Showmans Road Locomotives and their smaller Tractor counterparts, were the lifeblood of Britian’s travelling Fairs right up to the 1930’s. They pulled the rides and all the equipment needed to towns and cities all over the UK. Once on site they were used to construct the various rides, some had cranes fitted to assist in the setting up and pulling down of the fair. Then they supplied the power needed to keep the lights going on the stalls and rides, usually late into the night. This was done by a Dynamo located on the front of the engine which was driven in turn by the flywheel. You can see an example of a Dynamo fitted to a Showmans engine below.
Most of the Showmans Engines you see today are festooned with lights, and are probably more common now, in the the days of restoration, than they were in their heyday. The most famous example of this line up of Showmans Engines, is at the Great Dorset Steam Fair each year, probably one of very few events still remaining, where they provide electricity to the large funfair, by a long line of these beautifully restored engines. The owners spend a lot of time cleaning and maintaining steam during the day, as hundreds of people stand by in awe admiring and appreciating the work that goes in to looking after them. Then come dusk as the sun begins to set, the Dorset countryside lights up as people enjoy the fairground rides, and the famous Showmans lineup is a sight to behold.
Charles Burrell & Sons ltd of Thetford Norfolk, and John Fowler & Co Ltd of Leeds in Yorkshire, were probably the most prolific manufacturers of Showmans Engines between the 1860’s and 1930’s. Of course as in most things, ‘progress’ takes over and the need for larger, and more efficient modes of transport became necessary and the Showmen and fairground operators turned to diesel trucks.
One of the oldest remaining examples of a Burrell Showmans Road Locomotive, is engine No 2072 ‘The Masterpiece’ built in 1898. Seen here at the Great Dorset Steam Fair in 2012.
I think of all the Traction Engines that I photograph throughout the year, the Showmans Engines are probably the most rewarding to capture well.