Characters of GDSF

This page is dedicated to characters I have met at GDSF.

The Unsung Heroes behind the scenes of GDSF

The unsung heroes behind the scenes, the Coal Men and Water Carriers.  Each morning, in the early hours, the Coal Men arrive.  The unsung heroes behind the scenes, these guys, who are from all over the country, with 7 lorries arrive each day, loaded with Welsh steam coal and distribute it to the engines all over the site.  

They are always happy and always have a 'good morning' for you, no matter how early or late in the day.  I took the opportunity to take a photograph and they were only to pleased to take a minute or two out for a group photograph.

They will have delivered around 400 tonnes of coal by the time the show ends.  All this coal is hand carried around to each engine and the lorries have to negotiate the roads etc around the site.

The army may march on its stomach but the steam engines definately march on their coal and water!!

The water bowsers are also out and about all day with the thousands of gallons of water needed to generate the steam.


These guys really are 'Characters of GDSF'!

John ‘Crowman’ Miles (1939-2016). RIP


I was very privileged to have known John for several years.  Thousands of steam fans and steam engine owners etc will always remember John with a smile, at The Great Dorset Steam Fair as well as many other venues, when The Crowman and Dr Buskers Dorset R.A.T.S visited and provided rawcuss entertainment over the years.  John spent many years entertaining the crowds in the real ale tent and some of his antics,  with Split Pin and Dr Busker and the other Dorset R.A.T.S, drew immense crowds at events.  John was quite a shy chap at times, although when he got on stage, look out for the antics and bawdy singing.  

John was an unmistakable figure even in the character filled world of steam.  The splendidly bearded John had missed just one Great Dorset Steam Fair, the first, and not even his delicate health after a stroke kept him away.  Several years ago John was a familiar figure in the wood-sawing arena, in his signature battered top hat.

It was John 'The Crowman',  who had walked in front of the Showman’s engine Quo Vadis in the pouring rain, at Martin Oliver’s late Father, Michael Oliver’s funeral,  waving the Red flag despite his difficulty walking very far.  This was something he had wanted to do, as he had only missed one Dorset Steam Fair and he felt it was his duty to honour the late Michael Oliver.


John says how it all started

"I first got involved with steam when I went to a steam display and someone said, 'where are your  overalls? We need some help'.  I had the overalls with me and that was that," he recalls.  It is true of many at the show, who began as spectators at some rally or display and were seduced by the power and performance of the great machines.

I can recall years ago when John was active enough to be present in the working area at steam rallies working with the  steam powered saw bench crew.  He was also an exceptional sketch artist and he had many sketch drawings of steam traction engines and other steam vehicles.  John had a stall at Dorset steam Fair where he sold many of his excellent drawings.

I spent many times over the years whilst at Dorset Steam Fair, with John, listening to his stories and he always had the kettle handy, so it made a welcome rest stop on site!  He had been a family friend for several years and was always pleased to see me and hear from the Family.  I was even privileged to get many pictures of him, something a lot of photographers will tell you is not easy.  I even caught him out a few years ago when I managed to get a picture of him with Martin Oliver one evening,  before the Steam Fair opened.  John was minus his famous top hat!  John was not amused and asked me not to send this to the press.  Well of course I took on board what he said, but I still sent it to the press!  Sorry John but it was such a natural sight.

GDSF 2016 was the last show John attended, with his relatives kindly driving him to Dorset and looking after him on site.  I was able to see him on stage at the Fair and I was able to speak to him during the interval.  He told me while I was speaking to him,  he just wanted to get there at all costs and his family rallied round and brought him down to the Fair.  John was by then in a wheelchair and suffering, but the show went on, the crowds were immense, chanting and cheering his brave efforts to still be there.  Martin and Sarah Oliver also helped out by allowing him to be on site near to the real Ale Tent, so he could get to the stage to entertain, which is what he wanted to do, knowing it would be for the last time.

John had suffered from a bad chest for several years and did visit hospital on several occasions.  In  2015 he only came out of Hospital 3 days before GDSF but this did not stop him getting to the event and appearing on stage.  His health took a turn for the worse during 2016 when he was diagnosed with cancer and despite several bouts of treatment he passed away.

If you have any queries or wish to purchase a photograph, please contact me:


+44 7831237759


If you wish to send a donation to the Alzheimer's Society, you can now click on the link on the Alzheimer's Society page.

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  • Eleanor firmstone (Thursday, January 23 20 09:20 am GMT)

    Hi, do you have any information on the steam roller ru7342. We now own the roller and wondered what year this was taken.
    Thanks Eleanor

  • Sarah Mitchell (Wednesday, September 11 19 10:31 pm BST)

    Hi there is a wonderful picture you took of a dear friend of mine on his journey to the gdsf this year. It is in the western daily press dated 22/08/19 Carl Brown roading the Marshall to gdsf. I cannot locate this picture on any website to purchase and was hoping i could purchase through yourself many thanks Sarah

  • John Baines (Friday, April 05 19 03:45 pm BST)

    Have you any photogaphs of James & Crockerills yard in Durrington? Their MD Peter Barber owned the Burrell Scenic Road loco 'Prince of Wales@ and other engines including Burrell roller 'Daffodil'

  • Zoe Read (Saturday, March 02 19 07:08 pm GMT)

    I see you already have dates for this one but I wondered if you would consider adding Purbeck Rally to your event list?
    9th -11th August
    worgret road, wareham, dorset, BH20 6AB
    Raising funds for Forest Holme Hospice Charity & other local causes.

  • Andrew Gray (Wednesday, February 20 19 07:55 pm GMT)

    Is that Mr Dimmer and the train made at Durrington Sec Modern, I started there 1963 and left 1968. Mr Dimmer (Regg) was such a great teacher. Wonderful set of images to treasure. p.s we met today at the Boscombe Down Tornado fly past.

  • Jamie (Saturday, September 01 18 01:39 am BST)


    I am Jamie. One of the coalomen from last weeks steam fair. I know you mentioned taking lots of photos of us and it would be lovely to see them. Please get back to me when you can with prices ect i will most certainly purchase a few! In the meantime i will admire wgat you have on your page here already, hope you enjoyed the show! Speak soon


  • Don Russell (Friday, August 17 18 08:51 am BST)

    Hullo, found your site when looking for GDSF info. I was wondering if you had any information regarding engines travelling to the GDSF. I read engines will be raising money for cancer on there journey but I cannot find any info regarding route and timings.Thanks

  • Brian Moore (Saturday, August 04 18 12:40 pm BST)

    Thanks David: Brian

  • Peter Freeman (Thursday, May 10 18 09:56 pm BST)

    Fantastic site, easy to read and great pics! Keep up the good work.

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