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BXProject@ Kelsall Steam Rally ’23

10 min read

After last year’s Kelsall Steam Rally, and the purchasing of my midlife crisis tractor, I’ve been rather excited about this year’s rally! Unlike last year’s visit with the Little Grey Fergie, this year, I’m going all in and driving the Ford tractor all the to the Kelsall Steam Rally 2023.

The Journey to Kellsall Steam Rally 2023

Perhaps due to the preparation over the last few weeks, the journey to this year’s Kelsall Steam Rally by road was surprisingly uneventful. Preparation had, of course, included a check of oil leaks and oil levels, but I’d also finally got the headlights working and installed a Bluetooth stereo which proved somewhat useful.

All ready for the journey to Churches View Farm.
All ready for the journey to Churches View Farm.

The Drive to Churches View Farm

I didn’t have a chance to get a camera set up in the cab, or it may have captured the half hour of near-standing traffic on the way to the petrol station. I got the impression that they don’t get many tractors refuelling at the pumps! As I am still not overly confident with the steering on this tractor at speed, I’m generally bimbling around at ten mph or so. At least this way, friends and colleagues get to wave as they pass.

Open roads and interesting traffic on the drive.
Open roads and interesting traffic on the drive.

On some of the straight and open roads with less traffic, I managed to get up to top gear. I may not have got to max speed, but at 14mph (according to Google Maps), the little tractor felt particularly swift! Towards the end of the drive, coming through Delamere forest, there was a definite sense of bliss. The tranquillity of the leafy green lined avenue, the gentle drone of the engine, and the vibration of the agri tyres on the tarmac. I could do this again. It was also lovely to catch up with some other exhibits on their way to the rally.

Arriving at the Kelsall Steam Rally showground

Early arrival in the tractor field for the 7610.
Early arrival in the tractor field for the 7610.

Two and a half hours late, after a journey Google Maps suggested was a bike ride, I reached Churches View Farm and parked up in the tractor field. As it is still early on Friday afternoon, and the family (and tent) are still a few hours away, I get a little time to myself to wander around the site. There is a flurry of exhibits already on site, and most of the trade stands are open too. A lovely hot tea is definitely needed!

Exhibits at the Kelsall Steam Rally

Of the various shows and rallies that I have been to in recent years, Kelsall stands out. Something about the atmosphere, layout and range of exhibits makes the event interesting from start to finish. In what I have come to realise is a ‘normal’ way of running this sort of gathering, there is a parade schedule where each type of exhibit parades the main arena.

There are hundreds of vehicles and machines being exhibited, and I’ll only cover a handful to give you an idea of what’s on show. Being onsite for the whole weekend, you’d think I might have managed to get a few more pictures. I was very much immersed in the rally, perhaps because of the whole family staying on-site or so many friends and family visiting. As a result, I didn’t capture the spread of classic cars, motorbikes, stationary engines or the tractor-pulling.

Steam Engines

Given the name of the event is Kelsall Steam Rally, I guess this is the exhibit type to start with. As an engineer, the raw design, manufacture and love that these machines are readily visible. Even if engineering isn’t your thing, the sheer scale of these machines is something to behold.

Full-size and scaled version of the same steam engine.
Full-size and scaled version of the same steam engine.

The pair of engines above are a ‘little and large’ or the same machine. As I understand, the smaller is a scaled copy of the larger, made from scratch by the owner. Both are immaculate and fully functional wonders.

Commercials

There are a LOT of commercials on show at the Kelsall Steam Rally. Split loosely between the Foden field, ERF field and the ‘everything else’ field, there is every type of commercial conceivable. From steam Foden lorries to the latest Scania tractor units. Many of the exhibits live locally, and many are still owned by their original companies, often in vintage livery.

Fodens are just some of the lineup at Kelsall Steam Rally.
Fodens are just some of the lineup at Kelsall Steam Rally.

Personally, I’m more interested in the pre-eighties vehicles on show, and I’m never disappointed. A chance conversation with one of the tractor drivers highlighted the link between Foden and ERF. I’d always assumed there was a link, but it was interesting to find out some of the history between the two brands.

Military and Off Road

I am perhaps misleading the range of military and offroad equipment being exhibited at the rally by sharing a picture of a row of classic land drivers. There’s a lot more than this, but I failed to get pictures of the trucks and tracked vehicles that were also at the Kelsall Steam Rally.

Classic Land Rovers as part of the Military exhibits.
Classic Land Rovers as part of the Military exhibits.

Tractors

And, of course, there were tractors. Lots and lots of tractors. The tractor field steward, Daisy, told me there was something like 220 tractors exhibited this year. Compared to the ~120 exhibits of the previous year, the tractor field certainly seemed a LOT busier!

Almost double the number of tractors of 2022
Almost double the number of tractors of 2022

As it is tractors I come for, I’m more than happy to see so many gathered. There’s a handful that I probably saw in 2022, but with so many more at the Kelsall Steam Rally this year, there are a lot of tractors I’ve only seen in books. If you like tractors, this is a pretty good place to be!

The Tractors of the Kelsall Steam Rally

Perhaps predictably, tractors are my highlight of the Kelsall Steam Rally. They’re the main draw and where I spend most of my time. The tractor field is also next to the tractor pulling, so there are both static and dynamic things to see. If you’ve never seen tractor pulling before, I can strongly recommend the spectacle that a great many horsepower dragging a sledge can bring.

Plenty of cab-less vehicles on show.
Plenty of cab-less vehicles on show.

This year’s Kelsall Steam Rally seemed to bring a much broader spread of tractors. The majority (and I wasn’t counting) seemed to be cabless and in the vintage category. Just about every sort of Little Grey Fergie was present. From diesel to petrol, vertical to underslung exhaust. I always find it useful to compare the Fergies with my own.

Many blue tractors at the Kelsall Steam Rally.
Many blue tractors at the Kelsall Steam Rally.

There was also a much bigger presence of Ford tractors this year. The County above was absolutely immaculate. I suspect it didn’t drive to the rally! One thing I do like about the Kelsall Steam Rally is the mix of fully restored and daily workhorses. All mixed together and all equally cherished.

Plenty of bigger Fords on show.
Plenty of bigger Fords on show.

Along with the cabless Ford tractors, there were also a huge number of the bigger blue oval tractors. This is likely the most 10-series tractors that my little 7610 has ever been sat with. Such a wide range of sizes, technologies, power trains and hours. It’s a great opportunity to see the differences through the years.

Tractor Highlights

While I may not have got many pictures of the commercials, I did manage to take a good few snaps of the tractors. I suspect a few hundred images of tractors might get a bit tedious, so I’ve tried to pic out a few favourites.

Show Time

Part of the ‘entry requirements’ for exhibiting at the Kelsall Steam Rally was to bring the exhibit into the show arena at the allocated time. Both Saturday and Sunday had us in the arena not long after midday. While the drive is short, it’s never lacking in amusement.

Queuing for the show ground after a LeMans start
Queuing for the showground after a LeMans start

The best bit of taking the tractor to the arena is always the LeMans style start. About 30 minutes before we’re due in the showground, the drivers start returning to their tractors. There then follows much milling about until suddenly, one tractor will start up a make a run for it.

A line of blue tractors waiting for the off
A line of blue tractors waiting for the off

Once the lead tractor makes a run for it, the rest fall in, and we sit in a typically British queue for a little while. This year seemed pretty momentous for me. Being in a long line of blue Ford tractors is a really notable milestone for me. Since buying the 7610 back in September, I’ve learned a lot about these tractors, and getting to Kelsall has been a big motivator for the work done on the tractor so far.

A broad range of tractors in the show ground
A broad range of tractors in the showground.

Almost as suddenly as the LeMans start, we then slowly convoy to the arena, typically at less than four mph. There is then a very slow parade around the show arena followed by the most well-organised parking you’ll likely see for so many tractors.

A few hundred tractors make for quite the spectacle.
A few hundred tractors make for quite the spectacle.

The result is quite a spectacle of a few hundred closely packed tractors. For both the audience and the drivers, the result is quite impressive. Having my own friends and family in the crowd certainly adds to the sense of occasion.

Around the Show, but not in the show

While I am here for the tractors, the Kelsall Steam Rally has a whole lot more to offer than some old agricultural engineering.

The only time the show ground is empty over the whole weekend.
The only time the showground is empty over the whole weekend.

The show arena is the centre of the venue. Mid-afternoon on a Friday is just about as quiet as it gets. For the rest of the time, there is a nearly continual parade of exhibits coming in and out of the arena. One of the best aspects of Kelsall is the excellent comparing of the showground. Quite how such a small number of people know so much about the exhibits and exhibitors, is beyond me.

Great sunset on a social and relaxed evening.
Great sunset on a social and relaxed evening.

In the evenings, there is a very different atmosphere. As the sun sets and the beer and cider flows, the pace begins to slow. The evenings are a time for catching up with old friends and making new ones. As the sun sets, the Kelsall Steam Rally is a very pleasant place to be.

Saturday night fireworks where great.
Saturday night fireworks where great.

And, of course, on Saturday night was the most spectacular fireworks show.

10-Series Wheel Nuts

One of the benefits I’ve found from getting to vintage rallies like Kelsall or Smallwood, is the opportunity to compare my 10-Series with others, both newer and older. Let’s look at wheel nuts as an example.

Six tractors, ranging from the earliest 10-series tractor to the latest a County and few others. Each has the same wheel bolts, some with and some without paint. Nearly all have the wheel bolts on the same way around. Except one. For me, this is a good enough sample size to tell me which way they should be installed. This, and many other observations, make for a great way to continue to improve the tractor.

Kelsall Steam Rally Highlights

While I’ve only been to Kelsall Steam Rally twice, this year was infinitely memorable. The journey to and from the event where hard work but overly enjoyable. Getting to mingle with all the tractors and owners was equally rewarding. Taking the family added a completely different dimension to the show.

My 7610 Force I with a pair of 8210's
My 7610 Force I with a pair of 8210’s

But one highlight stands out more than any. Getting parked up with Force I, II, and III tractors will likely never happen again. Practically a once in a lifetime event. And I really need to get that front grill blasted and painted white again, in amongst a long list of other tasks!

I’m already looking forward to next year.

M

NEXT – BXProject@ 40 Years of BX – CCC National ’23
PREV – Smallwood Vintage Rally

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