J Buckley


Of all the steam traction engines, the ones that had the hardest life were the wonderful showman’s engines. They were not just transport motive power, they were the power source for the fairground and site, too, meaning that they were run more or less continuously. As a result, at the end of their working lives they were truly clapped out. You could have bought a full size version of this Burrell model in 1958 for the princely sum of £40. Today you would probably have to pay 10,000 times that for a good example.

J Buckley’s well finished model in 1:3 scale was displayed at the Doncaster exhibition in 2019 and was based on a kit. Unlike other engines the showman’s variety had flamboyant twisted ‘olivers’ supporting the roof. Brass stars and other decoration were often mounted on the motion covers and water tanks.

The canopy of a showman's engine extends forward of the chimney to protect the dynamo from rain. They are often fitted with a string of lights along the perimeter to enhance the effect at night, this being more common in preservation than before. The dynamo was driven by a belt from the engine's flywheel and powered the lighting on the rides and stalls, and often the rides themselves.

Charles Burrell of Thetford Norfolk was one of the most prolific manufacturers of showman’s engines, but after World War II hundreds of cheap and powerful ex-military lorries replaced the showman's engines, making them obsolete. Many were scrapped, but a good number of them have survived into preservation. Many appear at rallies all over the UK, notably the Great Dorset Steam Fair which can muster up to 30  showman’s engines. Others can be found in museums such as Thursford, or the Hollycombe Collection.