North Yorkshire gathering that runs on steam

David Robinson working on the engine of his 1956 International B250 vintage tractor. (GL1007/19f)
David Robinson working on the engine of his 1956 International B250 vintage tractor. (GL1007/19f)
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THIRTY YEARS ago former farmer and publican David Robinson started an event that began behind the village pub where he was landlord.

When it takes place again next weekend it will be spread across 85 acres, will include everything from steam rollers to fairground organs, traction engines, vintage tractors, cars and motorcycles and will see an attendance of over 7,000 across its two days.

The Hunton Steam Gathering has become a major part of the autumn show calendar between Bedale and Leyburn but David didn’t envision what it has become. It was a combination of his love of machines and particularly vintage tractors, a move back to the village where he was born and a meeting with the then chairman of the parish council that set the wheels in motion.

“My wife Pauline and I had bought a small farm at Exelby just south of Bedale in 1976 where we had some Jersey cows providing milk for local people to come and collect, a herd of Large White X Landrace sows that at their peak reached 40 and a flock of sheep, but by 1984 we had decided that lambing sheep in snowstorms was enough for us and that we’d be better off inside in the winter months. We sold up and bought the pub in Hunton that was then called The Oddfellows Arms, which we renamed The Countryman’s Inn.

“There’d been a piece of land donated to the parish council to make a children’s play area and Mrs Edie Todd, the parish council chairman, spoke with me about the need to raise money for equipment such as swings and slides.

“I rang around trying to find out how much everything would cost and she nearly fainted when I told her the figure would be something like £5,000. I think she thought it was a nonstarter but I said that I’d see what I could do with my contacts on the vintage machinery side and that maybe we could hold an open day and raise some money.

“Right from the 1960s I’d had vintage tractors and I’d brought my collection of them with me to the pub. I spoke with a few friends and we ended up with about 25 exhibits that first year in 1985. We had tractors, vintage cars and stationary engines. I also gathered up some people who made walking sticks plus a Morris dancing group. Our total cost for putting on that event in the first year was £108 and we made £1,000 profit, which meant that work could start on the play area.”

The Gathering has since raised thousands of pounds every year for other village needs such as a footbridge over the beck and has given to many charities. It moved to a larger location 15 years ago on the edge of the village.

“As the show grew we borrowed lots of other little fields behind the pub and one of the fascinations people had was that we had different sections in separate walled fields. Eventually we had to move and we’re now grateful to Mr and Mrs Worsdale and Messrs Chapman who both allow us to use their farmland for the exhibits and the ploughing match that we started in 2007.”

David and Pauline retired from The Countryman’s Inn in 2001 and now live in the nearby village of Great Fencote David’s passion for vintage machinery remains as firm as ever.

“I’ve always been around machinery. My father Bill was a mechanic who became a haulage contractor and then bought a farm in North Cowton in 1957.

“I was a wagon driver, delivering animal feed for Teesside Farmers in Darlington that became Farmway and then moved on to plant hire. I then bought my own wagon.

“The first vintage tractor I ever bought was an Allis Chalmers Model B. I tossed a coin over whether I would pay £10 or £7 10s and I won.

“I’ve now got five Allis Chalmers tractors amongst the 21 I have here. My dad used to repair them so we knew them well. I’ve some Internationals and Fordsons too.

“My pride and joy would have to be an International W4 that was imported from Canada. My father had one, it’s a fantastic little tractor and I’d always fancied one.

“I used to run the show all on my own but we now have a committee that is absolutely first class.

“I’m still chairman but everyone puts in so much time and effort and we’re still raising money.”

Competitive ploughing

Vintage ploughing has become a top attraction at Hunton Steam Gathering and vice-chairman Tom Jobling, who works at Brian Robinson agricultural machinery in East Cowton, looks after the ploughing section.

“We have two classes for hydraulic mounted ploughs and trailed ploughs. Our current champions are Ray Thompson of Northallerton who won last year with his Fordson Dexter and Ransome plough; and Geoff Dibb from Otley with his Standard Fordson. We’re not the biggest of ploughing matches but it’s highly competitive.”

The Hunton Steam Gathering takes place over the weekend of September 12-13.