A Yank's View of England Part 1

On Thursday April 27th I set off from Pittsburgh on what was to become the most enjoyable vacation of my life. An "Industrial Heritage Tour" of England hosted by Jim and Helen French. When the French's were at Portland last year we had joked about when I was going to come and visit them and see how engine rallys are done on their side of the pond. As the post-Portland months went by, the notion of a trip to England began to take shape. Helen suggested various destinations and engine rallys. She also described their family cottage in Wales and the local sewerage pumping station (now a museum with four beautifully restored steam engines.) What finally clinched the deal was Jim helping me buy a 5 hp Petter "M" and a 5/1 CS Lister in January. Hell, how could I own two English engines and not take them to a rally? The decision made, the details got worked out. The following are highlights (not all engine related by any means) from my trip notes. Still to be sorted are nearly a thousand digital photos. I'll do this trip report in several chunks to keep the size manageable. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed living it!

First off, my deepest thanks to Jim and Helen and their family and relatives who took this Yank in and showed him the grandest time of his life. I just hope the FBI business survived not having the CFO in the front office for a fortnight.

Friday - April 28th

Jim and Helen meet me in the morning at Gatwick airport and we head off north to Kibworth Harcourt where they live in a really cool old
house with incredibly LOW doorways! I was struck by several things on the three hour drive. First, it was like we were at Portland all over again. The joking, the easy familiarity, the friendship, was incredible. Also England (outside the few really big cities) is RURAL! Rape fields in full bloom are blinding yellow and overpowering in scent. I asked a classically dumb Fero question as we were driving a country road (nice after the motorway). "Gee wot the hell happened to the hedgerows?"

"They got laid." Jim sez with a grin. He then goes on to explain how they are cut nearly through at the base (leaving just a bit of bark for a sap supply), laid over, with the topmost branches braided. This is done periodically to control the growth and stimulate thick new growth. It's a rare trade (like roof thatching) that is interestingly at odds with today's Internet driven culture. I would see miles and miles of newly laid hedgerows on this trip.

We pull in to what's going to be home for the next few weeks. First thing I see is a HUGE
48 star American flag draped over the front of the house. WOW! That'll choke you up in a hurry. Thanks guys. Ever the gracious hostess, Helen lays out some fresh homemade bread and a lovely stilton cheese for a snack. Damn, but this is going to be tough to get used to. 8-))

The first of the shows (Rushden Cavalcade) is Saturday-Monday. Jim has my Petter "M", his "horny" Petter "M", his Fairbanks-Morse Eclipse, and Margaret Maytag loaded on the trailer ready for an early morning departure. Just to set the mood, we decide to run a couple of engines. I haven't heard an engine running since the New Year's crank-up, so this sounded great to me. First to get "swung up" was son Tom's Petter A1. First swing and off she went. Next up was Jim's Petter Atomic diesel. A little more reluctant to perform. With a little expert "tweaking" from Jim she was soon making noise as well. Not to be outdone by the REAL ENGINES, Helen insists on showing me that Margaret also runs. A few taps with her boot and sure enough, there's noise, smoke, and movement. (Memo to self: watch carefully tomorrow to see where she's hiding the smoke bellows and the mirror.) After shutting down and hooking the trailer to Jim's Trooper we head in for dinner. After dinner Jim and Helen show me around "
Zena's" the cottage attached to their house that will be my digs. Jim shows me the fully stocked beer fridge in the kitchen. Over the course of the trip this will be refilled MANY times! 8-)) So many great ales, so little time. Dinner was a wonderful asparagus stuffed chicken breast. YUM!
With Helen's superb cooking it's a wonder that Jim doesn't weigh 300 pounds. Also got to meet Jim's brothers Andy and Jon and his mum and dad as well as Eric the mechanic who now runs the Main Street
Garage started by Helen's dad. He's also known for his website "Photos from the Munt". All in all a fantastic start to the trip!

Saturday - April 29th

Day one for the Rushden Cavalcade. Jim and Tom are in the Trooper towing the engine trailer, Helen, Chris, and I are in her Volvo. The show grounds are a sea of mud (thanks to a week of rain prior to my arrival) and Helen gets turned away at the exhibitor's gate. We go into the spectator gate and park. Ever prepared, Helen had scrounged up a pair of
Wellies for me to wear. These are your basic knee-high green rubber farm boots. I would spend three days in those suckers. A little cell phone chat with references to landmarks gets us headed to the farthest corner of the show grounds where a hand-lettered sign points to "Barn Engins" (sic). I think they don't like engine folks here. What a time for Jim to find out that the electric clutch in the Trooper front axel is knackered and he's now 2WD. He's towed downhill to the engine site by a 40's vintage Dodge military truck. We get the engines unloaded and setup.
Due to the mud there's no water wagon so Jim and I do a bucket brigade from a tap at the top of the hill (a helluva long way when you have a cooling tank to fill). Naturally, on the LAST trip we find a tap half-way up the hill!! Interesting process, carrying full buckets of water downhill in slippery, rutted clay mud!!

Gentlemen (and lady), start your engines! Jim gives me a rundown on the basics of how the Petter M operates, hands me the crank, and says "
swing 'er up!" Damn crank looks like a disemboweling iron that might have been used by a Pirate boarding a ship!! With GREAT respect, and a brief review of where all my tender parts were relative to that crank (and its probable path), I gave it a good turn! Bang! She's off and running!! Jeeze wot a sweet sound!!! Jim pulls out a rag and with knee pressure holds it against the flywheel to provide some load. Oh, INTERESTING sound that. I do the same. Ah ha! So THAT'S the "wibble-wibble" sound Roland Craven was waxing poetic about!!! The Petters have a HUGE exhaust pot silencer (muffler) and when they are "two-stroking" under load it really is a wonderful sound. Jim's Petter, the Eclipse, and Margaret are all soon making noise as well. (Memo to self: Check the Phabulous Pholding Chair for the bloody smoke generator and that mirror!)

After running engines for a bit, we decide to get a bite of lunch and check out the rest of the show (especially the
beer tent!) Roast pork sandwiches (with stuffing and English mustard) become the staple lunch fare for this show!!

A couple of observations on the differences between an American engine show and an English rally. At the rallys you PREREGISTER! Back in February you would typically send in an SASE to request an application for the show. You would describe the engines you planned to rally and provide proof of insurance. IF they liked your exhibit, they would send you registration materials. I understand that some of the rallys will reject "common" engines. I also understand that many shows won't accept folks who haven't pre-registered. All of the registered exhibits are listed in the program for the rally. The show area itself is laid out and you setup where your number is. The spectators are separated from the engines by orange construction fence and you must setup behind a line well back from the fence. All very formal. The engines are well spread out from one another. With an English engine layout, Portland would have maybe 500 engines. They were turning folks away Saturday morning because of the mud. At a show in the US the FATG's would be having a field day pulling engine trailers to where ever you would setup. Not done here in England.
An English engine rally is much more like a carnival or county fair. There is EVERYTHING to see and do. Military equipment exhibits, antique cars, motorcycles, steam of all varieties (more on this next week), carny rides and games, vendors, gambling (ever bet on ferret roulette?), FOOD and a BEER TENT!! The beer tent is a brilliant innovation! At Rushden it was actually a barn with about 40 or 50 different ales on tap! 8-))) Despite a good effort over three days, I didn't get to have
a pint of each. The engine exhibits are are also a bit different in that nearly all of the engines are run at nameplate rated speed and most are "doing something" by way of a powered exhibit. For example, Margaret Maytag is belted to a Lister water pump which supplies a lovely waterfall and pond. (Memo to self: Check that damn Lister pump. Maybe that's the engine and Margaret is being DRIVEN by that!)

All of the engines ran well (if kept fueled). Dinner was a lovely Indian takeaway meal.

Sunday - April 30th

Had a bit of a light mist off and on. This was the only thing like rain to happen during the trip. Can't complain about one day! I got to meet a couple of the blokes that are a part of the English engine rally scene.
First was Philip Thornton-Evison. If you read SEM you've seen his engine photos. First impression was how the hell did he get down here? We're in the "lower forty" in a sea of mud, I'm covered in mud to the knees, and this guy is in Docksiders with just a hint of mud on the edges!! He shows me some photos of various engines he's restoring. Dave, you've met your match here. THIS bloke does a full-gloss "Rotigel finish" on the INSIDE of the engine!!! The inside of his crankcase looks better than half of the restored engines I've ever seen done on the OUTSIDE!!

I also met Dave Shortland (beautiful
Petter light plant), Len Gillings (rare Gardner), and Hugh Stannard (lovely Lorenz sideshaft). It's really fun to jaw with these guys over a pint. Same kinds of chat as at a US show (engines, politics, tall tales, etc.) but the beer is FAR better! 8-) I also got to meet Fred Dibnah. He's a steeplejack by trade, but has become the most famous spokesman on England's industrial heritage. He found out I was from Pittsburgh, and launched into a description of his latest project, a full scale reproduction of the head end winding engine works for an English coal mine!! Wot a character!! He was REALLY proud of the fact that he was pulling this project off WITHOUT the required permits from the local council. MY kinda guy! (More about Fred can be found on his industrial heritage website)

Jim's twin Andy, wife Ede, and their kids showed up. Andy had his
Associated Chore Boy and the Ruston Hornsby (with the cast Imp).
Beautiful restorations! Both ran to perfection. He stays and camps out with all four kids! Way to go Andy!

The other engines decide this is a good time to get tempermental. We discover a missing nut on the governor linkage on my Petter, the Eclipse says "bugger off" and
Margaret blows a gasket (too much bellows pressure perhaps?). Jim's Petter is the only one consistently running.

Dinner was Helen's famous
goulash and gnoccis in mustard sauce! AWESOME!!

Monday - May 1st

Jeeze wot a perfect, sunny day! Helen kicks back in the sun and shows how the Phabulous Pholding Chair is properly used. Glass of Bucks Fizz carefully tucked into the glass holder. Gene, you would have been proud!!

Jim's Petter again runs perfectly, with the check valve cleaned the Eclipse runs well. Margaret is still in surgery (an axe Helen has missed stands in the corner). And my Petter runs well until... Amazing how the sound of an engine running away can get your attention! Several hands hit the fuel shutoff knob at the same time! Jeeze but she bounces as she gets up in speed! A bit more work on the governor linkage amd she runs fine the rest of the day. But ALWAYS with someone right nearby and not quite relaxed.

Finally got to meet
Peter and Rita Forbes!! Turns out they were at the rally Sat. and Sun. but we missed them (probably at the beer tent). Peter was a surprise. He's a big bloke (6'-4" maybe) with a huge beard. Neat folks the Forbes'. More about them on Wednesday! Peter takes me off to the local spanner guy where I scarf up a few suitable Whitworth spanners.
Can't wait for an opportunity at a future engine show to whip out my King Dick to perform an adjustment! 8-))

Pulling out, all the vehicles managed their loads without needing a tow! Once home, Jim was awarded the Trailer Master Degree. He conducted a demonstration of trailer backing that had me standing there watching in awe. Fully loaded trailer, backing uphill, NARROW driveway, three 90-degree turns including one switchback!! And only a _faint_ odor of clutch. Awesome!

We went over to Andy and Ede's place for dinner. Asparagus stuffed chicken breast! YUM! I'm getting the impression that this is THE dish to serve honoured guests in the French clan! Back home again Jim and Helen showed me pics of their
barge (from when they were into the canal barge scene) - more on that later in the trip. Also got to wtatch Fred Dibnah doing a piece on the canal barges. Remember the word "legging."

Next up Twycross Zoo and Marmite sandwiches!!

Arnie's UK Tour

Rushden Cavalcade Twycross Zoo Peter Forbes'
Country Towns Stoke Goldington Roland Craven
Stoke Bruerne Southern England Local Attractions
Canals & Wales Last Few Days  

This page was a joint production by Arnie and Dolly - words and photos by Arnie, webbing by Dolly


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