The brilliant Bon Accord Steam & Vintage Fair

Posted by Chris Graham on 7th September 2023

Hugh Dougherty reports from the Bon Accord Steam & Vintage Fair, Scotland’s leading event, and was bowled over by what was on offer.

Steam & Vintage Fair

Bon Accord Steam & Vintage Fair: Polish that to perfection! Anthony Wiaczek tells AJ Powell to use some elbow grease on the wheels of Mike’s Dreelan’s 1928 Fowler Atlas.

The sun shone brightly on the Bon Accord Steam Engine Club’s Steam & Vintage Fair at Castle Fraser over the entire weekend of June 17th-18th, setting the perfect mood for what is one of the UK’s – not just Scotland’s – leading preservation movement events.

Steam & Vintage Fair

Local steam power: Garry Scott’s superbly-restored Sentinel DG 6T of 1930, in the livery of Aberdeen Harbour Board which it served until 1968.

With 17 traction engines, nine steam rollers, three steam wagons, two ploughing engines, 17 miniatures and even a steam launch (complete with naval-capped passenger!), as well as the melodious sounds of a Gavioli Fairground organ, you might be forgiven for thinking that the line-up was impressive enough. But add 27 heritage commercials, six fire and rescue vehicles, 26 veteran and vintage cars and motorcycles, 108 classic and collectors’ vehicles and motorcycles, a staggering 137 tractors, 13 military vehicles and 19 stationary engines, and you begin to get your head around the scale of what is a superbly planned and run event.

Steam & Vintage Fair

Steamy stuff! Whistles chime and sound as the grand steam parade reaches its melodious finale.

I asked the club’s chairman, Jamie Blair, what made the fair so special and successful and he said: “Our exhibitors have travelled from all over Scotland, and from as far away as Devon in fact, to help stage this major display. Our 50th anniversary would have fallen in 2020 but, of course, Covid-19 saw that off. We had nothing in 2021, but came back last year, although bad weather put a dampener on what should have been celebrations. That’s why the 2023 event is our first back in force and, in many ways, it’s a substitute golden jubilee event.

Steam & Vintage Fair

Conversation piece as old friends meet at what is a very friendly rally.

“We’re very fortunate that we have a very active committee with a great age range, with plenty of younger people involved and, of course, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire is good engine and vintage territory,” he continued. “We’re often asked by other rally organisers how we manage to attract younger volunteers as I think we buck a national trend. The rally attracts around 5,000 visitors each year at Castle Fraser, where we’ve been coming since 2004, and we’re very grateful to the National Trust for Scotland for the use of its most scenic grounds here.”

Steam & Vintage Fair

Enjoying driving in the grand tractor parade is Henry Pirie with his 1948 Ferguson TE-A 20, complete with ploughing attachments.

Jamie said that sourcing coal is easy. “It’s supplied by the local coal merchant – but that the price has soared from £180 to £500 a ton. But that won’t deter the club or its supporters. We’ll carry on for as long as we can afford it!” smiled Jamie.

Steam & Vintage Fair

All lined up at the end of the grand steam parade, generating both steam and atmosphere.

And carrying on a great tradition is what it’s all about, for the fair traces its ancestry from the very first steam rally to be held in north east Scotland. That was held on Aberdeen’s Beach Boulevard in 1969; a small informal gathering, brought together by local steam enthusiast Donald C Stewart. The following year, thanks to local garage owner Dod Sim and police officer Bill McConnachie, a public meeting was held to look into forming a club.

Steam & Vintage Fair

Running like clockwork and powering a saw was this 1960 Villiers Mag, kept in fine fettle by Lynne Glennie.

The result was the present-day Bon Accord Steam Engine Club, whose first rally was held on August 2nd, 1970, at Bridge of Don Showground, with items that have continued to this day, such as the Grand Steam Parade, on the programme.

Steam & Vintage Fair

The people who make it all happen: Chairman Jamie Blair (centre) and the committee members show what they think of the success of the fair!

Aberdeen’s Hazelhead Park became the venue for some years, with record numbers of the public flocking to the fairs, before the current venue of Castle Fraser was identified. An agreement entered into with the National Trust for Scotland in 2004, so that next year’s event will mark two decades within the grounds of the historic castle.

Attention! The military vehicles were on display with Grant AR Davidson’s 1943 Willys Jeep to the fore.

Both days of the event followed a strict timetable which included parades by the various classes of vehicles in the generously-spaced and well-marked-off ring, a fun tug-o-war with children competing against steam power, a steam engine driver’s race, the much-loved steam whistle blast-offs, some antics by the Reliant three-wheelers on show and public vehicle rides. Club secretary Craig Donald was joined by James West and Andrew Semple as enthusiastic and expert commentators, whose words kept keen enthusiasts and members of the public alike, well informed. They also kept to the timetable, while allowing time for the public to photograph exhibits in the ring and meet the owners at the end of each parade.

Betsy, owned by Joseph Mitchell, made a triumphant return to the rally scene after being laid up in 1976, Now, after a four-year overhaul, the 1899-built Burrell 7nhp single-crank compound is in fine fettle, as seen at Castle Fraser.

Well-known local preservationist Mike Dreelan was there with his 1934 Fowler B6 Super Lion Supreme alongside the Barrack’s 1923 Fowler DH roller/showman’s conversion SA6370 The Puddock in steam, but stationary, to attract the public into the show, while his  Gavioli organ struck the note of the funfair atmosphere with its characteristic melodies. Mike, who hails originally from Ferns, in County Wexford, owns some 35 vehicles of various vintages and descriptions, keeping them in a shed at his home outside Aberdeen.

The crowds enjoy the grand steam parade as the sun shines and historic Castle Fraser watches over the show in the background.

“I came here in 1985 to work in the oil industry and stayed,” said Mike, who has always been interested in preservation. “There’s a lively scene in and around Aberdeen and I got caught up in it and part of the explanation is that a lot of the people involved are oil industry folk, bringing their skills to vehicle restoration. That marks us off from other areas, where farmers and hauliers tend to dominate, although they are also involved here, too. Sometimes people ask me how my wife, Molly, puts up with my hobby? I just tell them that she doesn’t know as all my vehicles are out of sight in my shed!”

James West, who also acted as commentator for the road roller grand parade, brought his Aveling & Porter Buster of 1921 vintage. Back in steam for the first time in 20 years, the engine came complete with water tank, as it would have pulled with its original owner, Essex County Council.

Alongside Mike’s Fowler Supreme was The Puddock, so-called because it jumps about on its pneumatic tractor tyres, and ‘puddock’ is local Doric dialect for a frog! Exhibited by Hamish, Leanne and Sarah Barrack, of the well-known local Barracks Steam Museum, the engine also demonstrated local preservation in action. 

A clean sweep for the miniatures! John Macpherson, complete with chimney brush and ‘lum’ hat, as toppers are known in Scotland, on his 4½in engine.

There was no doubt that all sections of the north-east of Scotland vintage movement were pulling together to make the event the quality success that it was, and there was a real feeling of camaraderie as old pals met up and new friendships were forged, while outsiders were made most welcome.

Foden 6-tonner Heilan Laddie of 1924 from Barrack’s Steam Museum at Kingswells. The wagon is pulling James Adamson’s 1991-built steam boat Ark Royal, complete with passenger in naval cap!

Experiencing that welcome were the crew of 1928-built Atlas, Fowler, VM 2110, well-known throughout the rally scene and now also an inhabitant of Mike Dreelan’s shed. Anthony Wiaczek and AJ Powell had come up from Cheshire to tend to the Fowler which was driven by legendary Fred Dibnah in one of his popular TV series. “We love to come up here,” said Anthony, who was supervising AJ’s final polish before the Fowler took to the ring in the grand steam parade. “We drove the engine from its base to the show here, and that was very enjoyable. It’s always a great event at Castle Fraser.”

Supreme and The Puddock attract visitors into the fair, with both in steam. A father and son marvel at their size.

And there was still the call of the field beside the show ring, where the tractors stretched in endless rows, not forgetting the commercials, military vehicles, miniature parking and service area and stationary engine displays. This is a show on a grand scale and one to be very much enjoyed as a model of how to present the hobby to the public, especially as the event is an important one in the local community calendar.

Robey in action: Phil Moody’s tandem 8-tonner of 1924 ensured that the parades had a smooth surface to run on.

Surveying the busy scene around him from the club’s control room, in between taking calls on the radio from other committee members to keep the wheels turning smoothly, chairman Jamie Blair found time to say: “We were delighted with the success of the fair and it’s thanks to the hard work of all concerned. It takes months of planning and three weeks to set up. Now we’re looking forward enormously to next year’s event, and I hope that many more Old Glory readers will make the trip up to Castle Fraser next year, on June 15th-16th. I know they won’t be disappointed!”

The North East Scottish Fire Heritage Trust, made up of retired firefighters, proudly out on show with their 1915 Dennis N-type fire engine.

The brave and far-sighted pioneers of 1970 would be very proud indeed.

This report comes fro the latest issue of Old Glory, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


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