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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 41 - Summer 1980
Easter, May Day and Spring Holiday - Anthea Hanscomb
The first love of my life, namely the Traction Engine, undoubtedly holds the same fascination for many people. The twelve engines that came to Quainton at Easter were a great attraction and we had 7,600 visitors over the two days. Our warm thanks go to Bernard Ruff, Chairman of the Chiltern Traction Engine Club, to Mike Sonley, who organised the event, and to the club members, who brought the engines to Quainton. It was a memorable weekend which we all enjoyed immensely and we have asked Mike to do the same again next year.
For several of us the holiday began on the Thursday evening. It was mainly a question of finishing the jobs left over from the previous weekend. Coaling, watering and oiling up the locos; packing the track; washing out the refreshment coach; completing the Wightwick Hall stand; changing the admission charges on the Open Day signs; putting up posters; cleaning out the loos; fencing to repair and temporary fencing to put up; telephones to install and test - the list is endless.
On Friday the traction engines began to arrive. These were the ones Jim Hutchens was bringing over on his low-loader. There was a Caravan Club meeting going on in Mrs Harris's field adjacent to the Up Yard and many adults and children were enjoying a grandstand view as each engine arrived and was off loaded. The weather was sunny and reasonably warm and we all prayed it would hold for Sunday and Monday. The car park field was still soggy, but there was another day to go before it would be needed. The stands for the market stalls arrived and were erected in the triangle between the tracks beyond the refreshment coach.
Saturday saw the arrival of traction engines and rollers coming in under their own steam. It takes about seven hours to do the run from Little Chalfont to Quainton. Mike Sonley on Iron Ada could be heard going like the clappers in Quainton village. We heard the whistle give a good blast and it was at least another fifteen minutes before he arrived! He and his mate, Simon Wood, were getting a bit furious as they had been shadowed by a car for the last six miles. The chap tried to get in free by sneaking in through the exit, as he was only wanting to photograph the ones that had already been lined up. We got 30p off him! Goodness knows where that day went to - I think I was painting the admission charges on our gate notices and dealing with temporary fencing in the Down Yard. But, of course, each engine that arrived was a distraction, so I was being a bit slow!
Albert Hobbs, from the George and Dragon in Quainton Village, arrived during the afternoon and set up everything in the Beer Tent ready for the next day. John Mortham and his son, Anthony, were removing the rust and swarf from where the footbridge had stood (on Platform 3), while it was being rebuilt. John swept the surface stones into a long ribbon and Anthony went back and forth across it with a large magnet wrapped in a cloth. It was amazing how effective it was and how much swarf they picked up.
Ken Arber and Chris Tayler were grass cutting ready for the Funbag and Barn Engines, which were to be situated on the grass opposite the Station building. The site buzzed with activity.
The Funbag and Candyfloss stall arrived at about 5 pm and were duly set up. They did a test inflation and all seemed satisfactory. By evening some of us felt a bit tired! Bev was not happy - she had helped to do the last rushed bit of painting on Hornpipe and then learnt at the end of the day that it would only be in light steam as it had a bent front axle. "I'll kill them" she announced. "Why couldn't they have found out sooner?" But Hornpipe looked so nice that it was worth it really. In the Museum Alan Vessey had set up a beautiful 00 gauge model for the children to play with. Put the switch in the up position and the engine came out of the shed and ran to the coaling stage; switch down and it ran back again. Lovely - I had some fun doing a few test runs with it. Also two block bells (repeaters without their own tappers, so they have to be worked by separate buttons) were in the process of being wired up to one another and when I looked in the museum on Sunday a group of children were trying them out.
At the end of the day, Mick Sell very kindly gave me a lift to Peg's house (I doubt if I would have got there under my own steam!) and I staggered in, had supper, made ham sandwiches and crawled into bed!
I managed to be on the site by 8.15 on Sunday morning. The place already buzzed with activity. Mick, who had spent Friday and Saturday cleaning, tidying, re-stocking and re-organising the refreshment coach, was putting the finishing touches to it. It looked really good. The stall holders for the market arrived and miniature traffic jams were already causing problems. Ken Hobday was there getting everything sorted out - everyone was dashing about all over the place. Organised chaos reigned and, into the middle of it all, came Rowland Green's roller, in light steam on the low-loader! The Barn Engines began arriving, the Funbag was inflated, and suddenly the site seemed too small. "Oh my God!" I thought, "we'll never get them all in, we've over estimated the space available." I did a quick dash round to see how everything was. This is the moment when members, approach, menacingly, to point out the mistakes you have made in the arrangements. It can be decidedly nasty when you discover that what looked so simple on paper is somewhat different in fact! But everything did fit in. The Barn Engines had their water barrel near at hand (borrowed from Roddy); the hose would reach all the Traction Engines; their coal supply was nearby, thanks to Mr. Evans and he had also lent us his scales to make portioning it out easier. Ken was ironing out the problems of fitting the stall holders into a rather small space; Del's Peckett sizzled in the Down Yard ready to start the steam train rides.
Opening time came, in more senses than one - the first DMU pulled on at 10.20 - Ye Gods, that time already! Smoke poured from eleven chimneys in the Up Yard - oh, that glorious traction engine smell. A familiar sound was heard and into the yard came the Sentinel lorry. Barn Engines spluttered to life and, by 11 a.m., there was some resemblance of order. We were in business again - this was the start of our second decade at Quainton. The sun was shining, it was a glorious day and now was the time to have breakfast.
Our new Area Manager at Marylebone, Mr. Southam, arrived with his wife to wish us well and to see what we had put on for our Easter Extravaganza. Mrs Southam was presented with a Quainton Mouse (white and fluffy) and a Quainton Easter Chick, specially made for her by Mrs Miller. They both sampled the fare in our refreshment coach and then took a good look at all the activities in the Up Yard, before coming over to the Down Yard where Mr Southam went onto Coventry's footplate and had a long talk with Ralph about the problems of maintenance and restoration of steam engines. During the morning the small Showman's engine Jubilee trundled sedately over the bridge and into the Down Yard, put her myriad of lights on and promptly blew a fuse!
In the refreshment coach, Miriam and Jo were, somehow, managing to keep up with a steady flow of customers. Except for being a bit short of helpers, everything was running smoothly round the site. At about 4 pm I was grabbed by Ken Hobday as I shot past the Beer Tent. "Come and have a Guinness" he said. "How kind of you" I replied. "But I can't, I have already been asked to have one in fifteen minutes." "In that case, have two" he said. I looked across at Iron Ada, she was nicely visible from the tent. Mike Sonley was busy on her footplate. Good, he was well occupied and with luck it would be more than fifteen minutes before he turned up to buy me a Guinness. I was sipping my drink and chatting to Ken when a familiar voice said "What's this then? - I thought I was buying you a drink." I explained what had happened. "Right Albert, another Guinness in this glass please" - and at that moment I remembered I hadn't had any lunch! I would have to get a sandwich to act as blotting paper, though I didn't think Miriam would like the sandwiches to be described like that! It was pleasant to be standing chatting for a short time, while admiring the Traction Engines neatly parked opposite. Mike's voice cut across my thoughts. "Your eyes are getting bloodshot" he said, in a most chivalrous manner. "Yes, the smoke from the engines and the odd bits of dust do that sometimes. It's because I wear contact lenses." "Like hell it is" he said. I downed the last drop of Guinness and made a dignified exit from the tent, tangled momentarily with a guy rope and went to the refreshment coach. Half an hour later Bruce Murray saw me and said was it true that I'd had six pints of Guinness?
If Sunday had seemed busy Monday stretched us to the limit. I think people came up mid-morning and stayed for the rest of the day.
The morning began with my asking Mike Sonley if he would be so kind as to take me to see two of the farmers who had offered to stable some of the Traction Engines until they were collected the following weekend. Their services wouldn't be needed after all and we both felt it would be a friendly gesture to explain in person how this had come about. It was a beautiful morning, in fact it would have been nice to have been able to go for a drive round the countryside. Mined you had I known how the day was going to turn out I wouldn't have had the nerve to ask Mike for his help!
The Chairman of the Aylesbury Vale District Council and his wife came up to Quainton on the DMU with Dusty Miller, and were introduced to our Chairman, David Potter. They had a conducted tour round the site. The DMU was arriving every forty minutes packed with people and four ticket clippers were needed on platform 1. I doubt if, even in the glorious days of the Great Central Railway, the station ever saw that number of passengers in a month. Miriam and Jo were run off their feet, Roddy sent a plea to me to find four people for the car park, and four volunteers were found to help with the washing up.
Unfortunately, there were two delays to the steam train rides during the afternoon, due to problems with the steam brake and then the engine had to fill up with water. Several visitors had to have their money refunded because they had to catch the next DMU back to Aylesbury and couldn't wait. This is something we must try and avoid next year.
By 3 pm we were nearly out of milk and in danger of running out of sugar. John Mortham went to the dairy, Ken Hobday persuaded the tea and coffee stall to part with 2lbs of sugar and both Wendy Rolley and Anne Tayler had some to spare. But it wasn't enough. The only people on the site who were not fully committed were the Traction Engine crews - I went in search of Mike Sonley, it is very fortunate he is so good natured. I found him by Iron Ada. "Are you sober enough to drive" I asked, coming quickly to the point. "Well I certainly haven't had six pints of Guinness." (Ah, ha, now I knew who had been spreading nasty rumours about me yesterday!) "Problems?" he asked. I explained about the sugar and he whisked me to the village. We galloped round to the back of the George and Dragon to see Vera - no luck. The shop in the village was, of course, closed, but there was no one in the house either - so finally we drove to some friends of Mike's who luckily do bulk buying. They were willing to part with 12lbs. - that should keep us going!
By 4 pm I discovered that Peter Henley still hadn't turned up and no one knew who was to judge the Barn Engines. I asked several of the entrants if they had any idea what arrangements had been made, but I only drew a blank. It was definitely one of those days - oh dear - this was getting embarrassing - where was Mike? (Well, he does know everybody, which is such a help!)
I ran him to earth on someone else's engine and this time I was more polite! He took me to see Stan Mills who was chatting to Roy Latchford. The situation was explained to them and finally Mike persuaded them to do the judging. I thanked them and said I would gallop off to get the trophy and find someone to present it. Mike suggested it would save an awful lot of time if I did it myself and told me to be back at the Barn Engines in fifteen minutes.
The trophy was in a cupboard in the refreshments coach. I dashed in - "Has anyone got a camera they can get at quickly? I want a photograph of the winning Barn Engine." Several members had cameras, but only Sandy Wornham's was near at hand. "Let me take this hotdog to Roger and I'll be right with you." Ten minutes later she joined me by the Barn Engines. "I just want a photo of the winner holding the trophy and standing by his engine" I said. "Not one of me presenting it, that is not necessary." Well, in a boiler suit and woolley hat I was hardly dressed for the occasion and anyhow John would only want a photo of the engine and owner for the Quainton News. Sandy obliged and I thanked her very much for coming to the rescue. "Not at all" she said, "and I got a beauty of you handing over the trophy." I could have sworn she was looking the other way when I made the presentation. I've just remembered, she's a policewoman!
Down on the VAMES track, Jim Stevens did a marathon steaming on both days, and Alan Vessey brought his Electric loco for a back-up service. They were kept busy the whole time.
By 5.30 pm we were a bit tired - it had been quite a day. Not many visitors were left and slowly we began packing up. It had been a happy and successful weekend and we hoped Andrew would be smiling as he counted the money. One insensitive member announced cheerfully "May Day in four weeks!"
That's the drawback to the introduction of the May Day Holiday. In the space of seven weeks, this year, we have had three major Open Days - and 1981 will be even worse! Easter is later and it will all happen in the space of five weeks. Anyhow, the blur in my mind that represents the May Day Holiday (not due, I hasten to add, to Guinness) has produced one clear item - we had a Jazz Band. Not everyones cup of tea, but it was good. Unfortunately, it seemed to be performing only when I was rostered elsewhere, so I never had a chance to give them any requests! Mike Bevis was there with his Fairground Organ and we had a smaller Funbag. Apparently, it wasn't enjoyed as much as the bigger one we had at Easter, so we have invited the Mackays back again for August weekend.
I complained to Simon Field about the inadequacies of the roster and he, most reasonably, said in effect, if you can do better have a go. So Bruce Murray, who had just become Simon's assistant, found himself unexpectedly promoted and I became his assistant! Simon is already fully committed to Sig Ex '80 and the installation of the new PA system, so I imagine he will be glad to find himself shot of the job of Roster Clerk - which is now a full time job, since we started being in steam every Sunday through July and August.
Coventry and Peckett again provided the motive power. After my rude remarks about heavy handed Firemen at Easter, I was told that Coventry has such steam leaks up front that it is impossible to manage on one filling for an afternoon. Yes, fair comment, she is leaking a lot, but most of the firemen would be astonished if they could be on the ground and watch the amount of water they waste when working the injectors. If it is injector trouble, can't it be corrected? We lose the value of a big engine if she has to come off during the afternoon to fill up with water.
I did a stint in Alan Vessey's Museum - I so enjoy being in there, one has such a good opportunity to chat to the visitors. The saying of the weekend this time was made by a woman. Her husband, or brother, was explaining in some detail (and he knew his subject) the use of Block Bells in Signal Boxes. He was waxing enthusiastically and I was waiting for some sign of appreciation and understanding from his companion, who appeared to be listening. When he had finished, she put out her hand and touched the chest of drawers on which the bell's stand. "I could just do with a chest of drawers like that" she said. His face fell a mile - I felt so sorry for him!
David Collins, who does glass engraving, came along for the two days and demonstrated his skills. He does beautiful work, as a hobby, and engraved the Beattie on a glass for me. The result is so nice that we have asked him to do some more glasses for us to have as prizes for the Micro Cars. The weekend produced 3,400 visitors- 600 up on 1979 and 300 up on 1978 - and this is over two days one must remember. Not too bad, but not the 5,500 Andrew was hoping for. Before we could turn round it was the Spring Holiday. I was absent for the Sunday, as we were up at Rainhill, but I gather it was very quiet with 700 visitors. I was dropped off at Peg's house late on Sunday and just managed to reach the site on Monday morning before the Territorial Army turned up with their recruiting stand, assorted weapons and some camouflage netting. They put on a display for us in the afternoon which attracted a small crowd, but it is a sad reflection of the times we live in that when the first thunderflash went off one or two people wondered if the IRA or some other organisation had arrived.
Mike Bevis was with us again - his fairground organ is always an attraction. It was a quiet weekend and only produced 2,450 - this is 550 up on 1979, but 1,050 down on 1978. This is a bad time of the year, because the schools have a week off for half term and many families go away.
By the time you read this article, we will have had the Micro Car Rally, the Historic Commercial Vehicle Rally and the Schools Steamings. If the first two are successful, we want to expand them and make them yearly events, and a full report will appear in the December News.
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 17 November 2017