A life long fascination in the joy of steam

‘Go down the garden, pass the signal box, over the railway track and up some steps that can be a bit tricky and you’ll find them in there,’ these are the instructions no doubt given out regularly by Harold Bell’s wife in Leven near Hornsea.

Harold Bell driving his 1908 Stanley steam car at his home near Beverley.

Harold, one suspects, spends a good deal of his time down here but he isn’t tending flowers or growing tomatoes in a greenhouse. This is the nerve centre of various operations including his 5-inch gauge railway that forms a complete circuit around his two-thirds of an acre garden and a model railway layout of the more traditional size on a board.

It’s also where he comes up with his next large-scale steam engine purchase and it is where we discuss the East Riding Engine Club, of which he is chairman, that hosts its 25th anniversary next weekend as the Driffield Steam & Vintage Rally, with his vice chairman Rod Smith.

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The track around his garden has been a labour of love for most of the past decade. Harold has seven grandchildren and this clearly gives him every excuse in the world to pursue his own childhood dreams.

“My dad worked on the railway and I was hell bent on being a train driver when I was growing up in Doncaster. I spent many hours trainspotting at Doncaster station. I’ve always had an interest in steam from those days and as soon as I was old enough I started taking a stationary engine to rallies and I’ve never stopped.

“I also built myself a 5-inch gauge locomotive and that’s what runs around the garden. I get good support for what I’m doing here from my wife because of the grandchildren.”

Apparently enthusiasts of steam engines running on railway tracks and those who spend countless hours working on traction engines are usually two very different breeds.

“Railway enthusiasts are in a whole different ball game to traction enthusiasts. It’s a totally separate interest. While I have my locomotive and my own track here it is steam engine exhibiting and ownership that has been my main thing and that’s not usually for railway people.”

Harold’s pride and joy is his Stanley steam car which looks like the kind of gangster model you would see in 1920’s and 1930’s Chicago. He often takes it out on to the open road.

“You don’t see many steam cars at rallies but I’d joined the Steam Car Club of Great Britain and both their club and ours celebrated their 21st anniversaries in the same year. Since then we’ve had them at our rally each year.”

East Riding Engine Club vice chairman Rod Smith comes from the agricultural end of the Driffield Steam & Vintage Rally spectrum. His father had a small dairy farm near Nafferton and Rod farmed until he was 28 before his career took a turn into long distance lorry driving.

“Just before I finished with haulage I acquired a Fordson Super Dexta 1963 tractor. Once I’d got that the way I wanted it a friend mentioned a Ford 3000 he had that was destined for scrap. They’re now looking good and I rally them both.”

If it hadn’t been for the action of local people in the East Riding 25 years ago their popular rally in Driffield could have been lost.

There had been a steam and vintage rally held at Driffield Agricultural Society’s showground prior to 1990 that had been put on by the Great Yorkshire Club. When there was a decision made to move the event on to Duncombe Park, the East Riding Engine Club was formed to establish Driffield Steam and Vintage Rally.

Although there are no competitions at the event, there are trophies awarded for the best working engine and the exhibit that has travelled the furthest.

“Exhibitors and visitors don’t just come from Yorkshire. One guy came on his tractor from Holland! We get somewhere between 7,000-10,000 over the two days and many come with their caravans and stop on the show site for a week’s holiday.”

The Driffield Steam & Vintage Rally takes place at Driffield Showground in Kelleythorpe on the weekend of August 9-10.