Return to Steam

Author

W.B.

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On June 11th a very big crowd assembled at Appleford for the National Traction Engine Rally. This picturesque event was held at Mr. Napper’s Bridge Farm, which luckily possesses an enormous field, and so provided a long course for the races and parking for hundreds of cars, amongst which the many vintage vehicles stood out, bright spots of colour amongst bulbous tin-ware. It even had a stream in one corner, from which the 23 competing engines could refill their boilers and water tanks.

This traction-engine rally provided a scene which only England could provide, and only the English enjoy so fully. From the engine park clouds of water-vapour and smoke drifted lazily into the overhanging branches of stately trees — until E. N. Shone’s 1931 Sentinel rudely blew off pressure and sent us running from the resultant spray. In a nearby enclosure the Didcot silver band played appropriately, the raucous music from the p.a. having been stilled.

Earnest gentlemen wearing Press and members’ badges — the reverse of which’ bore the inscription “Traction-engine racing is dangerous” — photographed the machinery towering above them, and the talk was not of two-stroke versus poppet valve, with a tear for the departed sleeve valve, but of slide valves, injectors and governors. The children rode, clusters of them, on two flat trucks, endowed with straw bales for seats, at 6d. a time, for a circuit of the course behind Dr. G. Romanes’ small 1903 Wallis and Steevens engine, and there was a bookmaker and a fair with roundabouts and coconut-shies in full swing. The engines themselves were the centre of attention. The entry consisted of six Wallis and Steevens, three each of Marshall, Sentinel and Burrell, two each of Fowler, Aveling & Porter and Foden, a Garrett and J. M. Edwards’ Soame steam-car with V.C.C. plaque. The last-named was the oldest, the senior traction-engine being J. Quick’s 1900 Wallis and Steevens, the youngest F. Rivers’ 1934 Sentinel. As in motor-racing, so in traction-engine racing, two competitors had had trouble in practice, but after all-night work the Royal School of Mines’ 1919 Aveling & Porter was hustled to the field just before the start.

The rally was opened by Raymond Glendenning — he arrived in a helicopter, just to bring our minds back to the present, and as Phillips Electrical Ltd. were sponsoring the event, it naturally carried advertising for the Phillishave dry-shaver. While we waited for this aerial visitor the National Traction Engine Club enrolled members (associate membership costs only 6s. per annum), J. N. Maskelyne, of The Model Engineer, judged the engines for elegance with evident enjoyment, and J. S. H. Ward made very audible commentaries, announcing forthcoming traction-engine fixtures, from which, and a ladies’ race in our programme sponsored by She, we appreciated that this new sport is growing apace. There may be many clubs, but surely none have such a suitable starter as the N.T.E.C. in P. Dunn, who is so tall no one could possibly false-start!

The crowd, as crowds will, invaded the course and no one could see very much, but none complained — it was that sort of an afternoon. R.E.M.E. radio contacts cracked jokes one to another via ultramodern radio equipment, and over the heads of the spectators we saw L. C. Parris’ 1932 8-h.p. Burrell “King George V,” with big polished flywheel, easily beat the 7-h.p. Marshall and Fowler of A. C. Nipper and G. Bancroft (the latter down in the programme as “mate”), an Aveling & Porter, with correct prancing-horse badge, win its heat from a Wallis and Steevens, a Foden out-race a later Foden. Then friends allowed us to listen to the Le Mans commentary, reality returned, and it seemed time to attempt to extricate the VW from the maze which had resulted from haphazard car-parking, and return home through the sleepy backways of Berkshire.

The Burrell Showman’s Locomotive “King George VII,” lamps ablaze, the Fowler “King Edward,” the Wallis Patent Motor “Anton Belle,” the Foden Mighty Atom,” the Wallis Expansion Engine “Eileen the Erring” and the rest went on entertaining a huge crowd which must have contributed handsomely to the Eye Bank at East Grinstead, thanks to this return to steam. — W. B.