The National Traction Engine Trust

In the Winter 2019 edition of Steaming Allan Lloyd used his 'Looking On' column to run his eye over current events which threaten to change the face of our hobby.  His observations and points of view make very interesting and pertinent reading.

Looking On - January 2019 by Allan Lloyd

 

After my look at the rally scene and an attempt to focus realistically on the future of steam shows, I continue in this column to take a hard stare at the way things are and how I see them going. Just because there are no photographs this time and the pages are filled with words, please don't turn to something more interesting elsewhere in the magazine; bear with me, read what I have to say, and make up your own mind....


A lot of good things going on within the NTET were reported in the last issue, and it all made for an upbeat feeling that our hobby is on an even keel and sailing serenely in calm waters. Appearances can be deceptive, sadly – there is a problem at the very heart of the road steam preservation movement's ability to prosper, or even exist, and that problem is this; can the NTET remain viable and continue to function as it needs to?

The National Traction Engine Trust has been in existence in one form or another for 65 years. Formed as the National Traction Engine Club by a group of enthusiasts in 1954, it was always intended to provide an umbrella organisation to cater for the interests of all those who found road engines interesting, whether they were owners, users or lay supporters of the idea of preserving steam engines beyond their economic lifetimes. Its origins can be traced back to the National Traction Engine Owners and Users Association, which was really a trade body to support commercial users of the machines, and which had become pretty well moribund as engines fell out of use. A new group to bring together and support the hobby use of the steam engine was therefore a natural development, but still with the view to providing that collective voice to speak on behalf of the individual which the individual himself could not command. Much of the early business of the NTEC was in creating and supervising an internal structure for the nascent engine/rally hobby to operate in – setting appearance money rates, settling disputes between neighbouring rally organisers with respect to dates and venues, and generally providing helpful advice (often on points of insurance or law) to anyone who asked for it as the whole movement grew. Significantly, in those days there were virtually no external threats to the free and unhindered use of traction engines in this country that needed a strong collective organisation to combat.

The decades passed by, the Club metamorphosed into the Trust (the reasons and details of which need not concern us here), and the gradual realisation dawned that things were changing. Legislative and regulatory dangers started to be visible on the horizon – could rally organisers continue to operate without zealous local authority officials arbitrarily laying down the law to them? Would the existing driving licence conditions continue to apply after the new, Euro-harmonised categories were introduced?  What would the new “Historic Vehicle” tax category, replacing the previous status of traction engines as agricultural machines, mean in practice? Most crucially of all, the introduction of the EU-demanded Pressure Systems Safety Regulations in 2000 to replace the old Factories Act boiler inspection regime suddenly and alarmingly turned the spotlight on the ability of the individual owners to operate an engine legally. The volunteers who formed the committee and filled the offices of the NTET increasingly found themselves required to interpret and explain these unwelcome developments to an increasingly restless membership, and more significantly, acting on behalf of the movement as a whole, and not just for those who subscribed. And that is what they were, and still are – volunteers drawn from the ranks of the active traction engine world, almost always by self-selection, who are prepared to throw themselves and often inordinate amounts of their time into protecting our hobby from outside interference and striving to limit or alleviate the damage that a myriad assortment of legislators and regulators can and are doing to us, often unwittingly and always without pausing to consider the overall effects of their actions. The NTET has been dragged, sometimes reluctantly, from its cosy club existence of the early days into its present guise as a lobbying pressure group (please forgive the pun!) which it is fair to say, has on several occasions recently punched well above its weight. This is all the more so because they are a tiny band representing a tiny group; in the great pond of national life, we traction engine folk are not even minnows – we are scarcely more than amoeba in our significance.

Let’s consider some of the successes that the NTET has achieved since the regulatory monster first raised its head in our direction. As far back as 1988, a proposal to ban steel-shod vehicles from the public highway was withdrawn after vigorous objection from the Trust. In the mid-90s the Off Road Events regulations came into being, which would have severely limited rally organisers’ freedoms to operate their shows without local authority supervision, had it not been for the NTET seeking and being granted Authorised Body status under the Act, which means that so long as a show is being conducted under the terms of the NTET’s Rally Code of Conduct, the organisers accept much of the responsibility without external interference. In 1998 the NTET was appointed as a “V765 Certifying Authority” which means that all claims for lost registrations for steam vehicles are dealt with in house rather than having to be sent direct to the DVLA. Then came the Pressure Systems Regulations (which do apply, whatever some dissenting voices may claim); because of the NTET’s successful lobbying and the official acceptance of the Written Scheme of Examination (in 2003) we are now able to operate our engines, and to have them inspected by independent inspectors, both affordably and to a consistently higher standard than was previously the case, and stay within the law. Next was possibly the most contentious case to date – the DVLA proposal to comply with European Directive 2006/126/EC by introducing ‘a specific driving licence for steam-propelled vehicles’. This the NTET successfully countered by arguing (and I quote from an NTET press release) ‘by demonstrating that its voluntary driver competency scheme was well designed and prudently administered and that there was sufficient take-up so as to allow the Department for Transport not to enact the requirements of the EU directive’. What do you mean, you didn’t know that? Well, you do now.

There have been other important consultations along the way, some involving changes to the statutory insurance regime, vehicle testing (not long ago the NTET successfully obtained an exemption for recently-built steam vehicles weighing less than 3.5 tons to avoid the testing station, as this category had “slipped through the net” in the new set of exempt classes) and several more relevant but not necessarily threatening matters. So, with all that seeming success, where’s the problem? It is, quite simply, that membership of the NTET has in recent years declined to a dangerously low level, now standing at well below 2000. When I first joined in the mid-80s it was over 4000, and should have been higher even then. This critically low membership (how much lower it could go before the organisation becomes unviable is difficult to tell, but it isn’t much) is threatening the existence of the Trust, and if the Trust is threatened then the whole road steam preservation movement is imperilled, for without the NTET there is no collective voice to argue our case against legislation which, intentionally or not, prevents us operating our traction engines. There is nothing else.

A strong membership is vital to the NTET for three reason, the “three pillars” if you like. First and foremost, the Trust obtains most of its income from subscriptions. Even done by the hardest working and most dedicated volunteers, all this work costs money to pursue effectively. Without money, no-one can fight our corner. Secondly, a healthy membership provides the biggest pool from which to draw the willing talent necessary to carry on running the organisation successfully. We need young, dedicated, capable people to continue the work of the Trust for the good (survival, even) of our hobby. Thirdly, unless the NTET can claim through provable numbers that it genuinely represents a sufficient percentage of the overall road steam movement, it is in danger of being marginalised or dismissed as an irrelevance in the corridors of power.

Why, then, should the NTET be so unpopular? The very nature of the preservation movement mitigates against mass membership of a collective umbrella organisation. We are all independent-minded individualists, in the main strong-willed and firmly set in our ways. A great many of us are self-employed in one way or another, doing our own thing and organising our own lives. We are not natural “joiners” and have no particularly strong group instinct. Our natural attitude is to keep our heads down and just get on with things, and if we keep out of sight, the world will pass us by and leave us alone. Well, it ain’t going to anymore. Add this attitude to the perceived notion that the NTET is meddling where it doesn’t need to, and as a result acting as some sort of policeman of the movement and bossing us around telling us what to do, and you begin to get the picture that a good proportion of the traction engine fraternity see the NTET as part of the problem rather than the solution. A lot of this can be laid at the door of poor communication between committee and membership in the past. It is hardly surprising the a small voluntary organisation spread thinly over the whole country with only a quarterly journal as the link to all members, and with that journal containing lots of distractions (photographs!) to lure the reading membership away from the necessarily worthy-but-dull committee reports, that communication should prove to be such a stumbling block. However, great strides have been made in recent years to overcome this difficulty, mainly through the internet and social media (though SM channels have proved detrimental by speeding up what was already surely the fastest gossip machine in the world!) – but there is always room for improvement.

So consider this. When every hydrant in the country is fitted with telemetry and covered by CCTV, and the penalties for stealing water are eye-wateringly severe (don’t bet against it), what will YOU do? When the next review of the testing exemption regime omits “steam propelled vehicles” from the schedule in order to conform to new EU legislation (note that “conform to”, not “comply with” – although it amounts to the same thing), what will YOU do? When the use of privately-operated low loaders is effectively outlawed (it’ll come), what will YOU do? When the use of coal for any non-commercial purpose is banned (it’s at the consultation stage now), what will YOU do? When the hugely powerful and militant eco-lobby really turns the heat up against what they call “polluting for fun”, what will YOU do? When any or all of the above (which are only examples of the many different impositions that would prove to be hobby-stoppers) come to pass, will you rant and rage and ask “Where was the NTET? What did they do about it? Why didn’t they stop it?” and then realise that YOU aren’t a member and have not played YOUR part in making the only organisation that might have been able to do anything about it strong enough to have a chance of doing so?

The NTET is not some remote authority beyond our reach; it is no more and no less than us ourselves getting together to defend our joint interests. Although many of you reading this will be members (by the very nature of the fact that this is the members’ magazine), we all know fellow engine people who are not, many of whom will still feel hostile towards the Trust. The time for this misplaced hostility is passed – if we want our hobby to survive, and with it the capital value of our engines, we ALL have to come to the aid of the party, and fast. As a member, you do not have to agree with everything the NTET says and does – I certainly don’t. But as a member you can argue against policy you disagree with, and often when things are more fully explained the reasoning behind a decision becomes evident. Now is not the time to split hairs over detail or get in a huff and refuse to join.  If every member can persuade two others to join, that would strengthen the Trust enormously, and at least take the NTET off the critical list. The future of our wonderful hobby is in our own hands. Do nothing and that future looks increasingly short and unhappy. Please play YOUR part in making that future a secure and successful one.

 

After my look at the rally scene and an attempt to focus realistically on the future of steam shows, I continue in this column to take a hard stare at the way things are and how I see them going. Just because there are no photographs this time and the pages are filled with words, please don't turn to something more interesting elsewhere in the magazine; bear with me, read what I have to say, and make up your own mind....


A lot of good things going on within the NTET were reported in the last issue, and it all made for an upbeat feeling that our hobby is on an even keel and sailing serenely in calm waters. Appearances can be deceptive, sadly – there is a problem at the very heart of the road steam preservation movement's ability to prosper, or even exist, and that problem is this; can the NTET remain viable and continue to function as it needs to?

The National Traction Engine Trust has been in existence in one form or another for 65 years. Formed as the National Traction Engine Club by a group of enthusiasts in 1954, it was always intended to provide an umbrella organisation to cater for the interests of all those who found road engines interesting, whether they were owners, users or lay supporters of the idea of preserving steam engines beyond their economic lifetimes. Its origins can be traced back to the National Traction Engine Owners and Users Association, which was really a trade body to support commercial users of the machines, and which had become pretty well moribund as engines fell out of use. A new group to bring together and support the hobby use of the steam engine was therefore a natural development, but still with the view to providing that collective voice to speak on behalf of the individual which the individual himself could not command. Much of the early business of the NTEC was in creating and supervising an internal structure for the nascent engine/rally hobby to operate in – setting appearance money rates, settling disputes between neighbouring rally organisers with respect to dates and venues, and generally providing helpful advice (often on points of insurance or law) to anyone who asked for it as the whole movement grew. Significantly, in those days there were virtually no external threats to the free and unhindered use of traction engines in this country that needed a strong collective organisation to combat.

The decades passed by, the Club metamorphosed into the Trust (the reasons and details of which need not concern us here), and the gradual realisation dawned that things were changing. Legislative and regulatory dangers started to be visible on the horizon – could rally organisers continue to operate without zealous local authority officials arbitrarily laying down the law to them? Would the existing driving licence conditions continue to apply after the new, Euro-harmonised categories were introduced?  What would the new “Historic Vehicle” tax category, replacing the previous status of traction engines as agricultural machines, mean in practice? Most crucially of all, the introduction of the EU-demanded Pressure Systems Safety Regulations in 2000 to replace the old Factories Act boiler inspection regime suddenly and alarmingly turned the spotlight on the ability of the individual owners to operate an engine legally. The volunteers who formed the committee and filled the offices of the NTET increasingly found themselves required to interpret and explain these unwelcome developments to an increasingly restless membership, and more significantly, acting on behalf of the movement as a whole, and not just for those who subscribed. And that is what they were, and still are – volunteers drawn from the ranks of the active traction engine world, almost always by self-selection, who are prepared to throw themselves and often inordinate amounts of their time into protecting our hobby from outside interference and striving to limit or alleviate the damage that a myriad assortment of legislators and regulators can and are doing to us, often unwittingly and always without pausing to consider the overall effects of their actions. The NTET has been dragged, sometimes reluctantly, from its cosy club existence of the early days into its present guise as a lobbying pressure group (please forgive the pun!) which it is fair to say, has on several occasions recently punched well above its weight. This is all the more so because they are a tiny band representing a tiny group; in the great pond of national life, we traction engine folk are not even minnows – we are scarcely more than amoeba in our significance.

Let’s consider some of the successes that the NTET has achieved since the regulatory monster first raised its head in our direction. As far back as 1988, a proposal to ban steel-shod vehicles from the public highway was withdrawn after vigorous objection from the Trust. In the mid-90s the Off Road Events regulations came into being, which would have severely limited rally organisers’ freedoms to operate their shows without local authority supervision, had it not been for the NTET seeking and being granted Authorised Body status under the Act, which means that so long as a show is being conducted under the terms of the NTET’s Rally Code of Conduct, the organisers accept much of the responsibility without external interference. In 1998 the NTET was appointed as a “V765 Certifying Authority” which means that all claims for lost registrations for steam vehicles are dealt with in house rather than having to be sent direct to the DVLA. Then came the Pressure Systems Regulations (which do apply, whatever some dissenting voices may claim); because of the NTET’s successful lobbying and the official acceptance of the Written Scheme of Examination (in 2003) we are now able to operate our engines, and to have them inspected by independent inspectors, both affordably and to a consistently higher standard than was previously the case, and stay within the law. Next was possibly the most contentious case to date – the DVLA proposal to comply with European Directive 2006/126/EC by introducing ‘a specific driving licence for steam-propelled vehicles’. This the NTET successfully countered by arguing (and I quote from an NTET press release) ‘by demonstrating that its voluntary driver competency scheme was well designed and prudently administered and that there was sufficient take-up so as to allow the Department for Transport not to enact the requirements of the EU directive’. What do you mean, you didn’t know that? Well, you do now.

There have been other important consultations along the way, some involving changes to the statutory insurance regime, vehicle testing (not long ago the NTET successfully obtained an exemption for recently-built steam vehicles weighing less than 3.5 tons to avoid the testing station, as this category had “slipped through the net” in the new set of exempt classes) and several more relevant but not necessarily threatening matters. So, with all that seeming success, where’s the problem? It is, quite simply, that membership of the NTET has in recent years declined to a dangerously low level, now standing at well below 2000. When I first joined in the mid-80s it was over 4000, and should have been higher even then. This critically low membership (how much lower it could go before the organisation becomes unviable is difficult to tell, but it isn’t much) is threatening the existence of the Trust, and if the Trust is threatened then the whole road steam preservation movement is imperilled, for without the NTET there is no collective voice to argue our case against legislation which, intentionally or not, prevents us operating our traction engines. There is nothing else.

A strong membership is vital to the NTET for three reason, the “three pillars” if you like. First and foremost, the Trust obtains most of its income from subscriptions. Even done by the hardest working and most dedicated volunteers, all this work costs money to pursue effectively. Without money, no-one can fight our corner. Secondly, a healthy membership provides the biggest pool from which to draw the willing talent necessary to carry on running the organisation successfully. We need young, dedicated, capable people to continue the work of the Trust for the good (survival, even) of our hobby. Thirdly, unless the NTET can claim through provable numbers that it genuinely represents a sufficient percentage of the overall road steam movement, it is in danger of being marginalised or dismissed as an irrelevance in the corridors of power.

Why, then, should the NTET be so unpopular? The very nature of the preservation movement mitigates against mass membership of a collective umbrella organisation. We are all independent-minded individualists, in the main strong-willed and firmly set in our ways. A great many of us are self-employed in one way or another, doing our own thing and organising our own lives. We are not natural “joiners” and have no particularly strong group instinct. Our natural attitude is to keep our heads down and just get on with things, and if we keep out of sight, the world will pass us by and leave us alone. Well, it ain’t going to anymore. Add this attitude to the perceived notion that the NTET is meddling where it doesn’t need to, and as a result acting as some sort of policeman of the movement and bossing us around telling us what to do, and you begin to get the picture that a good proportion of the traction engine fraternity see the NTET as part of the problem rather than the solution. A lot of this can be laid at the door of poor communication between committee and membership in the past. It is hardly surprising the a small voluntary organisation spread thinly over the whole country with only a quarterly journal as the link to all members, and with that journal containing lots of distractions (photographs!) to lure the reading membership away from the necessarily worthy-but-dull committee reports, that communication should prove to be such a stumbling block. However, great strides have been made in recent years to overcome this difficulty, mainly through the internet and social media (though SM channels have proved detrimental by speeding up what was already surely the fastest gossip machine in the world!) – but there is always room for improvement.

So consider this. When every hydrant in the country is fitted with telemetry and covered by CCTV, and the penalties for stealing water are eye-wateringly severe (don’t bet against it), what will YOU do? When the next review of the testing exemption regime omits “steam propelled vehicles” from the schedule in order to conform to new EU legislation (note that “conform to”, not “comply with” – although it amounts to the same thing), what will YOU do? When the use of privately-operated low loaders is effectively outlawed (it’ll come), what will YOU do? When the use of coal for any non-commercial purpose is banned (it’s at the consultation stage now), what will YOU do? When the hugely powerful and militant eco-lobby really turns the heat up against what they call “polluting for fun”, what will YOU do? When any or all of the above (which are only examples of the many different impositions that would prove to be hobby-stoppers) come to pass, will you rant and rage and ask “Where was the NTET? What did they do about it? Why didn’t they stop it?” and then realise that YOU aren’t a member and have not played YOUR part in making the only organisation that might have been able to do anything about it strong enough to have a chance of doing so?

The NTET is not some remote authority beyond our reach; it is no more and no less than us ourselves getting together to defend our joint interests. Although many of you reading this will be members (by the very nature of the fact that this is the members’ magazine), we all know fellow engine people who are not, many of whom will still feel hostile towards the Trust. The time for this misplaced hostility is passed – if we want our hobby to survive, and with it the capital value of our engines, we ALL have to come to the aid of the party, and fast. As a member, you do not have to agree with everything the NTET says and does – I certainly don’t. But as a member you can argue against policy you disagree with, and often when things are more fully explained the reasoning behind a decision becomes evident. Now is not the time to split hairs over detail or get in a huff and refuse to join.  If every member can persuade two others to join, that would strengthen the Trust enormously, and at least take the NTET off the critical list. The future of our wonderful hobby is in our own hands. Do nothing and that future looks increasingly short and unhappy. Please play YOUR part in making that future a secure and successful one.

Allan Lloyd

11 Feb 2019