Paul d’Orléans

STEAM EXPANDS…

There’s plenty to tickle the visual taste buds at East Sussex’s preserved Bluebell Railway, one of Britain’s oldest restored railway lines. While closed for 3 years after the savage ‘Beeching Cuts’ of the 1950s and 60s, where the nation’s rural lines were decimated in the pursuit of efficiency and ‘progress’, the battle to keep open the rail line between Lewes and East Grinstead raged in the courts and in the press. The Bluebell Railway Preservation Society was formed to buy the rail line properties and renovate the tracks; public ‘preservation’ train lines opened in 1960 – the first in the world.

 

How short sighted to have torn up the trackbed and sold the land. Never again would it be possible to build such an infrastructure. Our current pursuits of ‘green’ transport solutions always stumble when it comes to serving the rural communities; the fact is that these areas were well provided for at the turn of the 19th century, long before the motor car. Our interest here is in the oily rag nature of such an enterprise as The Bluebell. Oily rags are seen everywhere but particularly in the hands of drivers and firemen conducting the huge steam locomotives as they go about their business. They lovingly wipe the brass work and bare metal almost instinctively. It is seldom you see one of these men or women fail to give a rub to some part of the machinery as they pass it by. And they’re all volunteers – nurses, doctors, factory workers, airline pilots, computer geeks – a complete cross section.

As well as the locomotives and rolling stock (30 steam engines, the second largest in the world), The Bluebell has a wonderfully preserved infrastructure too – from the stations themselves to the ephemera of a working Victorian railway line, all is perfectly done. The semaphore signalling system works perfectly and warrants at least ten minutes study should you choose to visit. Sheffield Park, at the southernmost end of the line, houses the railway’s engineering works where mind-bogglingly complex heavy engineering overhauls take place. It is here too you will find some fine oily rag examples of the line’s steam locomotives – to be fair ALL locomotives receive the touch of the oily rag and thrive on it.

Easter 2013 marks a major development for The Bluebell Railway as the final link to the mainline British Rail network at East Grinstead will be re-opened, many years after work was started on its restoration. The benefits will be huge and visitors will be able to travel all the way to the Bluebell by rail, simply changing trains at East Grinstead. Equally exciting will be the loaning and transfer by rail of locomotives from other preserved lines throughout the British Isles.

 

The Bluebell line is the very incarnation of the oily rag principle. It’s fun to visit and if you half close your eyes you’re in a living version of ‘The Railway Children’ although you could really be there by visiting the Keighley and Worth Vally railway in Yorkshire which operates on similar lines (no pun intended). Next time you are in the sunny South of England, detour to the Bluebell for the full oily rag experience.

http://www.bluebell-railway.co.uk

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Architecture, Family Tradition, Museums, Trains, Travel 1 Comment

THE SECRET KINGDOM OF ‘OILY RAG’

This original-paint Harley Davidson racer from 1921 was offered for a cool $230k at the recent Las Vegas motorcycle auctions…

You are about to change your mind forever about ‘rusty old junk’.  It’s a mystery why vehicle collectors are so late to a party begun a century ago, but the door is still open to us, so here’s your invitation.  Guarding the entry of the grand manse of Preservation Hall stand white-gloved Conservators, fussing over the furniture and barking ‘don’t touch!’  These tight-arsed, white-glove museum boys aren’t Cerberus at the gates, they’re just yapping lapdogs, intent on proving they’re the only real guardians of History.  They are the worst possible greeters, but they’ve volunteered, so we ignore them.  On entering the Hall, you’ll get a mixed message for actually driving your slightly rusty Aston DB2 or period-bobbed ‘30s Harley; the general feeling of unwelcome must be endured; it’s just a rite of passage.

Who’s already inside Preservation Hall is everyone who ever paid real money for a physical object; a book, a painting, a sculpture, a chair, jewelry, religious relics, cultural treasures; in fact, every kind of collector, other than those who prefer wheels on their artwork.  We are the last to enter the building.  A few of our brethren brazenly demanded entry decades ago, but they are lone and wild, the Baptismal Johns of our nascent movement; their solitary, eccentric stance to ‘leave well enough alone’, and insist on driving a funky old coupé every day, with its oxidized paint, spotty nickel, and tatty upholstery, was a pioneering cry in the wilderness in what will shortly be agreed was an act of great wisdom.  These oddballs, the ones with a rope belt and a time-warp Rolls in the barn during the 1950s/60s/70s, these are our pioneers, and someday their hirsute visages should be painted on the walls of the shrine to Our Lady of Wheels, for they Knew, and were right.

A tale of two Pierces: the left original, the right beautifully restored. Shiny machine unsold at $43k, oily original sold for $120k… prick up your ears!

‘Noli Mi Tangere’ is already tattooed on the arms of furniture collectors and art dealers, they were among the first to understand that the only defense against fakery and simulacra is to leave the damn thing alone.  While not proof against clever forgers, their century-old credo against Restoration (or worse, re-invention) had a strictly commercial origin; too many restored-to-new 18th century Boulle credenzas were, in fact, simply brand new.  Once burned, twice shy, and lovers of fine objects soon retreated to the near-safe haven of Untouched Stuff, where they discovered; 1.patina is a lovely thing, and 2.restorations never look quite right. As time progresses and objects from the Industrial Era grow in stature, it’s not simply Fra Angelico’s squirrel-hair brushstrokes which fascinate the astute, it’s also the pinstriping technique of a half-drunk Bavarian who finished Art Deco BMW petrol tanks. Both are a record from an era passed, an irreplaceable moment of aesthetic endeavor, both are worthy of preservation.  As surely as a piece of Marie Antoinette’s jewelry is welcome in the same museum which holds a Renoir or an Yves St Laurent ‘Le Smoking’, so is an unrestored Lancia Zagato.  As surely as no collector wants a dimestore tiara, or a repainted Van Gogh, or a Zara runway knockoff, there’s no reason for a restored vehicle to hold a higher place in the moto-Pantheon than an original-paint beauty.  It makes no sense at all in fact, unless we’re celebrating talented restoration shops.  But we don’t; we are in theory lauding the creations of a particular factory and era, why on earth do we award Concours prizes to vehicles which might well be made of plastic under their shiny paint jobs?   As collectors in every other field know well, shiny hides the lie.

Which is not to say that a perfectly restored-from-a-wreck ’72 Porsche Targa isn’t a good thing; in fact, it’s a wonderful thing, as you can hammer that pup till the connecting rods come up for air, then replace the motor with a new one, and it won’t matter a bit, because it’s not original anyway.  Play hard with the ones which can’t ever be original again, I encourage you, I beg you in fact.  ‘Use them as the maker intended’ is my motto, and I live by it.  But if you’re a lucky sod with a low-mileage, lovely ‘56 Triumph TR6B Trophybird, yes ride it and maintain it, but try not to throw it down the road; it could buy your daughter a house someday, and better, could show some 23rd century engineer what England in the 1950s was really all about.

This 1923 racing Douglas in running condition was an incredible relic of the Brooklands age, one of two surviving of 750cc, and in fantastic Oily Rag condition

Oily Rag’ is a magazine dedicated to the unrestored, and more importantly, the original which needs no improvement, the utilitarian (or simply joyous) which planned obsolescence didn’t plan for.  It’s home base for those who’ve discovered that an 1850s photographic technique makes amazing images, a 1930s car is incredibly stylish, and your dad’s old tools are much better than ‘good enough’. Oily Rag is written for anyone who understands that disposability isn’t a virtue in our finite world, that we might need a rethink on throwing out slightly used stuff, and that ‘restoring’ perfectly good old utilitarian objects may someday be seen as much a crime as overpainting an 19th century Italian fresco.  At the core, Oily Rag is a state of mind, and we invite you to drink deep from our Kool-aid punchbowl.

- Paul d’Orléans 

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SPEEDWAY INTO ADVERSITY

My father was born in 1921 and died just four years ago. It was he who fostered my lifelong love of cars and motorcycles. Pre-War, he’d been apprenticed to The Caterham Motor Company in Oxted Surrey and had been heavily involved in pre-war motorcycle grass track racing at places like Brands Hatch and Layhams Farm. He was a keen supporter of New Cross Speedway too and I believe had a ‘try out’ just as WW2 intervened and put paid to such nonsense. He’d already become a sort of ‘sponsored’ ‘tracker for a colleague named Reg Marsh who supplied a dope burning 350 JAP engined New Imperial…Reg emigrated to NZ after the war and set up a motorcycle business there.

The arrival of the second world war saw him signed up as a mechanic for the RAF in North Africa,  working on whatever needed fixing, from Spitfires and Hurricanes to transport planes. In order to give the men some constructive R’ n’ R the armed services had initiated an inter-services speedway league which followed the allies through Sicily and into mainland Italy. Machinery was very much of the home-brewed variety. There was no shortage of engineering know-how and equipment in the REME, RAF and RN workshops, and as you can see from the shots, rough approximations were made as to the look of the speedway machines back in blighty…the old man specialised in the tiny petrol tank variety! The speedway irons started life as trashed dispatch riders bikes. All parts were scrounged and they were generally run on ‘liberated’ aviation spirit.  The ultimate tool required an ohv engine of course, but with so many sidevalve hacks knocking about this called for much creativity. Accounts of Wermacht ohv BMW heads being grafted onto Brit crankcases via the expedient of a barrel turned from the bronze of a salvaged ship’s propellor were recorded. Both wheels often carried brake drums but with no internals. Competition was fierce and it wasn’t unknown for teams to recruit ‘ringers’ like speedway professional, Split Waterman to boost their chances of success.
 
As you can see, the machines had the ‘Oily Rag’ look built -in.Dad never lost the touch either; when I was a young teenager and a group of us rode field bikes at a friend’s farm, the old man turned up one day and put us all to shame by grabbing an old 350 Velo and put it into a continuous slide with consummate ease. My mother discouraged such activities,  but when he finally retired from aviation in 1980 he built himself a very quick Vincent Rapide from the proverbial ‘box of bits’, assuring her that it was just an old machine and very slow!

- Jon Dudley

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VINTAGE SNOWCATS OF YELLOWSTONE

Paul d'Orleans with a 1967 Bombardier B12 Snowcat in Yellowstone National Park

I’ve visited Yellowstone National Park 5 times in my life (including the team Oily Rag/Vintagent Cannonball Rally), and until last week, every time had been on a vintage motorcycle.  Wyoming winter weather precludes two-wheel transport, so if you’d like to see Yellowstone in all it’s snowy magnificence, you’ll arrive snug inside some kind of tracked vehicle.  The best option by far -from Oily Rag’s point of view- is to enter via Jackson, WY, as the few visitors who brave winter’s chill are herded from the southern park entrance to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in magnificent vintage yellow Bombardier B12 Snowcats.

A trio of Snowcats outside Old Faithful Snow Lodge

In continuous use by Yellowstone Park since new, their fleet of 21 Snowcats is the world’s largest, and their drivers a dedicated and enthusiastic lot.  They love their machines, which are still about the swiftest people-carriers on snow, and the grooviest by a long shot.  The earliest Snowcat in their fleet is believed late 1950s, with most built between 1965 and 1974.  They use a Chevrolet 350cu” motor, with dual high-rise exhaust stacks, giving a ‘hotrod’ sound which, while not especially loud, gives a thrill to anyone with a touch of Gearhead in the soul.  Fuel mileage is thirsty at ~3mpg, but the little yellow bugs are darned fast over the unplowed roads of Yellowstone, even when speed-governed to 35mph…they are clearly capable of more!

While in the wilds of the Park, the primary goal is seeking wildlife (wolves, coyotes, foxes, river otters, trumpeter swans, elk, and bison were spotted at close range on my visit),  enjoying the thermal features which pump steam columns skyward, and the many icy waterfalls and snowy vistas; still, catching sight of a Snowcat flying past is also a thrill!  Better yet, catching a ride via Snowcat to view distant geysers or to a remote spot for cross-country skiing adds a certain panache to the experience; everyone loves them.

In it's element; a 1972 B12 Snowcat in Norris Geyser Basin

Joseph-Armand Bombardier, born in 1907, was obsessed with making winter travel as easy as summertime, and while he had no engineering training, invented and built his first snowmobile (propeller powered!) in the early 1920s.   By 1937, the first Snowcat was built, the B7 half-track with room for 6 passengers and a driver; this type of Snowcat was their first commercial proposition, introduced just before WW2, as a way to get children to school, and to keep essential services mobile in the far north of Canada.  Prior to tracked snow vehicles, horses and sleighs were the vehicle of choice, well into the 1940s.  In 1942, Bombardier’s business was incorporated as L’Auto-Neige Bombardier Limitée, which began producing a larger Snowcat, the B12, as seen in these photos.

Armand-Joseph Bombardier, in his B12 Snowcat, identifiable by the porthole windows, later changed to a more open design, which reduced a slightly claustrophobic feeling!

 The postwar world brought modernization to the world’s roads, and a commitment from most Northern cities and towns to plow the roads free of snow in winters.  While this impacted Bombardier’s business, there were still obviously many areas which were too remote for frequent plowing, and the Snowcats were produced until the mid-1970s; around 3000 were built.

The original sketch for the B7 of 1936; definite aeroplane influence, albeit with an all-wood body

If you’re interested in visiting Yellowstone Park in Winter, you’ll have to make all the arrangements beforehand, as there’s only one hotel, with 102 rooms, and access is via a once-daily Snowcat ride from the South entrance.  Plan on two days to get to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge from wherever you are; one day to get to Jackson Wyoming, and another day to catch the Snowcat.  My stay was 4nights, which seemed about perfect; we fit in a full day of snowshoeing independently, a half day showshoe tour of wildlife spots, a 105-mile snowmobile tour (amazing!), and some night-time stargazing and geyser-visiting.  This was an ‘always wanted to’ holiday for me, and it fulfilled my expectations 100%.  The landscape is breathtaking in any season, but Winter is the only time you’re ever going to watch Old Faithful with your sweetie, some bison…and nobody else!

- Paul d’Orléans

You'll suffer an hour of the Teton Range as you travel from Jackson to the Yellowstone border…surely one of the most spectacular, and unspoiled/untravelled ranges in the US

 

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Family Tradition, Travel, Uncategorized 2 Comments

WILTON’S GRAND MUSIC HALL

The Automobile magazine, father of the Oily Rag movement, recently celebrated its 30th Anniversary. Its publishers have produced a special 200 page Anniversary Edition, in addition to the regular monthly magazine. The Oily Rag’s website editor has written a paen to both the culture and celebration of ‘Oily Rag’. Available at all good news stands…commercial over!
To mark the occasion in a most suitable manner and also to launch a documentary film about one of Britain’s most respected and long-lived automobile journalists, Ronald (Steady) Barker, the event was held in what must surely be the Oiliest Rag location in the whole of London – Wilton’s Music Hall. Tucked away in the East End, just off historic Cable Street, Wilton’s is not easy to find. An extremely rare survivor, the building was once a public house (c.1828) becoming a Music Hall in the mid 1800′s. Once, the largest London pubs had ‘entertainment galleries’ but this is the only one left in its original state. Nearly lost to either re-development or neglect, it is a miracle that the fabric of the building and its unique interiors have survived. Wilton’s now has Grade 2 listed building status which affords it some protection, but it still requires huge sums of money to be spent on its restoration and stabilisation. The saucy, smoke-filled, beer-fuelled atmosphere of Wilton’s in its heyday is almost tangible when you enter, no wonder the Can-Can was first performed in London here…and promptly banned!. There is a bar and they also serve what looks like rather good food, so it’s no museum piece. There is also a full programme of shows throughout the year…to find out what’s on visit http://wiltons.org.uk.
 
If you’re visiting London, a visit to Wilton’s should be on your agenda. You can rent it for yourself just as The Automobile did. It’s unique – and Oily Rag in the extreme.
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THE BAR ORIGINAL

Do try Gordon’s. No not the famous London Gin, although with a tonic water and a slice of lime there’s nothing quite like it after a challenging day at the typewriter…but Gordon’s Wine Bar. Gordon’s is an institution for those in the know. Situated in Villiers Street next to London’s Charing Cross Station, this place is a temple to the Oily Rag. An unassuming door hard on the street and a disarmingly simple enamel sign give no clue to the delights within. It always looks closed – closed as in ‘not open for trade’ from this angle – try the handle and the door swings inwards to reveal some huge and tatty posters on the wall and a near vertical flight of stairs leading down to where the serious business takes place. Wow! This place is humming! Crushed with people from all walks of life but rumoured to have once been the favoured watering hole of the security services –

“Where’s Bond?” asked ‘M’ wearily,

“Oh probably down at Gordon’s with a floozie” replied a secretary…

well, it could have happened!

A Gordon’s, it’s not only tourists who are beginning to discover its delights, but couples who probably shouldn’t be there and lone drinkers thoughtfully toying with bottles of something red – and French. And men whom it might be better if you didn’t speak to, unless you want a tip for the 4.30 at Kempton Park…or need someone ‘taking care of’.

You see Gordon’s is a wine bar. It sells wine and port and sherry and not a lot else. By the glass, by the bottle, by the magnum. You feel as if you really are drinking in a ‘cave’ too, for after you’ve bought your bottle and received the requisite number of glasses you pass from the bar area to a series of inter-connected low-vaulted chambers and if you’re lucky, find a seat. There you can people watch and so the hours pass with no sense of time whatsover. The place is candle-lit, not in some hugely romantic way but in the practical sense, augmented by some very low powered electric light bulbs. There are no windows and thus no reference to time of day. The peeling emulsion paint on the brick vaults has long since rejected its substrate and has developed a rather pleasing patina of gentle decay. Intriguing paintings and ancient advertising posters adorn the walls, some so stained from years of being exposed to cigar, cigarette and pipe tobacco fumes, that their images are barely discernable. This place has an atmosphere unlike any other drinking establishment in London.

Gordon’s decays delightfully – and positively, because it is kept vibrant by the passage of human beings with their conversations, their trysts and their indiscretions.

If you’re in London, and if ever you have an afternoon – or even an hour to kill, try Gordon’s

- John Dudley

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‘THE DERELICTS’

Here’s a spin on the Oily Rag theme; purchase a rusto-wagon (preferably from SoCal, where the oxidation is merely cosmetic), remove the body in your high-tech shop (in this case, Icon), have your laser system digitize the chassis, and create an entirely new undercarriage and power system to hide beneath your ‘oily rag’ 1950s car.  Not preservation, certainly, especially when the engine is a new Chrysler V10 and the interior is based on an Hermés crocodile dye briefcase made for JFK…

The Derelicts a short film by eGarage from eGarage on Vimeo.

Love to hear your thoughts on this one.

- Paul d’Orléans

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THE SPIRIT OF THE OILY RAG

Lovely Aston Martin DB2 in green and rust…

This year’s Oily Rag Run, the third of an annual series promoted by The Automobile magazine (www.theautomobile.co.uk), was the most successful yet. Fifty ancient cars in varying stages of decrepitude descended on the sleepy north-east Essex village of Great Easton, some 45 miles from London, where Paul and Andrew Wood, proprietors of the eponymous Rolls-Royce dealership of worldwide fame, had bravely opened their immaculate showrooms and workshops to these alien invaders.

Practically the whole of the extended Wood family, plus several employees, had responded to locally-based historian David Burgess-Wise’s request to serve as the focus for the Run, offering, tea, coffee and home-made refreshments to participants and hangers-on throughout the day.

Paul Wood’s own collection was on display, in addition to many tens of millions of pounds’ worth of customer cars and a number of perfectly restored Rolls-Royces of all ages lined up for sale. These included the ex-Stanley Sears 1926 Rolls-Royce Phantom I, currently on offer with very low miles and its original coachwork by Charles Clark of Wolverhampton. The interior has to be seen to be believed, a Louis XV fantasy, all gilt and gingerbread, commissioned originally by one of the co-founders of Woolworths.

From the Wood family collection; fantastic Bugatti Royale

Award winners included specialist wheeler dealer Neil Tuckett with his rusty but complete and totally original 1924 English-built Model T (Most Feral Car); Dutchmen Henk Afink and Ernst Jan Krudop who set out to drive all the way from eastern Holland in their 1920s Morgan Aero three-wheelers, only to have one of them break a crankshaft en route (Most Travelled); and L Dean, driving Tom Fryars’s 1914 Crossley RFC light tender which came complete with contemporary ordnance (Car We Would Most Like to Take Home). A special award went to Ron Mellowship, who finished the course, believe it or not, in his ultra-mature 1896 Bergmann Orient Express dogcart.

- Jonathan Rishton

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A HAND-MADE WORLD

Jeff Epps and his ca. 1956 Ford F350 flatbed truck…

We’d been looking for a suitable Desert Racer, planning on some fun in the Southwest in two weeks.  I already have my original-paint ’73 Triumph TR5T ‘Adventurer’ purchased at the Bonhams Las Vegas auction last January, part of the du Pont family estate motorcycle liquidation.  Conrad wanted something similar, as he’s planning to spend a little time in Cali next year.  Whole container loads of Britbikes have been poached from California garages since the 1980s, and we don’t see many pre-unit Triumphs or much from the 50s and earlier, but ‘overlooked’ machinery is still to be found, in abundance, and fairly cheap.  BSA A65s, B50Ts, Triumphs post 1970, etc…derided in their day, but with modern eyes, well designed and fun machines.  Since we’re not seeking high performance or drag-racing with Kawasakis at every stoplight,  such motorcycles provide spirited riding indefinitely, and are easy to maintain, with parts readily available.

Conrad Leach seals the deal with Jeff Epps on the '71 Triumph TR6R

A scan of Craigslist revealed a likely candidate; a ’71 Triumph TR6R ‘Trophy’ with high pipes, looking complete and in decent shape, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, in Sonora, CA.  I have family in Sonora, the 2.5 hour drive isn’t daunting, and I had a feeling it would be worth the trip, as the area is full of ‘mountain men’ and eccentrics.  An empty van, a full tank, a few tie-straps, and a wad of cash; we were en route.

A neighbor's 1963 Willys Wagon, which has been sitting a long time, but is rust-free. We are inquiring!

Jeff, the vendor, was shocked that Tom Tom brought us right to his door, on the dirt road with no signs, in the hamlet of Soulsbyville.  His compound, one /fifth acre of dry dirt, a few trees, two wooden shacks, and a couple of old trucks, was clean-swept, with neatly stacked cordwood, a pile of which formed a tall curved wall keeping his home from view of the world.  Clearly, the man is organized and tidy, even if the grounds are humble dirt and wood.  Sonora is dry, with Scrub Pines and Manzanita dominating the foliage, and little grass; I knew the Triumph would be rust-free, at least.

The single male is prone to keeping a motorcycle in the kitchen…

Jeff’s home is entirely hand-built of plywood and studs, and he keeps a BSA Victor in his kitchen – it’s his pride and joy, shiny as a new apple.  A stack of Classic Motorcycle magazines decorated his den table…clearly he’s an old biker, and a real enthusiast.  The Triumph looked good, we did the deal, and shot some Wet Plates (our official ‘oily rag’ photo technique) of the man and his world.

Wet Plate photo of Jeff Epps, with BSA flat-cap, and his 'new', 1960s, Ford truck…

He’s thinking of selling up the whole place – yours for $55,000 – and moving higher up the mountain, so he can ski daily in winter. Sonora is slowly changing, with miles of anonymous strip malls and chain stores, looking like every other boring suburb on the planet.  We’ll have to drive a little farther to find the likes of Jeff in the future…

Wet Plate image of Jeff and his Ford F350; he's built a wooden pent-roof house on the flatbed, for toting snowmobiles and cordwood…

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THESE BOOTS WERE MADE FOR…

…and that’s just what they did. And more… In 1965 my late father-in-law made a very wise investment. Enjoying tramping the Downs, as the hills around this part of Southern England are called, he decided to buy some appropriate footwear. The boots needed to be rugged, waterproof, long-lasting and comfortable – a combination not cheap. Whilst he was about it, and thinking of the future, he also bought a pair for his son.

Jon Dudley's hand-me-down Veldtschoen boots…

What he purchased were two pairs of Veldtschoen boots by the Northamptonshire maker, Lotus. The name Veldtschoen refers to its construction and although the term is thought to have come back from the Boer war as an Afrikaans name, it may have been an older Dutch description; the method of construction can be traced back to the 15th century. Lotus, once a proud British shoemaker, were a common brand on the high street of the 50’s and 60’s. These boots are I believe still being made in smaller numbers as the Lotus lasts are now in the possession of another quality bootmaker. Often called ‘Officers Boots’, Veldtschoens were bought for young men in the trenches of world War one in an attempt to keep their feet dry.

The boots in question did sterling service for nearly fifty years under my father-in-law’s ownership. They’ve covered literally thousands of miles throughout Sussex and were the spur to his writing one of his books, ‘Across Sussex with Belloc’ in appreciation of that great walker, poet, author and historian, Hilaire Belloc. When my brother-in-law moved house I found his ‘twin’ pair of contemporary and very worn Veldtschoens put out for the refuse. Snatching them from the jaws of death I had them totally rebuilt by a rural cobbler in the French village in which my sister lives. What a fabulous job he made of them too! So good that when I inherited the other pair he did those as well. I re-presented my bro-in-law with his old boots and he became quite moisty-eyed with the thought that he had so nearly and needlessly cast them aside.

Of sturdy constructions, to this day Veldtshoens are guaranteed waterproof. Good leather care means generations can enjoy a good boot.

Since then we both use them for their original purpose. They are supremely supple, comfortable and waterproof. Doubtless, generations of applying dubbin helps. In addition I always wear them when riding my motorcycle, for which, with ample ankle protection, they are admirably suited. These are surely ‘Oily Rag’ boots sans pareil. I will treasure them always and my youngest son is already eyeing them enviously – but I’m not ready to give them up yet. In my search for Veldtschoen information I was inspired hugely by Paul Trynka’s blog http://loomstate.blogspot.co.uk which is worth a look.

- Jon Dudley

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