Our Tour of England

Sheila and Westen

Sheila Wendel and Ed Westen pose before the 'engine shed' for the mine engine at Blist's Hill Open Air Museum near Iron-bridge. The ancient steam hoisting engine within actually operates under steam at various times during the day. This is but one of many

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For Sheila and myself, the tour started a week early. We had long talked of visit with various friends in England, and so we left Chicago on June 12, arriving in Manchester the following morning. John Coventry of Wade Farm Tours met us at the airport and kindly took us over to Oasby, near Grantham, where we stayed for nearly a week with Royce Long land and his daughter, Angela. They escorted us all over the countryside, along with Ron Knight, who took us to some additional sights in Lincolnshire.

Decent farmland in Lincolnshire sells for $4,000 U.S. and up per acre, so farming is very intensive to make the investment pay. Accordingly, only the best technologies permit survival, and we saw more different farming methods than are used in the US. We also visited several very nice museums, and a great many of them feature implements, tractors, and other items related to the history of mechanized agriculture. There are also a few of the huge post mills left in Lincolnshire, and we saw one of these huge windmills that looked to be in occasional use, although it was closed, since we stopped there late on a Sunday afternoon. One could easily spend a day in Lincoln, and another in Stamford. After a week in Lincolnshire, Sheila and I concluded that one could easily spend an entire week in Lincolnshire and surrounding counties, given all the fine collections we saw.

Ron Knight and his wife hosted us one evening at their home, along with some other invited guests. Their hospitality was heartwarming indeed, and although Mrs. Knight insisted that we were 'just having tea,' it surely did remind us of a full-fledged meal that included numerous and very tasty culinary delights. Of course we all spent a fair amount of time among Ron's extensive collection of steam tractions and tractors.

Eventually though, it was time for us to make our way to Chester in anticipation of our tour group. Thus, we boarded the train at Grantham and went across to Crewe, where we had to change trains for the short journey to Chester. The train journey was interesting and enjoyable, albeit a bit expensive. After checking in at the Blossoms Hotel in Chester, Sheila and I were able to spend a day or so exploring this beautiful city. Then on June 21 we left about 5 a.m. to pick up our entourage at the Manchester airport. This done, we came back to Chester so everyone could check in and get a tiny bit of rest before going on a walking tour of the city.

On June 22, we left bright and early for the Tatton Park 1000 Engine Rally. This year they featured the Bam ford engines. The weather was kind to us, and we spent a full day at this gigantic show. Our hosts met us at the coach, pointed us to the hospitality tent, and bade us well as we scattered to all parts of the show grounds. There were engines of all sorts on exhibit, with the great majority of them restored and running. Unlike American shows, there was but a single John Deere 1 engine, plus a scattering of IHC, Fairbanks-Morse, and a few others. However, there was at least one Piker engine (built by Stover), and a number of Amanco (Associated) engines.

Their tractor display was extensive, and included some rather rare American makes, as well as some rare and unusual British tractors, including a Saunders. The afternoon auction was well attended, and while there were a few bargains, most items brought a good price, at least compared to the American market.

One of the Ayrshire Vintage Engine group owns an Evinrude 1HP oil engine, identical to that owned by ye olde Reflector. To our knowledge these are the only two 1 HP Evinrude engines left in this world, and our engines are only twenty numbers apart. With only a 3-inch bore, these compression ignition engines are quite sensitive about compression, and due to natural wear, this one was slightly lacking in that department, so it refused to start (as do most engines when one wants to show them off).

As our day wound down, our gracious hosts at the hospitality tent gathered us all together, and presented each of us with a bronze plaque commemorating our visit. Throughout the day, these wonderful people provided us with chairs in the shade of their tent, along with a constant supply of tea, coffee, wine, crackers, and the like. We all concluded on our way back to Chester, that no matter where we might travel, there would be few engine shows comparable to Tatton Park, and it would be difficult indeed to match the hospitality given us during, before, and since our visit.

On June 23 we went to northern Wales where we stopped at Ffestiniog and rode the world-famous Blaenau-Ffestiniog Railway up toward the slate mines in the area. Toward the end of our journey we went to their shops and saw various locomotives being repaired, with one being completely rebuilt. This truly was an interesting sight!

The Iron bridge Museum at Iron-bridge Gorge occupied most of our day on June 24. At this site, the first iron rails were made, as was the famous cast iron bridge whereby the name. At nearby Blist's Hill Open Air Museum we spent the remainder of our day looking at the wonderful working exhibits. Included was a working wrought iron furnace, complete with huge steam engines and blooming mills, steam hammers, and the like. Some of our group diverged a bit by going to nearby Coal port, the home of fine china developed there.

On June 25 we journeyed toward Liverpool and the Albert Docks Complex. However, on our way we stopped at the Cheetham Hill Transport Museum near Manchester. Here we saw dozens of early coaches, with many of them fully restored. Since public transportation by coach or by train has always been an integral part of British transportation, this exhibit is of special significance to Britons.

At the huge Albert Docks Complex, we spent some time roaming the shops now in this revitalized area, and later in the day, we enjoyed a magnificent ferry trip on the River Mersey. The Liverpool Docks were heavily bombed during World War Two, but were soon returned to service. For those of us unfamiliar with life in a seaport it was an especially interesting day.

June 26 was our day to leave Chester and head toward Kilmarnock, Scotland. Enroute we stopped at an interesting maritime museum where a great many steam-powered launches were at dock. This museum also had a substantial number of marine engines on display. We also stopped at the old Blacksmith Shop near Windermere enroute. That evening we were greeted by several members of the Ayrshire Vintage Engine Club.

While in Scotland, it seemed entirely appropriate to spend a few hours in the city of Edinburgh, so we journeyed there on June 27. Although there weren't any engines to see, it was interesting to take the guided tour of the city later in the day. That evening we were guests of the Ayrshire Vintage Engine Club. This active group of engine, tractor, and automobile collectors put on a mini-show on our behalf at the farm home of John Caldwell. It was indeed an impressive display of engines and tractors. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by three little girls who gave each of us a sprig of heather on a plaid ribbon as a good luck charm. Coming off the coach we were serenaded by a bagpiper as we made our way to the rather sizable engine and tractor show. After looking at our hearts content, it was time for dinner.

The A.V.E.C. spared nothing to make our visit an enjoyable one. In addition to our group of 46, there were twice that many club members on hand. As we sat down to a sumptuous buffet banquet, we were entertained by a three-man musical group. The latter claimed to be purely amateurs, but they sounded very professional to us, and later on, we found out that this trio performs annually at London Hall!

Our banquet was fantastic, and after eating and visiting, all of our group was treated to special gifts as a remembrance of our visit. For Sheila and myself, a very special moment was the presentation of a lifetime membership in the Ayrshire Vintage Engine and Tractor Club. 'T was a proud moment indeed!

On June 28 we traveled to the ancient city of York, going by way of Northumberland. There were various stops along the way, checking out points of interest. The following day, June 29, we started out with a visit to the famous railroad museum in York. This fantastic collection was scheduled for only a few hours, and in retrospect, we probably should have changed things a bit and spent more time there. Later in the day, we visited Yorkminster Cathedral, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world.

June 30 was a busy day. On our way to Stratford-Upon-Avon, we stopped at the Fordson '500' Event at the Newark &. Nottinghamshire Agricultural Society Showground. The organizers had hoped for at least 500 vintage Fordsons in order to qualify for the Guinness Book of Records. However, the final, and official count was 1,002 Fordsons! These ranged from a 1917 model all the way through to a 1966 model Ford 3000 tractor. In addition, there were dozens of modified versions with tracks, and other special equipment. Numerous other exhibits were also on hand, so this was indeed a very special event, especially since it appears that the organizers will attempt to meet or beat this record in the foreseeable future. For Fordson enthusiasts especially, this was definitely the show not to miss.

On July 1 we had another busy day as we journeyed to Stoneleigh and the British Royal Agricultural Exhibition. This huge show was of modern machinery, but certainly provided a better insight into British farming methods. The craft exhibits were extensive and very interesting. In addition, there were over 7,000 head of livestock in place, and it was a poignant reminder of some sights we hadn't seen in many years. Interestingly, the British are just as keen on preserving some of the vanishing livestock breeds as they are in preserving old iron.

By July 2, our last day of touring, we went to the historic city of Bath, and got a mini-tour of the city, along with doing our own exploring for a few hours. That evening we had a farewell banquet at our hotel. It was a happy time for having had some time to spend with old friends for a couple of weeks, and happier yet, for having met new friends during the tour. For Sheila and myself, the great surprise was when our group presented us with matching sweaters as a token of appreciation. This was totally unexpected, and we thank our group for the gifts! Then on July 3, it was time to go home, so we left Stratford-Upon-Avon early in the morning for our journey to London's Heathrow Airport and the long journey back home.

On behalf of our entire group, we wish to publicly thank all the folks who hosted us along the way. Your hospitality was greatly appreciated. A special thanks to John Coventry from Arena Travel, along with Rob Rushen-Smith who organized the tour. But despite their work, and ours, the real dynamo of the whole two-week journey was Jackie Coggan, who has been with us on all of our past tours. She spent a great many hours of time in organizing our day's events, and was the personĀ  who helped make everything happen. To Jackie, and our driver, George Chenery, our thanks!

By the way, George took us on his new coach, made in Germany, and equipped with a 380 HP Mercedes-Benz turbocharged and inter cooled diesel engine. How George managed some of those narrow roads, narrower streets, and positively tiny driveways with that big coach, we'll never understand!