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Shrewsbury Steam Engine and Vintage Vehicle Rally
Sunday 26th (and Monday 27th) August 2007

The promise of an array of local Sunbeams on show over the August Bank Holiday is too good to pass by. The venue for the rally is the estate grounds at Onslow Park on the Welsh side of Shrewsbury, just off the A458 to Welshpool. It is a large, well-established, annual event organised by the County of Salop Steam Engine Society, some 14,000 people turning up last year and some 1,000 vehicles of various types on show.

Once parked in the grassy grounds of the estate, and then through the entrance gate clutching our bag of complementary goodies courtesy of the local paper, the Shropshire Star, we are have a real mix of delights before us. Most notably, it's the largest collection of steam-powered vehicles I’ve seen gathered in one place. When they all fire up for their turn in the central pageant ground, it is as if the Industrial Revolution has reconvened for the day with all its attendant smoke and combustion smells! Wonderfully evocative of the era.

Add to this a marquee tent filled with all sorts of traditional, and not so traditional, crafts stalls, an old-fashioned fair ground, a display of working farm vehicles and related agricultural technologies ( I had a fascinating discussion with a couple who collect, and had put on a fine display of dairy and butter-making paraphernalia), and ... coracles – a one-man boat used on the nearby River Severn since before the Romans arrived. There really isn't much more you could ask for.

And then there's the food! Usually, as a captive audience at events such as this, the food rather aptly is almost without fail fit only for captives – prisoner quality fare at best. Not today at the Steam Engine Rally. There is a ‘food village’ offering a goodly variety of choices. We enjoy vegetable curry, bhajees and naan bread, eaten cross-legged picnic style on the grass in the sunshine.

Finally, those promised Sunbeams. Rather than sporty Model 90s and flat tank side-valves, it is the pedalled variety on show today. There is an array of historic bicycles with Sunbeam Goldens, Royals, etc.

For those who prefer their two-wheeled transport to be propelled by an internal combustion engine there is quite a sizeable display of classic motor cars and motor cycles on view – an eclectic mix of machines from all eras. Pleasingly I spot a solitary OHV Sunbeam. At first glance it appears to be of 1931 vintage.  However, on closer inspection it looks like the owner has put a great deal of care and attention into getting it sorted as a runner. Unfortunately, I don't catch the owner to hear its story. This also means I miss out on the bike firing up when it leaves, too.

Whilst engrossed in examining the motor cycles, I end up having a very enjoyable discussion about all things vintage with Colin Christie (if I recall rightly), owner of the 1907 Vindec Special on display, and that took part in this year's centenary celebration of the first Isle of Man TT races. We both express our doubts about the authenticity of the Rem Fowler Norton of 1907 TT fame featured in most of the recent classic bike magazines. Both of us recall reference to it being a recreation many years ago by the late Bill Fruin and John Griffith, supposedly not even using a Norton frame! (Subsequently discovered it was reported in a letter by Graham Collins in June 1985's Classic Motor Cycle magazine).

The sun continued to shine as we headed home, a camera full of photos, stomach full of fine Indian food and clothes smelling of steam engines. It doesn’t get much better! I'm almost tempted to return tomorrow. If only we had brought the tent, we could have pitched up for the night with the exhibitors here for the duration. I'm sure there's no problem with lumpy ground with some of the machines they have at their disposal!


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