Richard Pearse Centennial Airshow and W J Clarke Memorial Rally a great
Dorothy - 12/06/03
Vintage aircraft, traction engines and threshing mills took visitors back
through the twentieth century to 1903 at the Richard Pearse Centennial
Airshow and the W J Clarke Traction Engine Rally on 29-30 March. Steady
rain resulted in disappointing attendances of around 3000 on the Saturday,
but on the Sunday the weather cleared and well over 10,000 people attended
the displays. The airshow kept the crowd entertained and the line up of
fourteen traction engines driving threshing mills delighted a large crowd
of enthusiastic operators and spectators, none more so than ninety three
year old Don Clarke, the only surviving son of W J Clarke. A constant
stream of visitors to the rally gathered around to talk to him and ask him
about the heydays of the threshing mills.Don Clarke has vivid memories of
the days when his father owned the engines and mills. He shared them for
publication in NZine earlier this year.
Don Clarke on one of the engines originally owned by his father
W J Clarke bought his first traction engine and threshing mill in 1903 and
at the peak of his business he had thirteen engines and mills, so the South
Canterbury Traction Engine Club wanted to have thirteen engines and mills
operating at the rally. When the day came they had fourteen and hoped to
set a world record by having them all operating at once.
Fourteen engines and mills operate at once and achieve a record
Line up of engines awaiting the signal to start operating.
They achieved their record despite the rain on the Saturday and repeated it
on Sunday morning and again in the afternoon - every time without a hitch.
A hoot from the engine owned by John Kyle, W J Clarke's grandson, gave the
signal and teams of workers - mostly men but some women - began feeding
sheaves to the mills. All the engines hooted in celebration at the
Engines and mills in operation with sheaves being fed into the mills
To support the claim for a record to appear in the Guinness Book of Records
video and photographic evidence had to be supplied and two written
statements had to be sent as well. These were provided by the Mayor of
Timaru, Wynne Raymond, and the well known English enthusiast for traction
engines, Richard Parrott.
John Kyle and Esmay Pitt had prepared John's engine for the rally.
Esmay also assisted in the information tent and exhibited the Model T one
ton truck which she and John had restored to its original condition - every
nut and bolt. It had been used to carry coal to the engines.
John Kyle and Esmay Pitt on John's steam engine in the line up of engines
The power of the engines was demonstrated when one engine pulled three
wagons fully loaded with bales of wool.
Esmay in the restored coal truck with her niece Crystal
The traction engine with its load - a magnet for visitors with cameras
The engines filled the air with smoke, but above them on the Sunday the
planes in the airshow flew in clear blue skies - among them gyrocopters,
microlights, a mustang, a Hercules, a Tiger Moth, New Zealand's only flying
Catalina, agricultural aircraft, a Vampire fighter jet, Harvards, the Red
Checkers flying team, the Royal New Zealand Air Force's Iroquois
helicopters and the Royal New Zealand Navy's Seasprite helicopter.
Steve Taylor's aerobatics, the Parachute team's display, the Red Checkers
Flying team and the demonstration of the work of agricultural aircraft were
among the highlights.
An excellent display of model aircraft also attracted enthusiastic
The Red Checkers planes sweep across the sky
Pearse's first flight
Richard's Pearse is believed by many people to be the first in the world to
achieve powered take-off. This is thought to have taken place on 31 March
At the end of the weekend pageant crowds were fascinated by seeing the
replica of Pearse's aircraft made by South Canterbury people, with an
engine made by Lex Westoby and his son Colin. In the pilot's seat was Jack
Melhopt. The propeller whirred into action - seemingly a good omen for an
attempt to recreate Pearse's flight the following day.
Planned activities for Monday 31 March
On Monday 31 March, in the paddock at Waitohi that was the site of Pearse's
flight, pilot Jack Melhopt hoped to become airborne in a replica plane made
by Geoff Rodliffe in conjunction with the Museum of Transport and
Technology (Motat) in Auckland.
The people of Waitohi organised the Procession of the Decades to honour the
date and the attempt to recreate Pearse's flight. They planned floats or
parades and vehicles from each decade and fly-pasts by aircraft from each
era starting with today's transport and working back to 1903. About 1000
schoolchildren were also involved.
The good weather that favoured the pageant on the Sunday did not last. On
Monday rain and quite strong winds made the attempt to become airborne too
dangerous. Those in the procession finished the day wet and cold.
But the South Canterbury people ended the celebrations delighted at the
public response and the media coverage given to Pearse's achievement, to
W J Clarke's threshing mills and to the history of the area kept alive by
so many enthusiasts.
A replica plane can be seen at the Richard Pearse Memorial.