My fellow Autopians, Have you ever seen something and instantly known from the very bottom of your soul, from the depths of your very essence, that you absolutely, positively, without question, had to have it? Well, that happened to me a few weeks ago when I attended the Hunton Steam Gathering in Hunton, England.
The Hunton Steam Gathering is a two-day festival of vintage farming equipment, antique cars, motorcycles, as well as a display of falconry [Ed note: I assume that’s where you drive Ford Falcons? – MH]. If you’ve never seen a big bird come down out of the sky at well over 100 mph and swoop down 3 feet off the ground to grab a target then you need to see a falconry display. It’s truly impressive. [Ed note: Nevermind – MH]
The show features dozens of vintage tractors, old cars and bikes, fire engines, and commercial vehicles but the stars of the show are the traction engines. I’m talking about these:
These truly massive steam vehicles were common on farms 100-120 years ago and would travel from farm to farm doing various jobs since they were too big and expensive for every farmer to own one. They would often work in pairs on opposite sides of a field by pulling a plow back and forth on a wire between them. Here’s a good example of how that worked:
They came in all shapes and sizes and not all were used for farming. Some were early road going trucks:
Ever wonder why they call them steamrollers?
They were also made for fairs and carnivals and would travel between towns pulling several cars containing animals, rides, merry-go-rounds, and other attractions. These were much fancier and were meant to attract attention as much as be functional.
Highly decorated with a canopy bearing the name of the carnival owner or company, they included a generator mounted on the front and a winch on the back that would be installed when arriving at the next town to help pull rides into place and put them together. Once everything was completed, the generator would power lights and various electric motors on the rides.
Check out this line-up:
But while these engines blew me away, they didn’t elicit the kind of gotta-have-it reaction in me that I got from these next babies, partially because these gigantic machines are seriously expensive and require a flatbed truck to haul around. I’m talking about these puppies:
Can you believe that? Miniature, Steam, Engines! Waaaaaaaaaa! Imagine arriving at a party like that hauling a keg of beer behind you. Actually, the keg in that picture is the water supply for the boiler but what if it were a keg?! Party on!
There were several dozen of these things and they came in all shapes and sizes. I didn’t count them, but 54 different miniatures were registered for the event with three of them being non-steam driven. The sizes of these toys are denoted in inches: 3”, 4”, 6”, etc. where the inch number refers to the scale relative to a foot, i.e. 2” of miniature machine length equals one foot of full size length. A 2” model then means it is 1/6th scale, a 6” model means it is ½ scale, etc.
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At first, I thought these might have been used for smaller tasks around the farm such as moving hay or other lighter fare but apparently they were always meant to be toys. For a while you could get them in a kit form with various parts arriving every month or so until eventually you had the whole thing. Presumably you would be assembling the bits you received as they arrived. Once completed, the unit would need to be certified by an inspector licensed through the insurance industry to inspect and give their stamp of approval.
The certification process included verifying the blow-off valve was set to the right pressure and would indeed pop off at the right time as well as over-pressuring the boiler by 180% to ensure structural integrity. These kits may still be available but all I have found so far are fully assembled engines.
Unfortunately, toys like this don’t come with toy prices. A fully assembled 4” miniature can run over $20,000. Check this out: Steam Traction World. This is a seriously deep rabbit hole so be careful. I’ll meet you at the bottom.