Hay nonny no !

As August races to its close I am lamenting my decision to not book pre-paid tickets for the Great Dorset Steam Fair which begins today !  Oh yes, regret, regret, regret.  My visit last year, albeit greatly enhanced by my ‘uber-excited‘ travelling companion, still lingers and comes to the fore whenever an idle moment needs filling.  In truth idleness has not been a common factor this last few weeks even though we have had some interminable rain which has limited the outdoor activity.

Yesterdays Farming in Dorset

Probably my favourite section of the GDSF, the carts and wagons rolling around the arena were pure nostalgia. Must have been, I sat still for over an hour !

Partly because of the short amount of work I have managed to complete, and hence short amount of ‘readies’ to call forth from a ‘hole-in the-wall’, and partly because such hugely enjoyable occasions are seldom soon repeated, I have forgone the pleasure this year.   In general, I tend to have a gap between attending such events.

That was certainly the case with my visit to the Three Cocks Vintage in Hay a couple of weeks back.  For various reasons I had not attended for four years or so and consequently, with the few provisos I mentioned earlier, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing everything.  True, there is a certain ‘sameness’ about the lines and lines of stationary engines and their often non-attendant owners (with whom I like to chat and ask questions).  So too the ever increasing number of tractors leaves me somewhat flat as does the many classic cars.  However that is no reflection on the quality of the exhibits, all are immaculately restored, nor is it  because I am not interested in them, no, it is simply that so many of them I have seen before.  I have probably said it before, ‘more is not necessarily better’.  From a purely marketing point of view it seems to me the organisers would do well to address the issue of repeat attendance and bring a little variety to each new show so as to attract back those who visited in previous years.  Of course, with the numbers of visitors as high as it is those responsible will feel happy that they have it all worked out correctly and that may well be the case.

What therefore catches my eye, and is probably the reason I go back to events, is the newly restored or first time exhibitor;  something which  I haven’t seen before or is amazing because of its originality and quality of restoration.  This year at Three Cocks there was an abundance of such exhibits and in part they have satiated my appetite such that my (no choice) decision to not attend Dorset is made easier.  Besides, don’t I have enough here to be going on with !?

Nicely restored old trailer at Hay Steam Fair

‘Best in Show’ for me, among the farming exhibits. A beautifully restored old trailer with some period cargo. Tractors look so much better hauling something.

Several exhibits at the Three Cocks Vintage day really inspired me (to get my own restorations completed) and they were in that category of newly restored or ‘first time I had seen’ them.  The old farm trailer with some nice period items on-board was the absolute gem of the show for me.  It is the simplicity of the item, the common-place that is now so rare, which appeals to me.  How many old trailers are lying around farms ?  Every farm had one and every tractor was merely a replacement power source for hauling them, so why don’t we see more of them !  I appreciate, of course, that moving a trailer to a show any distance from home is particularly difficult.  Current legislation on towing weights means only the smaller tractors can be easily trailered to a show behind a normal 4 x 4.  Anything larger needs a lorry or low-load move and that is outside the scope of most small scale one-man restorers.  All the more reason to congratulate this exhibitor, it was a true delight.

Followers of this blog will know that amongst my ‘things to do’ is a 1930s touring caravan, an Eccles, and one of the sections I head for at any vintage show is the Classic Caravan plot.  To my delight there was an excellent small array of vans and dormobiles on show.  If the tractor and engine bods are noticeable by their absence (when wishing to ask or chat) the folk who exhibit these leisure vehicles are the complete opposite.  They love their vehicles and delight in talking to anyone who shows an interest, they are more than happy to tell you ‘tricks of the trade’ in terms of how to fix something, where to get parts, how to date, how they acquired theirs, anything and everything is on offer if they know it.  I like these folk, they epitomise the bug that is the hallmark of the true ‘vintage restorer’.

Series 1 land Rover and period caravan at Three Cocks Vintage 2012

The perfect couple, a Series 1 long wheel base Land Rover and an early classic caravan. I was silly to sell my 1953 107″ Land Rover wasn’t I !

The internal decoration and all the paraphanalia of caravan living are also period and the queues to look inside or talk to the owners was evidence of their attraction to the many visitors.

I particularly liked the combination of the early long wheel base Land Rover and a 1930s (I think) caravan.  That made me a little sad as I had so wanted to create such a duo but, alas, I let my 107″ Land Rover go a year or so ago.  Can’t do everything !

The Bedford CA, the one with the sliding front doors and column change gear stick has a particular place in my heart.  I grew up with them.  Those lovely forward control cabs with the engine cowling at your feet came, in commercial format, with no passenger seat and painted in primer grey.  My grand-father and his sons had two of them as bread delivery vans for his grocery business.  I spent nearly ten years of Saturday mornings perched on an upturned wooden crate as one of the two ‘bread boys’ who helped the main baker as he did his round.  My one uncle had the dormobile version and that doubled as his personal vehicle – difficult to go on holdiays ! – and that was brought to mind at Three Cocks by a super Dormobile conversion in concourse condition.

Dormobile on a Bedford CA at Three cocks vintage show 2012

The real McCoy of caravanettes, the Bedford CA with those characteristic sliding front doors. I could happily ‘poodle’ around in it.

For many years the Marquee held a wonderful display of model carts and wagons.  There were several model-makers proudly showing their immaculate wooden farm wagons.  This year there was only one but he provided one of the highlights of the day.  Coincidentally I had been communicating with the very gentleman only that past week and it was something of a surprise to both us to meet there in that marquee.  One item in particular amongst his amazing models was an absolute thrill for me to see.

Radnor Wheel Car, wooden model showing immaculate skill.

This model of a Radnor Wheel Car is immaculate – scaled from the National Museum of Wales’ version at St. Fagans the maker of which was the same man as made my example – and was all I’d expected it to be, well done John T !

I had wanted to see the Radnor Wheel Car, not least because it was the very item I had been corresponding with John Tonen about.  I have an example made by the same Llanbister wainwright as made the one which John had modelled (it is in the collection of the National Museum of Wales, St. Fagans).  I am anxious to get a model to use in my lectures on farm transport – I have a gambo and tumbril but it is the wheel car that is the quirkiest of  Welsh farm transport.

I have not the slightest idea how anyone has the dexterity or patience to model such beautiful pieces of craftsmanship.  All of the model makers I have encountered around the country produce immaculate carts and wagons, some even have thrashing machines.  The models I have were made by a local modeller who alas has now retired which means my pursuit of a Wheel Car will run for a while longer – in truth is unlikely to be successful as the models are made for love of the craft and are not done for sale, in any case the hours involved would make them hugely expensive.  I was so pleased to see the fine examples produced by John, but I am also envious !!

The poor summer weather has seen the cancellation of most of the small local shows I would normally try to attend.  However,  as September looms there are several I am hoping will be blessed with some fine ‘Indian summer’ blue skies.  I have begun to assemble a small display of hand tools to exhibit at the local show followed the very next day by the slightly eccentric ‘Apple Day’ at nearby Penlanole, home of the Willow Theatre and Shakespeare Trust (see www.shakespearelink.co.uk).  The afternoon gathering celebrates the autumnal harvest of fruit and the juicing of the apple crop is a highlight.  I hope their crop is better than mine, I have no fruit this year, no damsons or apples and very little in the way of Elder berries.  Wherever I go folk are saying how poor their apples and soft fruit is, the poor birds will be struggling to get fat for the long winter that’s for sure.  Yesterday I went over to tend a small garden I look after at a holiday cottage near Llangorse lake.  Normally this time of year cutting the grass and clearing up the fallen fruit is something of a game of Russian roulette as dozens of wasps are holding a convention on the apples and plums.  Not a one was to be seen, astonishing indeed, worse it means that the nests have failed and there will be a dirth of Queen wasps next spring to begin the cycle again and provide the much needed pollinating agents for the very same fruit trees.  It will be interesting to see how many I encounter through the winter as dry stone walls are a favourite over-wintering hide-away for the big Queens.  Every winter I normally disturb several but they are well out of it and can be easily placed back into the wall, making sure to leave them an exit route !

Towards the end of September I will attend the increasingly popular  Sheep Festival in Llandovery (weekend of 29th/30th) which brings together a large number of producers of wool and fibre and the beautiful items and garments made from it.  There is also a large auction of the rarer breeds of sheep and this is always a well attended function.  Prior to that the end of season show in this part of the world, organised by the local club and their tireless Chairman Brian, takes place in the grand surroundings of the National Trust property of Dinefwr House the Park and grounds of which are a real delight.  This is always a large event with exhibitors coming from all over south Wales.  Lets hope the weather is on our side.

I’ve decided to mount a display which has a certain resonance with the summer weather we’ve just experienced.  “Today I shall be mainly concentrating on draining the land”.  The upland areas, as well as some low lying valleys, needed to be managed in the sense of removing excess water from the soil.  The whole science of draining the land had its own set of instruments, specially designed tools to aid the Ditcher to make the drains to remove the water from the soil and sub soil.  I may also have an exhibition of Peat cutting tools which have a close resemblance to draining tools and are often mistaken for each other.

I will be keen to display the recent acquisitions brought home from Scotland, the Flaughter spades and the Tushkar which have a close similarity to the Welsh peat cutting tools and breast ploughs.

Tushka knife

My tushka knife, the Scottish peat cutting spade.

The attraction of these small local shows is that I inevitably get to have long talks with the older members of the farming community.  Their memories of how the tools were used and the stories associated with that use, often of hard work,  is a priceless oral history.  One of my neighbours is exactly the kind of gentle countryman whom I could listen to for hours.

I got to do that just this very morning as I called up to try to get his old Ferguson tractor running.  I had tried to get the petrol/tvo model, the TED of 1950 vintage, to run last October with no luck, an electrical fault was the problem.  I bought a new 12 volt coil for it but for one reason or another I never got the chance to get up to fit it.  We finally met on the road the other afternoon and fixed a day, a quiet Sunday morning at the start of September.

I fitted the new coil and renewed the petrol, he had charged the battery and we fired her up.  Or rather, we didn’t fire it up, dead, no spark at all.  It needs to go off to my friend the ‘Fergie Doctor’ which I will arrange.  My old neighbour has lived a long life in that remote hill farm but knows that his time is running short.  He has no family to take over and he knows too that after his day the old tools of his trade will go to the dump as the old house and buildings are ‘renovated’ for the new owners who so e’re they will be.  He thus passes to me long treasured items of his farming life.  He knows I will treasure them and display them for others to learn of the old ways of the Welsh hill farms.  He is the last Welsh speaker in the high valley.

Even so I was quite shocked to be given an item which was the equivalent of his sword – had he been a warrior of old.  Well known in the valley as someone who did not modernise his methods readily, his methods were those of his father and his father before him.  The long abandoned scythe was still his preferred cutting tool, he had fashioned the ash handle himself over 50 years ago.  He is well respected as a champion stick maker and craftsman of wood.  Today I came home with his ‘sword’, his trusty cherished scythe has passed to me to keep and cherish.  I have to admit to being somewhat ‘choked’ as I drove my old tractor back down the valley.

Scythe with Ash sned

The beautiful scythe that worked for 70 years in the hills nearby, with its wonderfully crafted ash sned.  The old ‘rip stick’ is still attached, used to sharpen the cutting edge.

A mixed week of nostalgia and antiquity although some work was undertaken, on the odd dry day.  I haven’t had to go far, the old manor house of the area requires some wall building.  Welshwaller is back in the grove, stone and wood, machines and tools.  And just a few interesting busy afternoons of fun.

One Response to “Hay nonny no !”

  1. cakenessmonster Says:

    As a lucky someone who has seen most of the prized tools in your possession and a great many more here, there, and everywhere, I feel well qualified to say that that scythe is BEAUTIFUL and exquisite! What’s even more beautiful is the care he has obviously given it over the years. It almost looks new, though it has probably done more days of work than I have spent on the earth so far. Well done to its original owner, and well done you for saving it from a trip to the tip.

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