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At ViaRETRO we always strive to embrace all that is classic cars – even all that is classic vehicles for that matter. As with any committed enthusiast, that includes a healthy fascination for engineering and all things mechanical from yesteryear. But just like anyone else, our depth of knowledge has its limits too. This is why we are especially excited to welcome Tim Smith on his debut as a guest writer here on ViaRETRO. While Tim has a small handful of traditional classics in his lock-up ranging from a Triumph 2000 Roadster to an early SWB Land-Rover, his passion stretches much further afield than that and well into territories previously untouched by ViaRETRO. Today Tim shares with us his profound passion for commercial vehicles right from coaches through lorries to tractors, and not least the amazing world of steam-driven engines. Tim, over to you…



A week long industrial heritage show on a 600 acre site with over 2,000 exhibits has got to be of interest to anyone with even a faint awareness of history, be it agricultural, industrial, social, mechanical or vehicular. There are also hundreds of trade retail stands as well as craft, autojumble and catering stalls.

The Great Dorset Steam Fair is an annual event held on farmland at Tarrant Hinton, near Blandford in Dorset. Originally founded in 1968 by the late Michael Oliver, the intention was to showcase and present preserved steam and traction engines. Over the years, it has grown into the largest show of its kind in the world, attracting over 250,000 visitors over five days.

I first went to the steam fair with my parents, when I was a small boy on holiday in the area. I went back about 15 years ago with a mate and from 2005 have been going every year – it gets under your skin!

It is billed as an industrial heritage show, and has displays from the agricultural revolution, through the industrial revolution to the present day and if you have a liking for anything mechanical, then there will be something to engage your fancy! Although centring principally on steam, pretty much all tastes are catered for classic vehicle-wise, from military to commercial, light commercial, tractors, cars, motorcycles and bicycles.

There are four main Arenas, featuring steam engines, steam tractors and heavy haulage in the main Arena 1; vintage cars and motorbikes along with stunt displays from motor cycle teams and monster trucks in Arena 2; commercial and military vehicles and tractors in Arena 3; heavy horses and horse drawn carriages &carts in Arena 4.

In addition, there is a countryside arena with all sorts of displays, including sheep, falconry and gun-dogs. Also, there are various ploughing displays and dedicated areas for stationary engines, threshing, wood-cutting, modelling and tractor-pulling.

To mark the centenary of the First World War, from 2014-2018, there is featured a WW1 Commemorative ‘Western Front’ display with contemporary steam and internal combustion-engine vehicles and a full-scale replica of a section of trenches and dugouts, all manned by living history and volunteer groups in period uniform and costumes. The display is believed to feature the largest collection of historic WW1 vehicles ever assembled in preservation.

Also there is a large craft tent, with all sorts of merchandise and a very well stocked food marquee with plenty of different options available for breakfast, lunch and dinner! If this wasn’t enough there are numerous cider tents and five main beer tents, each with staging as there is a music festival that runs alongside the other attractions.

In short, it is a fantastic show of immense proportions and if you haven’t been, then put next year in your diary, as it’s the 50th anniversary show and promises to be bigger and better than ever.

This year, we arrived on the Wednesday and met in a pub just down the road…as you do! When I say ‘we’, we are a merry band of mates who come down from all parts of the country, and who share an interest in meeting up and enjoying each other’s company more than anything else, and because the Steam Fair is so large and varied, we never run out of things to explore or beer tents to visit!

We always camp, so after pitching the tents, we wandered into the showground and had a look around before settling on the folk music tent for the evening. The site and showground are open during the days before the show and it is fascinating watching the place fill up. After an evening of machines, beer and music we sloped off back to the tents.

Thursday the opening day, is usually fairly quiet. We ventured onto the showground and followed our usual routine of wandering around and looking at the numerous exhibits, some old perennial favourites and some new ones. We usually split up and agree to meet at various points during the day – the Pimms Tent being a popular meeting point!

Going up by the Heavy Haulage Ring, we went past the threshing and traction engine displays before arriving at the road making. Here, volunteers use a variety of different machines from ‘back in the day’ to make a section of road as it was done. From crushing rock and ballast to laying it down and rolling it level. Quite fascinating.

Road making as it was done back in the old days.

From there it was onto the WW1 display – a convincing replica of the trench systems of Flanders and France, complete with ‘living history’ participants, from The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment Living History Group, all correctly dressed and equipped. The vehicle collection was equally impressive from trucks to cars to motorcycles, beautifully presented and available for the most inquisitive inspection.

Moving round the Heavy Haulage Arena, we wandered through the extensive flea market and autojumble areas looking for ‘treasure’. This year’s bargain was a large aluminium ‘Albion’ sign for £30, which will go with my Albion Victor and Nimbus buses just nicely!

From there it was through the agricultural displays and the commercial vehicles to the Pimms Tent, and then onto the food halls for lunch, before taking in the heavy horses, ploughing and tractor pulling.

Friday was similar and we spent some time with the classic cars and motorcycles that were all moved around by this motobike courier that helps move around motorcycles at a cheap price, before heading home on Saturday morning. We usually avoid the weekend and the bank holiday Monday as it can get very busy. This year, some of us had to work as well!

It ought to be every man’s right to own a steam driven lawn mower.

Wonderfully French Latil TL10 timber truck with four wheel steering.

An excellent show, this year’s highlights for me being a superb steam-powered lawn mower, and a wonderfully barmy-looking (and typically French) Latil TL10 timber truck pick-up with four-wheel steering. Can’t wait til next year!


3 Responses

  1. Dave Leadbetter

    Hi Tim,

    Nice write up and photographs. I love a good steam fair and this weekend would almost be enough to make me consider kipping in a tent. Love the Scammell in particular, looks like it doesn’t mess around despite being called Tigger. You get the impression it wouldn’t have chosen that name for itself!

    There’s something very appealing about proper old signwriting, a real lost art, and there are some gems here. Haulage was more colourful back then. Got to love a vehicle that has worked for it’s living.

    The traction engines are always spectacular but if I could drive home in anything it would clearly be the steam propelled lawnmower. I’ve operated a steam locomotive but now I feel there’s a gap I need to fill.

  2. Anders Bilidt

    Michael, there sure seems to be many similarities between Dorset and Timewinder – though I must confess that I have never attended either of them.
    I’m sure both offer a great day out though – I should really do at least one of them next year…


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