“Always look on the Bright side of Life….do-do, do-do, d dobee-do-be-do..

Apparently I have become too much of a ‘GRIPE’ on here – or so one of my my most ardent followers tells me – and so this marks the turn of the year, in more ways than one !  Yep, my Dear young sibling has spurred me on to a less recalcitrant approach, just in time to record an entertaining few weeks.

Following a little holiday I have returned to the ‘Show season’, thus no apologies for the content this time.  Vintage is the flavour of the month; with just a little history and no walling activity !

A Steam Plough in action

The Three Cocks Steam Fair is a must-to-attend for me and the Steam Ploughing is definitely a highlight.

The first event of August is the Three Cocks Steam and Vintage Rally at Boatside Farm between Hay-on-Wye and Clyro.  It is an excellent one-day event which always attracts several ‘Steamers’, two of which are in action hauling a huge plough up an inclined field which has recently had its arable crop combined away.

There are always friends to greet and stories to swap as well as useful information to be gleaned on some aspect of the technicalities of restoration or acquisition !  This year I ran into an old friend who is active in the field of model making; he has been off the scene for a while and it was a pleasure to run into him again.  He has promised to make me another modelof one of my carts – he has already made me a 2″ replica of my Gambo and Tumbril/Tip cart.  He has just finished a working model of a Thrashing Box which I had the pleasure of seeing ‘working’ a few weeks later at a local ‘Working Day’.

Thrashing Machine in 2 inch scale

The 2 inch scale model is perfect in every way and even has the revolving drum inside, run by a small electric motor set under the platform. Patience is indeed a virtue !

Wandering around a smallish event such as Three Cocks is an enjoyable way to spend a weekend day of indulgence.  The exhibitions are fairly standard and each year sees the same Classic cars and Stationary engines, tractors and motor bikes plus the usual stalls and car-boot but it has become as much a part of my annual calendar as the local show here in the village.

Series 2 Field Marshall at Three Cocks 2013

My all-time favourite, a Field Marshall, standing in the working field at Boatside Farm. There is nothing more reminiscent of the mechanised countryside than the familiar ‘bomp bomp bomp’ of this 2 cylinder leviathan of arable agriculture.

The next outing was a totally new venue for me.  A friend – who is currently lavishing TLC on my recently acquired Massey Ferguson 35 – asked me to accompany him to the Onslow Park event which is held over the August Bank Holiday near Shrewsbury.   It meant an early start on a Bank Holiday Sunday but proved to be well worth the sacrifice.

It is an immense event, probably the north’s equivalent of the Great Dorset Steam Fair, with at least 50 Steam engines on display.  It was a real shock to me, partly in relation to how easy it was to get there – one reason I had never attended before was the thought of such a long journey – and partly because it was SO all-encompassing.

Whilst I enjoy seeing all manner of exhibitions and rare items in preservation, my real interest comes in seeing working demonstrations of agriculture bygones.  Onslow Park did not disappoint.

Fairground Steamer at Onslow Park 2013

This was the Grandest of the old steamers on display, a huge machine  beautifully finished in Fairground style.

The amount of distance one walks at these events is quite amazing and it was a real boon to have the convenience of being able to return every couple of hours to our truck and sit and have a break.  One of the advantages of being an exhibitor rather than a visitor !  My friend has a much admired classic motor-bike of the 1950s which was once the ride of one Ray Smith, a venerated racing biker of that era.

As always, the first job is to walk the aisles of the stalls and junk car-booters.  That was the one disappointment, there weren’t many !  I can only imagine the cost of having a stall is prohibitive to the many car-booters who would surely seize such an opportunity.  I mean, how often to you get tens of thousands of anorakish nerds like us, all seeking the rarest of rusty relics !  My purchase was a pathetic contribution, a new spade for work !  At least I spent five times as much as my mate who paid the grand sum of £2 for a huge electric hammer drill which we both suspected was unlikely to be in efficient working order but which, in fact, turned out to be like new !

I’m afraid I’m not a good companion at such events, wandering around is best done as a solitary activity; I want to see what I want to see, not what yo want to see !  Thus we soon went our separate ways to wander the huge fields of the showground.

Shire Horse at Onslow Park 2013

Guaranteed to stop me in my tracks, the great working horses of yesteryear. These magnificent beasts were beautifully turned out and a joy to see.

Heavy horses are always an attraction, not just to nostalgia freaks, everyone seems to love seeing the beasts of burden and the power source for all movement prior to the infernal combustion engine, before, alongside and after Steam had come and gone.  I certainly do though I have never had the slightest interest in owning one or getting involved in handling or showing them.  They are far too large and expensive to both purchase and keep.  Of course, just like many of the  other exhibits, they are turned out looking far better than ever they could have done in their working days.

Fruit and Veg at Onslow Park 2013

A delightful little pre-war van dressed in the livery of a Fruit & Veg van.

The commercial vehicles on display covered the period of my youth and many years prior.  I always have a sense of nostalgia about the lorries and vans of the 1950s and 60s.  Partly it was because I grew up in the Grocery trade and would weekly see delivery vans and lorries arrive carrying everything from Bananas to Tea and Potatoes to Bread, it was however – and I’ve only recently realised this – my main source of knowledge about which towns were in which counties, for each commercial vehicle on the road would have the trade name and the town and county in which it was located, beautifully sign-written on the door or sides of the vehicle. Thus I learned quickly that Aylesbury was in Bucks., that Luton was in Beds., Fleet was in Hampshire and Evesham was in Worcs.  It was a while before I knew either the full name of the county or its location on a map of the U.K. but it was an invaluable aid to placing towns and it still serves me today.

E38W Ford ~Pick-up at Onslow Park 2013

Always a must to look at and photograph; I am drawn inexorably to the little pre-war Ford pick-up. An E38W would be first in my Xmas stocking if only someone would ask !

Of course the farming section draws me at each show I attend but this was something else.  A huge arable field laid out for vintage nuts to play with their machines was like a grand parade of classic farming scenes.  Up and down went all manner of old tractors towing all manner of cultivation machinery.  Crawlers and early C20th paraffin tractors, pre and post-war British and U.S. tractors and even Land Rovers adapted to carry-out farming operations which, of course, was an early selling point for the first machines off the Solihull lines.

It was slightly worrying to think of the amount of fossil fuel that was being burned in that small corner of the planet on that day, visible I’m sure for miles around.  It was a salutary reminder of just how ‘expensive’ to all of us is the manner of food production that sustains us and has done for over 50 years.  How much pollution is caused in getting one field of wheat to the table ?  The real cost of our food is never truly assessed, the true cost of a weekend of nostalgic engine running is similarly conveniently put out of mind.  It did bring it home to me just how bad for the Ozone layer such a day is when I happened upon the ‘Tractor Pulling’ arena.  Here nearly every tractor that competed belched huge amounts of black smoke high into the sunny sky, it must surely be only a matter of time until official eye-brows are raised and limits placed on such events or the notion that the ‘polluter pays’ gets applied to us tractor owners and those Steam engine owners.  For now, lets enjoy !

Domestic Bygone display

Another display that brought back memories of ‘the shop’. So many of these old items were common accoutrements of my childhood… who hasn’t got an Oxo tin in a cupboard somewhere !

It never ceases to amaze me, and in so doing eases my own feelings of self-questioning, just what folk decide to collect.  At Onslow Park there were some really obscure collections which were absolutely mesmerising.  Tins and domestic items, butter churns and butter making artefacts, steam irons, cans – both oil and petrol and all manner of models and tools.

Petrol cans of a by-gone era.

The old one gallon fuel cans – many of which languish in my sheds – provide a colourful display and a window on our past motoring exploits.

I am sure that many people look somewhat askew at those who collect old artefacts, of whatever origin but the numbers of people that attend – and pay a good price to do so – such events as the Great Dorset and Onslow Park Steam extravaganzas demonstrates that there is more than a passing interest in such collecting.

I have long since stopped trying to understand my own enjoyment at such attendances, I just enjoy it !  I’m not so keen these days on attending as an exhibitor;  I used to, I used to attend several shows each season and spend many weekends laying out my displays and then packing them all away again for the long journey home.  I still do small scale shows, local to my home – the cost of hauling a trailer with my display on board has become a very questionable past-time now – but the large events are just not appealing to me now.  I enjoy being a mere punter and wandering around looking at the hard work of everyone else !

3 Wheel Opperman Motor-cart

Another very rare item on display and another I would dearly like to have in my own collection, this Opperman Motor cart of the 1950s is a strange beast of burden. I had a Dinky version of it when I was a kid and have always fancied owning one – there is something about 3 wheelers that attracts me, I have 5 of one sort or another !

This time I finally remembered to take along my small cam-corder (bought for me some years ago to record my adventures in the Capital City of the New World. by the same sibling who demands I cheer up !) and enjoyed recording the sounds and sights of Onslow Park.  When I work out how to do it, I’ll upload a few examples of what I recorded !

The next day, the Bank holiday Monday, saw me attend an even more enjoyable event just a few miles from home.

Each year in the little hamlet of Cwm Bach not many miles from Builth Wells, a really nostalgic afternoon is enacted.  A couple of hundred locals wander along to see the old-time harvesting of hay and cereals, the ploughing and preparation of the new tilth including the spreading of some well-rotted manure and lime.

In particular I was interested to see the Reaper-binder in action.  So many of those old marvels of the early twentieth century lie rotting in the corner of fields or farm yards.  Like veterans of some long-ago battle they sit in a corner ignored and unknown, yet in their day they transformed farming.  The bewilderment that must have accompanied the first viewing of that machine must have equated to the first sight of a flying machine or a UFO !  I still stand bemused at how the stook is wrapped with a twine and the twine knotted and cut.

Reaper binder in action

The Albion reaper-binder can still do the job and, judging by the people who came to see it in action, conjure up wonder and nostalgia.

The rattle of the old machinery was certainly a ‘Dream of Olwen’ for the old farmers and their wives.  For me it was also an ‘educational’ experience; watching and participating in stacking the ejected stooks gave me a brief insight into the hard hours that were necessary to stack all the stooks in a field of cereal.  Indeed only a day or so later I mentioned to a neighbour of mine, himself well schooled in the ways of old farming, how much he would have enjoyed the afternoon whereupon he slipped effortlessly into one of his ‘essays on the ol’ days’ which he regularly spews forth with the merest of prompting.  Oh how I wish I could record him, he has such a wealth of stories and knowledge. He recounted a tale of arduous endeavour when he was a lad of 15, left alone to stack a 5 acre field of stooks, in sixes, as rain was expected.  He worked through the afternoon deluge having been called late to the job, around 11 am as he recalls, to get it all done.  He was soaked to the skin, no goretex in those days, and walked back to the farm.  He got a lift to the pub  in Hundred House where his father was in-situ to drive him home.  A couple of weeks later he called at the farm to collect wages due him for all manner of work including the 5 acres of oats.  The farmer suggested that no remuneration was due for the stooking as he hadn’t begun until half a day was gone….

My half an hour left me in no doubt as to the hardship of such an activity, not least because of the severe scratching imposed on the inner forearm by the rough cut straw ends.  Only then did I discover that the reaper-binder actually cuts the ends at an angle to allow the stooks to be leaned in on each other.  My astonishment at the intricacy of that machine never diminishes.  Thankfully I have resisted all invitations to take possession of one….

Stooked oats

A time warp- oats stooked to allow drying prior to carting to the rick and ultimate threshing.

The harvest is a scene of summer, be it cereal or fodder and it was equally as gratifying to watch the hay being gathered using a wheel-drive elevator and the old pitch-fork and hay-wain.  I think the other activity which entertained me was a first on a demonstration day.  The spreading of manure using an old wheel driven muck-spreader was such a necessary and common activity that it is almost forgotten these days.  Many an old manure spreader have I seen in the corner of fields, rotten through by the action of the contents and the weather.   I have a nice example of a Massey Ferguson chain-driven spreader awaiting the completion of the 35 to haul it.

An elevator lifting hay

Fetching the hay, another ageless activity which conjures memories of sunny summer days when all seemed right with the world.

Muck-spreading the old way.

Traditional muck spreading, how original !

Oh what a lovely few weeks, a nice way to ease from summer toward the onset of autumn.  Of course there are still events to come – only a week to go until the annual Beulah Show and another Tractor run.  In the meantime there is work to do and wood to cut.

There is one more collection / demonstration I must bring to you, probably the most bizarre but amusing I have yet seen on a show field.  Oh yes, THE most amusing …..

Display of Prams at Onslow Park

A display of Perambulaters – that’s ‘prams’ to me and you – from the high days of the Nanny and the luxury Perambulater. Wasn’t I pushed around in one of those ?


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