Saturday, 13 August 2016

Steam, coal smoke, and nostalgia in lovely East Cheshire parkland

It's mid August, the traditional time for the Chelford Steam Rally, and today the weather was perfect; sunny periods, not too hot, and no rain. Malc and I fired up the little bikes and headed the few miles from home to the showground at Astle Park, Chelford.

This is my 'local' Traction Engine Rally, and I think the best in the area. I have been coming here since the mid 1960s, as have many of the engines.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Mine and Malc's little bikes nestled under a tree close to the action at the show, in among the participant's vehicles. The public have to park way back , later arrivals further back still. Not only can these little machines be ridden right up to the edge of the show area, we also whiz past the lengthy queues of show-bound traffic on the Chelford road. It's far and away the best way to travel to a show like this.  

Just in front of where we parked are the stationary engines, wheezing and popping and sometimes jumping up and down as they 'fire'. There's typically a beautifully presented engine tended by the husband, a patient wife reading or knitting, and the residential caravan. I presume these couples spend many weekends each summer visiting the shows just like this. 

When life was lived at a slower pace - a motorised wood saw very gradually cuts a slice off a massive log. It takes perhaps half an hour to do what a modern sawmill does in a couple of seconds. 

 The steam gallopers. This is a regular Chelford attendee, the traditional roundabout powered by its own steam engine at the centre, with the gaily-painted horses rising and descending as the ride rotates.

I took this at the 2011 Chelford rally, but it's just as relevant to today

A Showmans' engine. It would haul the rides from town to town, and the large electrical generator above the smoke box door was used to power the rides once they were assembled. 

Here we can see the central funnel serving the Gallopers' internal steam engine, and exiting centrally through the ride's roof

Here's a video of one of the many steam organs attending today: Steam organ

There are many other attractions in the show arena besides the steam engines; here, Chelford church spire overlooks a gathering of vintage motorcycles  

Here's an old friend from the early days at Chelford'; 'Little Mac', from Congleton, always a 'special' engine for me. As I said back in the August 2011 blog post: 

"Driving home from Barton Airfield to Congleton (where we then lived) one Friday evening in August 1978 I had just completed my first solo flight during my pilot training. I was still metaphorically 'up in the air' with the euphoria of flying an aeroplane on my own for the first time. On the straight part of the A34 south of the 'Davenport Arms' I met 'Little Mac' coming the other way. Exuberantly I flashed my headlights and blew my horn, and the little traction engine's crew responded with enthusiastic waving and whistle-blowing! 'Little Mac' has always been a bit special for me since then." 

The 'footplate' of a Sentinel steam lorry, its vertical boiler prominent. The double-acting two cylinder steam engine is mounted under the lorry.  

 An earlier (and I think more aesthetically pleasing) steam lorry, with a horizontal boiler and 'traction engine' front end

Malc, in the yellow shirt, admires a stationary steam engine. These were the precursors of traction engines, being horse-drawn around the farm and then set up to perform particular tasks, such as driving a threshing machine.  

A beautifully preserved steam driven fire pump of Chester Fire Brigade 

'Maude Foster', an engine I last met at Ashley Hall Rally earlier this season (see Ashley Hall Rally ), and brought to Chelford by James, the previous owner of my 3.5" gauge 'Alfred' steam locomotive, which I run most Sundays at Abbotsfield park, Urmston (lots about that in this blog!)

A showmans' engine in the ring 

Despite that pregnant-looking  cumulus cloud above the marquee, the weather stayed fine all day. A steam bus with 'traction engine' front end in the ring.

Over fifty steam engines, including the 'miniatures' attended the rally today

Here's a video of the engines performing a 'communal whistle' in the arena: Whistling engines

Here's James on 'Maude Foster' 

....And then he said "come on Vince, we'll go for a trundle". Here's me in the steersman's position waving from the footplate before we set off. 

James drives while I steer 

He explains the finer points of engine steering, but I soon get the hang of it. There is no central 'null' straight ahead point - one is constantly steering left or right to keep the engine in a straight line, and the steering response is delayed, so one has to anticipate.

We head off across the site. The engine accelerate in a series of 'jerks' so one has to hang on to the wheel to remain aboard rather than being thrown off backwards, while steering at the same time.

Wow! This is the first time I've done this. It's fabulous, and the view from up there is pretty good, too. 

James on the regulator, me on the wheel 

Another vehicle type experienced. I always wondered what it would be like on one of these! 

We steam off into the distance 

....Then turn 180 degrees and return over the grass 

Where's James? 

 Did I solo this beast? 

He's back as we steam slowly past the parked engines 

Fantastic fun! We finished with a second gear open-regulator run up the hill; she has a lovely bark on her! 

Back to more mundane transport in the arena. An old Vauxhall Velox leads a Ford Consul and a Mk1 Cortina.  

The Consul and Cortina lead an Austin A35 and a car that still looks good today - the Triumph Stag 

Back in the late 1960s I had a holiday job driving one of these big 3.5L Rover V8s for a friend of my father. He had heart problems and his medication meant he was advised not to drive, which handed me the best holiday job a young lad could dream of. The one I drove was exactly like this, even the same colour.  

Austin 7. And a Mini (back when they really were 'mini') coming into the picture. 

American muscle. Great in a straight line, but don't expect it to go round corners with any grace!

Another super day out; lovely weather, steam, beautiful Cheshire parkland, and I got to drive a traction engine!


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