Wiltshire steam & vintage rally

8th June 2008

click to view larger image“Entering the arena now is a lovely example of a “sit up & beg” Ford Popular. It was Ford’s proud boast when this car was launched that you could drive it wearing a top hat & to prove it John’s doing just that, though why you’d want to wear a top hat while driving’s beyond me. You’d look pretty silly wouldn’t you John”.

The Wiltshire Steam & Vintage Rally celebrated it’s 25th year this year with another weekend of glorious sunshine. Held for the last four years at Rainscombe Park in Oare, Wiltshire, home of Lady Julia Hiscox and her husband Robert Hiscox, it’s a perfect venue for such a show. The house & grounds of Rainscombe Park sit at the end of the Pewsey Vale in a natural bowl, surrounded by high hills & lush green pastures.

“Here we have an Austin A40 Farina. I used to drive one of these as a taxi many years ago. Can you imagine calling a taxi & this turning up? An interesting design feature was the way pulling the choke cable on & off would saw through the brake hose”.

Even without the rows of lovingly polished vintage cars & the traction engines chugging back & forth, there’s something very …traditional, about this show. An air of village fetes, cricket on the green & a good pint in the local. A quiet celebration of everything that used to be good about being British & proud of it, before the PC brigade slapped us down for daring to believe Britain was Great.

“This is a wonderfully restored Triumph TR4. This is basically the same engine design as used in early Ferguson tractors. Shame they never sold tractors in TR4 specification”.

No baseball caps, no chavvy hatchbacks, no loud music. Instead just flat caps & trilbys, shooting brakes & travellers & the lilting melodies of the fairground organ, (although I swear I heard a tinkling, jolly little rendition of  the Stones’ “Start me up” as I wandered around the showfield –a daring foray into the mid 20th century.

“This Standard 10’s been restored in wartime air raid warden’s insignia, as you can see by the white lines painted around the body to help identification at night, though I’m not happy about the lack of black-out covers on the headlamps –if an enemy bomber were to come over now…”

It’s definitely a country show too. Row after row of vintage tractors, just as coveted & meticulously restored as the cars, trade stalls selling those hard to find agricultural spares, even an enormous race tractor, complete with roll cage & flamed paintjob, powered by a huge Russian tank engine, started by compressed air & running on Kerosene & tractor testosterone. Small terriers & gun dogs seem to be the must have accessory of every self respecting country couple.

“These Lagonda sports cars were so expensive to produce they were widely seen as the car that drove Lagonda into bankruptcy. This one’s had one owner since new, so well done Sir for helping to kill off our motoring heritage”.

Step beyond the line of trees that enclose the far end of the showfield & you find yourself on open agricultural land. To the left on a gently sloping hillside, a pair of ploughing engines are at work, both Fowlers, one a 1907 model & the other a 1916. Standing at either end of the field, they run a steel cable back & forth between huge spools mounted under their boilers, pulling a plough up & down the field –as efficiently as any modern machinery can do the job & at a fraction of the cost. Beside them various vintage tractors & tracked engines chug to & fro, pulling ploughs & harrows, watched by fascinated young boys & middle aged men. It occurs to me that owning your own engine must be like playing with model railways but on a grand scale. Every enthusiast’s dream.

“They tell you dual fuel is the technology of the future. Pah! Scrap the Fiesta & buy a traction engine. It’ll run quite happily on wood, coal, oil, rags, garden waste –or Ford sales literature”.

To the right, half a dozen teams of heavy horses work at harrowing & ploughing a flatter click to view larger imagesection of field, proving one or two horse power is all you need to get the job done. Although they’re working, they wear all their finery, tassles, braids, brasses & engraved name plates hung across their chests. Decorated caps protect their ears from flies & the sun. Beautiful, quietly dignified animals.
Back in the show arena there’s displays of falconry, as well as beagles. Later the vintage motorcycles, cars, lorries, miniature steam engines & of course, tractors parade around the ring. The smell of hot oil & steam drifts across the valley. Bliss.

“He thinks we’re photographing him holding the trophy to commemorate his win here today –we’re not, it’s so we can trace him if he doesn’t bring it back next year.”