This week’s post will be a bit different in that it won’t be about model trains, it’s not even about trains! But it is about steam, lots and lots of steam, because I’ve been to the 2015 Great Dorset Steam Fair and for those of you who have never been to or even heard of this event I thought I would share some of it with you.
The UK has a proud history of mechanical machinery and throughout the year steam rallies and heritage shows can be found up and down the country with all sorts of vehicles and machinery on display. But the Great Dorset Steam Fair is the largest and is also now known as the ‘The National Heritage Show’. The event is quite literally huge and covers and area of 600 acres. It is open to the public for five days; many of the exhibitors stay for seven or eight. On average the show draws in 200,000 visitors with tens of thousands camping on site to enjoy the night life. This year’s show was the 47th and was also the biggest I have been to so far. The show is the largest of its type in Europe.
What makes the event so special is the machinery is not just on display; it is working and doing what it was made for. There are 5 main display rings or arenas and the largest is the heavy haulage ring. In here you won’t find vehicles parked up with judges walking up and down but a cacophony of sound, color and smoke as heavy loads are dragged up and down the hills behind traction engines, vintage lorries & steam rollers.
This year I was only at the show for one day and it’s not possible to get round it all and see everything in that time but I did get lots of photos and some videos for you. These were all taken on my ageing mobile phone so the sound quality is a little rough but it gives you an idea. It was also an overcast day but that didn’t stop the crowds.
So what does all this sound and look like? Well below is video taken alongside the heavy haulage ring with some of the traction engines running past.
The heavy haulage ring, referred to by the drivers as the ‘Play Pen’, is in the shape of a dog bone to allow easy turning at each end. All the movement is in an anticlockwise direction. The lowest part is in the center and at either end is a hill which makes the engines work hard and pleases everybody. The nearest hill to the center of the show is smaller and is where all the trailers and loads are picked up or parked. The far end is the largest hill and requires a lot of skill to get the big loads up it.
The main vehicles in the heavy haulage ring are traction engines and these come in all shapes and sizes.
The traction engine or road locomotive above is a McLaren called “Gigantic” built in 1911. It was designed as a heavy haulage tractor, and has been put back to its World War 1 livery when it would have been used to pull large guns and supplies to the front line. They were called ‘road locomotives’ as a ‘locomotive’ was term used to describe a railway engine.
Alongside the ring, traction engines wait for their turn, below ‘Britannia’ sits in the sun.
The engine below is great example of an agricultural (general purpose) engine which has been worked hard.
Sitting by the ring for any period of time you will see a huge variety of machinery pass by.
Throughout the day there are different demonstrations in the ring, below are some photos of an exhibition of cavalry officers on horseback reenacting charges; they were attacking cabbages!
As the ring is so big the action carried on behind the horses and below is a video of some of the traction engines shifting the biggest load around the lower part of the ring before they tackled the big hill. Note, the traction engines were doing all the work, the truck was there for emergency brakes.
All sorts of different loads were available and throughout the day different engines pulled different loads.
Below is a team of engines pulling a huge transformer up the big hill, and down again. The engine on the back is normally used as a braking engine.
The team rested at the top before making the descent.
All over the site there are traction engines, all singing with steam.
Here is a video of one just passing by.
The engine below, ‘Leviathan’, is a portable engine used to produce power only as it could not move by itself. This would have been towed to a site and used to drive anything from wood cutters to thrashing machines out in the fields.
As well as traction engines there were also steam wagons and lorries. Foden was one of the major manufactures of steam wagons and lorries and below are some great examples.
The steam lorry below was designed as a heavy hauler with its twin axels for added traction.
Sentinel was another big manufacturer and below are some perfect examples.
The steam lorries were, for their time, very fast and in the video below you can see the ‘Hovis’ Sentinel steam lorry charging through the heavy haulage ring on its way up the big hill.
What helps make the lorries so fast is they are chain driven, not directly geared like the traction engines. Below you can see the chain casing on the rear axle with the chain just protruding out the bottom.
The steam wagon below has also been returned to its World War 1 livery.
Here is another video of steam lorries doing their thing in the heavy haulage ring.
And where there are lorries, there are cars. Steam cars, that is.
And here is a video of them charging round the area. For a fee of £5 you could get a ride in one with all proceeds going to charity.
The vehicle below is a diesel-powered World War 1 gun tractor built in the US for the British Army.
We also had a World War 1 tank crawling around the arena.
It was a fairly slow mover as you can see in the video below; it actually crept up on me as I was filming by the gate to the arena.
As well as all the steam there was also hundreds of heritage cars, lorries, buses and motorbikes on show around the site. My personal favorite are the Scammell trucks. Below is a Scammell Constructor named ‘Viking’.
Here is a Scammell Highwayman.
And my favorite, the Scammell Explorer. It’s a World War 2 tank recovery truck.
And if you happen to have one lurking around your barn that you don’t want, please let me know!
And of course the big Scammells got their chance to play in the heavy haulage ring.
The Scammell Explorers make the best sound and you can hear them as they enter the ring in this video.
Once they had done a few laps and calmed down they started on the big loads.
Old Glory magazine had a big marquee at the show with several engines under repair. I think the one below need a bit of work but I reckon we will see it steaming again one day.
Another type of traction engine comes with a crane. This made them very versatile and elsewhere on the site they were in use moving logs, barrels and machinery.
Steam rollers were also a big part of the show and there was a whole area dedicated to them although I didn’t get time to visit that part of the show. They were actually being used to create the new roads through the site.
Alongside the heavy haulage ring was a sectioned-off strip given to the miniature engines and these realy do come in all shapes and sizes. There was a field full of them; here are a few.
Below we have miniature traction engine ‘Little Lew’
In the photo below we have a big miniature ‘Lady Of the Lake’ and small full-size running next to each other.
Miniature (if you can call it that!) traction engine ‘Galanthus’.
Miniature traction engine ‘Black Pearl’.
Miniature traction engine ‘Bagpuss’.
This one was tiny!
And this one is my friend’s miniature traction engine, ‘Emily’.
She has just been rebuilt and I was lucky enough to have a ride around the ring with her.
As well as working machinery there are also fields of auto jumble where you can buy all sorts of things. Spare engine, anybody?!
At intervals around the show were the fairground organs and a lot of them were steam-powered or at least driven by a traction engine.
In one of the big fields to the side of the show, the ploughing engines could be found working hard.
The ploughing engine is almost the same as a traction engine but it has a longer boiler to make way for the large winding drum underneath. Although you can’t see it at the top of the field there is another ploughing engine. The cable from both engines is attached to a plough and they take it in turns to pull the plough across the field. To speed up the operation the plough is often double-facing. This means you don’t have to turn it arround. In the image below you can see the plough with three people sat on one side of it to weigh it down, the engine on the left is pulling. Once it gets to the end the people will sit on the other side and it will swing over like a seesaw. The engine which was pulling will give two blasts on the whistle and the other engine will start to pull.
Below is a video showing the ploughing engines working and in the middle of the video you can see the cable winding onto the drum.
And not to be left out here are two miniature ploughing engines doing the same thing.
Elsewhere on the site the showman’s engines are hard at work powering the fairground, and attractions. And when I say powering, I don’t mean with mechanical power but electricity. The showman’s engines are again similar to traction engines but they have a full roof and an extra section on the front that overhangs the smoke box door. On this over hang is positioned an electric generator, sometimes the bigger ones have two. The engine below, ‘Lion’, was powering a ride behind it; you can see the wires hanging down from the left hand side of the generator.
On the side of the generator mount are two gauges measuring the voltage and current draw; ‘Lion’ was producing 110 volts and 200 amps. Each time the ride started up the amps shot up to almost 400 amps and ‘Lion’ gave a satisfying bark as the governer kicked in to maintain the constant speed.
Most of the organs and stage shows had one or several showman’s engines providing power. Below is ‘Cary On’ with the ‘Gavioli’ Organ and stage show.
Showman’s engine ‘The Masterpiece’ and living van.
Showman’s engine ‘Evening Star’.
Showman’s engine ‘His Lordship’.
But the biggest concentration of showman’s engines is the line up powering the big fairground.
I didn’t count them but on one side there must be 50 showman’s engines of all sizes.
Here is showman’s engine ‘John Murphy’. You can see how big it is by the ladder they use at the back to get into it.
Behind the lineup is the fairground which is full of new and vintage rides and attractions.
Showman’s engine ‘Peter Pan’.
Showman’s engine ‘King George V’.
Showman’s engine ‘Supreme’.
Parked all over the site are the living wagons which you often see being towed behind the traction engines. Some of these are truly fantastic and very comfortable.
A lot of the traction engines return to their living wagon at night and get put to bed. At the top of the big hill several engines get covered over as the sun goes down.
But that is not the end of the show. The heavy haulage engines may be shut down but the fairground comes to life and this is when the showman’s engines have their moment.
As the sunlight fades away the steam-powered lights start to come on. Here is showman’s engine ‘John Murphy’ again all powered up.
Showman’s engine ‘Dolphin’ was producing a good 200 amps powering one of the Big Wheels.
Showman’s engine ‘Ex-Mayor’.
Showman’s engine ‘Obsession’.
Showman’s engine ‘QUEEN OF GT. BRITAIN’.
As well as all the night steam activity there are also several huge entertainment marquees with live music to suit all tastes.
I didn’t stay ’til midnight this year, so I don’t have photos for you in total darkness, but trust me, with so many showman’s engines lit up it is a sight which photos can’t do justice. One thing to look forward to when you do stay ’til late is all the showman’s engines sound their whistles at midnight, and that is an impressive noise.
On the way back to the car park I passed through the fair and past the biggest of the Big Wheels.
There was so much I didn’t get to this year, or didn’t photograph, including steam saw cutting, steam thrashing (bailing of straw etc), horse ploughing, horse-drawn vehicles, vintage tractors, classic motorcycles, fields of vintage commercials and army vehicles, tractor pulling, huge arts and crafts tents, model tents, massive food halls, birds of prey, fields of stationary engines and all sorts of shows and entertainment.
Next year’s show will start on Wednesday 31st of August 2016 and runs til Sunday the 4th of September 2016, maybe I will see you there.