanes, bound for Appleford and Bridge Farm, we encountered atfirst a stream of cyclists, then a solid line of cars, for this race of the giants, originating as a friendly contest three years ago, has become, in 1952, a public spectacle.
The free car park was full of hundreds of cars and five coaches. There was no charge either, for admission to the big field which formed the arena—only numbers of charming young ladies collecting for Oxford’s Eye Hospital. The atmosphere was that of an English country fair and must have made envious any Americans who were present. There was a beer-tent, and news-reel and television chaps, but we were spared a loud-speaker commentary as five agricultural traction engines, a Burrell showman’s road-locomotive, and a Foden tractor steamed slowly along to the appointed duelling place, preceded by a man in top hat waving a red-flag and by a one-third scale model traction engine. We observed, and smelt, with pleasure the black smoke from their tall chimneys, the sizzling steam from their safety-valves and noticed that these engines were turned-out in the pristine condition one expects of veteran cars at VCC meets. There was considerable delay before the five main performers were unleashed for their once-up, round a post, and once-back race in this Berkshire meadow. Yet the big crowd, 8,000 strong, remained respectfully behind the ropes, although no police were present—being far too busy genially clearing the traffic jams from the surrounding roads.
Eventually the race started. Someone had to be last and someone had to win, but first place was warmly contested, and everyone was glad that Mr Napper, aided by a burly “stoker,” won on his Wallis and Stevens, so keeping the prize in Appleford.
After which the rain fell steadily, the smart cars of the farmers and their friends melted away, and the father and mother of all traffic blockages occurred in the narrow roads. Even the red-flag man was defeated in getting a clear passage for the victorious engine on its return journey to Bridge Farm. Yet no horns hooted, no tempers became frayed. A traction-engine race is like that—long to get going, short and sweet when in duration, but inevitably soothing. Sitting in the Morgan amongst tatty farm cars, farm labourers in Sunday-best and scores of children with flags and balloons, we wondered anew at the enthusiasm—nicely emphasised by a Sentinel drains-dredger parked while its crew enjoyed the fun, a brightly painted Trojan tourer from a neighbouring farm and, favourite of small boys, the Auster in a corner of the field, in which E Kimbell had flown down, from Sywell, to drive his engine, which had preceded him on a vast Pickford’s transport, which now barred our way. Soon we were clear of the traffic, and pushing the Morgan fast along those pleasant roads, its Vanguard engine as crisp after 15,000 miles (one “de-coke” and valve-grind) as when it was new. In less than an hour we were back in a world of sports-cars and motor racing—and had almost forgotten being told that morning of a Burrell, in good running order, for £45 !