STEAM RALLY DRAWS RECORD CROWDS
The 54th annual traction engine rally at Tinkers Park was blessed with good weather and one of the largest entries of steam road engines seen for some time. The sunshine brought out the crowds and it was good to see that the event, one of the oldest steam rallies in the South East, was still able to attract folk of all ages, especially family groups. Part of the attraction must surely be the fact that, compared to similar events in the area, the entry price is still fairly modest, with a family of four gaining entry for just £20. The fact that the informal atmosphere and traditional format has not changed much over the years has an appeal of its own, which is encouraging in this age when people are generally to be found glued to a screen of one sort or another.
One of the enduring features of the event has to be the attendance of the Harris family’s Victorian funfair with its traditional fairground rides. This event marked a particularly poignant time in the family’s history of as they had just lost one of its oldest members. Doug Harris had died during the previous week after suffering a series of strokes yet, despite this, the tradition of “The show must go on” saw the family turn up earlier in the week as usual to set up their rides indeed Doug would not have had it any other way. On the Saturday a tribute to Doug’s memory was read out in the arena that reminded old friends of to Doug’s mechanical skills with the fleet of ex army AEC Matador lorries used by the family for pulling the rides from one show to another and, above all, his well known sense of humour that often resulted in gales of laughter coming from the site during set-up time. A minutes silence was respectfully kept by the audience around the arena and this was followed by a loud and prolonged salute by the combined steam whistles of forty-eight steam engines!
Other attractions on site proving popular were the miniature steam railway and the ‘Great Bush’ narrow gauge railway, which featured a brand new carriage built by local craftsman Adrian Vaughan. Thanks to a recently laid passing loop line and upgraded signalling the railway was able to run two passenger trains simultaneously, resulting in less waiting time for the passengers. Both steam lines were seen to be running with capacity crowds all day.
The popular arena event that enables members of the public to steer a steam engine, under supervision, also drew large numbers of people and it was great to see the smiles on the faces of children who had probably never seen a traction engine, much less ever ridden on one. This event raised donations for Cancer research UK, which, along with the gate takings, will result in a substantial final donation to that charities funds.