Long post follows. Triggered by threads appearing in the GDSF posts that need addressing by us all.
Examine & comment. "Engines have low clout at most shows. Why?"
I'm one of the wrinklies. Been exhibiting for over 30 years, but no longer. Still have engines, but would now take a vintage m/cycle or model -- or, most usually, just my body as a paying visitor.
Why? I like my toys & play with them in the comfort of places of my choosing, with folk who understand them -- probably just me! So what drove me off the rally field?
Back in the 70's I exhibited in the south at GDSF, Longleat, Beaulieu, Knowl Hill, Woodcote, Aldershot, Stoke Row, pub crank-ups etc.
Of them all, the ones that stand out in the memory are the stately homes events. They were super, & luckily blessed by good weather. Characterised by sheer range of engines, rarity, size, & enthusiastic owners & visitors just there to talk engines. No prizes, other than the chance of a pic of engine+"Dook" (to quote from Iron Maiden movie).
Even then, the smaller events were often next best -- more friendly, less hassle, more enthusiastic audience etc etc. There would be 20-100 engines, many driving exhibits. Exhibitors disciplined themselves to only bring engiines they would travel -- & pay -- to see. No one was paid, although Knowl Hill in the early days were amazingly generous with meals & beer until that got abused -- familiar story.
GDSF was always a challenge for acceptance, even with pre 1910 hot bulbs. Earliest years were OK, but after about '80 it became too much effort, especially when other organisers were writing to you several months before their events inviting you to attend again. Plus I'm a general rust nut, so I'm interested in the whole range of exhibits at GDSF, so it was more sensible to buy a week's advance ticket & wander around.
So what's happened since?
a. Engines have not increased in popularity with the public. Pretty much status quo at most events. b. Looking back at old pix, I'm struck by the difference in display areas. We often now look an amateur shambles. In the 70's it was a strict no-no to take anything into the display enclosure at rallies, other than essential tools, & possibly a chair to be kept well away from the engines. Now, especially in engine enclosures, the scene often looks like a poorly-organised picnic, with engines barely visible surrounded by clutter, fuel cans, deckchairs, gazebos, vehicles, trailers, rusty tat for sale. Meanwhile, the owners are in a huddle around their vans studiously avoiding curious folk keen to know more... & we wonder why less youngsters are joining in .... Portland much better, although sliding downhill gently. At least we don't have bum-butts. GDSF better than most at keeping clutter out. c. As engines get older, so most folk under 30 have little or no previous exposure to engines as working tools. Especially true for events visited mainly by townies. The electric motor has a lot to answer for ....
d. Many visitors need instant triggers to spark their interest & imagination. Working exhibits are best, closely followed by good information boards.
e. Many exhibitors do not walk the fence & talk to visitors, unless pursued. We have to share our enthusiasm & knowledge, not hide. We're selling our hobby to the faintly curious. We need to show why we are worth spending time with.
f. Too many non-running engines. Boot them out instantly if they haven't run for the majority of each day (unless rebuild projects, mechanical failure on a genuinely interesting exhibit).
g. Seem to be proportionally many less large engines, & engines showing all their working bits. "Pop-pops" hidden in the long grass attract less attention, especially if they are doing nothing other than making an irritating noise.....
h. Many large rallies are now vast fairgrounds & flea markets, with some vintage bait on the side. We're competing to interest visitors for whom engines are periphereal to the helter-skelter. No use talking valve mechanisms, ignitor set-ups, or best witches brew for your hot bulb on a cold day. Talk human interest -- people, locations, prices, skills needed, what work was done, what effort & sweat saved. i. For me, the big rallies are places I go to meet old chums. At GDSF, that includes frequenting the beer tents for many hours; enjoying the Wurtzels; grovelling in the tat for SE gems; marvelling at the gullibility of the public at the auction; walking multiple miles every day; taking hundreds of pix. So I no longer exhibit ..... I'm not alone in going to rallies for many reasons other than just to see engines. I hate the "rip-off" feeling of GDSF, & the storm trooper mentality that oozes from so many of the gate & car park attendants, but I suppose pop festivals are the same. The fact is that GDSF is the one great meeting place for my old gang, & even when I lived in the US I came back for it every year -- just like Portland when in the US.
j. Rally organisers & exhibitors are their own worst enemies. If we know folk who are not delivering value for the visiting public, ensure they do not appear at next year's event. If there are folk who cause engines & engine owners to be ridiculed, take them aside & retrain them or remove them. k. Stick to quality. That doesn't mean even more well restored engines, just the same as the one in the line-up. It does mean well-presented variety, wow-factor, interesting exhibits, helpful owners who talk to the public. It may well mean showing & valuing well-battered engines whose every oil patch talks of their history. It may mean getting the anoraks who spend all their time criticising minutiae off the rally field, & into special events put on specially for them, whilst the paying public get on with their version of real life & decide whether we interest them enough to hang around us ..... If that means 6 interesting engines & owners, so be it. Better than 60 rally ticket engines with attendant tea party goers, of no interest to the general public who have paid to be entertained. l. BTW, one of our most popular local displays is a couple of well-worn Lister D's, permanently on a trailer driving a bench drill & other workshop material. Pure common-place to old engine hands, but fascinating & relevant to newcomers to our scene, from whatever background or age group. Well, that's cleared out 30 years of frustration ........ Flames expected.