Surprisingly, this was our first visit to NVTEC East Anglia's Stradsett Park Vintage Rally for over a decade, indeed, I don't think we'd been since it moved to the May Day Bank Holiday weekend. When it used to be the second weekend in May, we used to go to the 3-day RHTS Cavalcade Rally on the Bank Holiday and carried on doing so when Stradsett also claimed the same weekend. However, with the acquisition of the goods yard and building by the Rushden Historical Transport Society, they have decided not to run an off-site rally, instead concentrating on more events at their railway station base, so it opened up the opportunity to come back to Stradsett.
Belonging to the East Anglia Group of the National Vintage Tractor Club, I was very much aware the show had grown in the intervening years, with what used to be the car-park way back when, now forming both part of the show and exhibitor camping, with more camping in the field bordering the lake. Ironically the carpark I believe is on the field the rally used to be when I first exhibited at Stradsett over 25 years ago. I'd have to get up into the loft to find my old souvenir mugs to know the exact year, but I do remember that Showmen's Choice were doing fish and chips then and are still doing so now, with same guy serving me this year!
As you come in from the carpark, the first things you see are what I'll describe as the classic tractors to your left and the working area straight ahead, with demonstrations of threshing and wood-sawing provided by the Caley family. From their forestry operations, there were some very nice upturned tree stumps of various sizes on offer as decorative garden features. If you turned sharp right, you were in amongst the trade stands with several long rows almost up to the A134 road, offering a huge variety of stuff, pretty much on a par with Rushden.
There was a small range of amusements at the road end, and bordering the trade stands, Wisbech & District Historical Vehicle Club's caravan section had three or four units on display, and Tiger Racing also displayed a large selection of their used and restored classic cars for sale. Just along from them was a diverse line-up of early Land Rovers and opposite, an equally diverse range of horticultural tractors and machinery, including a couple of different Bristol crawlers. Behind them, and facing the main parade ring, the first of the varied bygones and model displays.
The rest of the awning displays were in two lines facing the other side of the parade ring and then back-to-back facing the veteran and single-cylinder tractors. There were some very interesting veteran tractors here, but several others were on various club stands so the overall effect of a veteran line was slightly disappointing in terms of volume, if not of quality. On the line, a 1916 Dart was one I can't recall seeing before, and the 1917 Gray Tractor, also known as the Minneapolis Drum Drive, was very distinctive, Another early tractor was the 1916 Overtime type R, and elsewhere International Mogul, Samson Sieve Grip and several International Juniors were to be found, as well as a Saunderson in the theme section.
Beyond the catering at the top side of the ring, the classic tractors gradually gave way to a quality field of commercial vehicles, and facing them, a themed display of tractors and implements in turn gave way to a decent-size and varied military section. Within the theme section, the implements on show ranged from some of the more modern mounted ploughs back through to the trailed type of plough, and then further back to some more mounted ploughs on early Fordsons. There was other machinery on display as well as ploughs, including trailed rakes, cultivators, disc harrows and muck-spreaders amongst others.
The commercial section was formed by a large number of local transport companies and enthusiasts with the oldest vehicle being the 1913 International Auto Wagon. In the main, the vehicles on display were from the medium weight ranges with quite a number of Bedfords (you see them everywhere!), but there were others including Ford, Albion, BMC, AEC, Volvo and a Cornish-built Rowe Hillmaster, rarely seen in the flat-lands of Fenland. The military section included some tracked vehicles amongst the more common Jeeps and Landrovers.
Running away from the militaries, was a row of approximately eight or nine full-size steam engines backed up by a similar number of miniature or model steam. The full-size steam line faced the veteran tractors across a sea of classic and vintage cars, another section that has expanded greatly since the old days. Perhaps the earliest was the De Dion Bouton that gets about a bit around Fenland, but there were a couple more veterans on Monday which I didn't get photos of. There were several vehicles here that I haven't seen before, with several smart Mk I Ford Escorts on show, one of my favourite classic cars. The motorcycles, scooters and the distinctive trike were parked up near the hedge between Ken Fox's Wall of Death and the start of the stationary engine line.
When we recc'ed the field on Saturday, we walked around the perimeter of the engine line and then back up the far side ending up at the military section near the exhibitors' entrance, not realising that demand for spaces had meant there was another two lines of engines beyond, which we discovered on Sunday when we went around again and followed the extended fence line. In all, there were around 150 engines entered and on display, but this section has always been a strong field at this event. At the end of the engine line, an area was given over to a small contingent of heavy horses, but despite being camped and exhibiting right alongside the main ring, I missed their parade/demo both days.
In-between the first two lines of engines were all the various club stands and other groups, including a large display of vintage Superstox stock cars together with a slot-car racing track, a reminder of the Speedeworth days at nearby Wisbech Stadium, now the site of the large Tesco store and leisure park. The host NVTEC had a very good quality display with one or two out-of-area members contributing, but I did like the Allis Chalmers tractor and trailed combine harvester outfit in particular. Other branches of NVTEC included the Lincs and Notts sections, as well as Peterborough Farm Machinery Preservation Society, the Starting Handle Club, Allis Chalmers, International, Blue Force, Ford & Fordson, Downham Young Farmers and Carrington Rally groups.
My only regret is that Saturday is still a set-up today, with the show only on Sunday and Monday, but I can't see that changing. This year's Saturday was both cold and wet, but perhaps in other years, it gives exhibitors a chance to browse those stalls that are ready to trade to get a few advance bargains, or take off and visit the successor to Rushden Cavalcade, the fledgling East Midlands Steam & Vintage Show which has started up again at Lancaster Farm, site of previous RHTS rallies. Next year's dates are below, and will be the 44th Anniversary event.