Vintage tailpiece

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Steam at Bishop’s Castle (August 31st)

I like to go to at least one traction-engine rally and one flying display a year, if the opportunity arises. This is good for one’s sense of proportion, apart from the obvious contrast between such events. This year it came to the late summer Bank Holiday and I’d not done either, when I remembered that the County of Salop Steam Engine Society’s Rally involved me in only an hour’s drive.

So I went, in the Alfa Romeo 1750. The A44 was a bit traffic-boggy on this holiday Monday, not because of the density of cars but due to the very slow speed their drivers were maintaining, although strapped firmly to the insides of them. It was the same along that fine, winding road from Penybont to Knighton, but after that, through the remote village of Clun, congestion disappeared. The rally had brought so many spectators to the field bounded by grass-clad low hills, that the car parks were very full, but arranged in commendably orderly fashion.

The first thing which caught the eyes was the very big display of stationary engines put on by the Midland Oil Engine Club. There was a 1923 1-1/2 h.p. Petter M-type two-stroke, saved from the scrapheap, a 2-h.p. American Witte of the early 1920s which had for years powered a local cross-cut saw, a 1914 2-1/2 h.p. engine rejoicing in the name of “The Hired Man”, and a very busy twin-flywheel 1913 Bentall, this one bought just after the Second World War by a Penybont blacksmith, who took it home in a pony and trap but never used it.

Others included a 1929 2-1/2 h.p. Blackstone, a vast 1928 3HF 6-h.p. Gardner heavy oil engine weighing a ton, once used to drive the lighting set at a house at Crickhowell but saved in a very derelict condition, a 1917 2-1/2 h.p. Lister which had spent its entire working life on a Redmarley farm, a 1920 7-h.p. Blackstone which ran on lamp oil, requiring a blowlamp to get it going, a Duz-Go (which wasn’t going), a Bamford with hit-and-miss governer, an enormous 1917 12-3/4 h.p. Blackstone, Crossleys and Ruston Hornsbys in various sizes including a 1921 5-h.p. Crossley used to drive a Newtown printing press until 1926 and a sawbench in the same town until 1963 and restored by its present owner last year, a Fairbanks Morse, an Amenco and many more. [These engines have the same fascinating histories as veteran cars did forty years ago and if any more remain to be salvaged I would be glad to hear of them.—Ed.]

A grand array of traction engines and steam waggons took the rally arena to the tune of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”, headed by two fine Fowler Showman’s road locomotives. The rest were well paired, and I noticed that Foden’s had sent their 1916 5-tonner, Robert Wynn (about whom Motor Sport readers are aware) their 1920 Fowler which hauled their heavy loads up to 1932, and that a local entrant of several engines, Michael Salmon, had his 1914 RNAS Foden 5-tonner, en solids, with centre-pivot steering, towing an authentic Foden trailer. In view of the number of people who threaten to build practical steam cars but never do, I was intrigued by Mr. Harding’s very practical example, which had been driven to the rally from Leicester. It consists of a Bradford van equipped with a cab, canopy and funnel, and propelled by an early vertical two-cylinder simple-acting steam launch engine of unknown make, supplied from a lagged vertical boiler, this silent-functioning vehicle aptly named “The Novelty”. As the various steamers paraded at a slow walking pace the commentator bravely read some verses in their honour, nearly causing us to weep for the nostalgia of it and the very British scene, the crowd so well behaved, the engines so beautifully presented. Some are still working, a 1929 Sentinel still being used commercially, a Fowler ploughing engine of 1918 vintage being employed for dredging and a 1931 Fowler roller being on holiday from working at the Long Mynd Gliding Club.

To back up the steamers there was a display of veteran cars, consisting of a blue 1913 15-h.p. Napier doctor’s coupe, 1911 and 1912 Turners, two 1912 40/50 Rolls-Royce tourers, a Model-T Ford of the same age, owned from new by a local Colonel until his death in the mid-1950s, 1911 8 h.p. Renault, 1910 Daimler 15 h.p. two-seater, 1903 Clement, 1904 Turner-Miesse steamer (by R. Hampson who collects this make), 1899 Star and 1899 De Dion Quad. There was also a big concourse of vintage motorcycles, from 1913 Williamson fiat-twin to 1930 V-twin BSA and 350-c.c. Sunbeam, and some vintage commercial vehicles, which included a very fine 1914 X-type Thornycroft 3-ton platform lorry which lay derelict from 1940 until 1962 but has been splendidly restored, even to the name `”Thornycroft” engraved on its inlet manifold, an ex-RAE 1939 Leyland fire-engine, a 1927 Dennis 30-cwt. platform truck used by Gloucester Co-op until after the war and by a farmer until 1964, and a 1935 Leyland Hippo platform lorry which was in use by a ILancashire flour company as recently as 1964.

,Altogether, the Bishop’s Castle Steam Rally is an event not to be missed—next year.—W. B.