Monday, April 25, 2011

Living the steam dream

The first signs are quite evident in the cool autumn morning, it starts with the unmistakable sound of 'choof, choof, choof', then in the distance the first clouds of steam and smoke gather over the Main Northern Line, which can only mean one thing .... the Hunter Valley Steamfest is upon us once again.

Although not generally known, the Hunter Valley region was virtually built on the ribbons of steel, which finally reached Maitland in 1880 (or West Maitland as it was known until 1949). This enabled local produce to be taken directly to the important Sydney markets without having to rely on the vagaries of river transport and the cost associated with the multiple handling of goods. For over 100 years steam trains were a familiar sight on the tracks around the Hunter Valley, with the last steam engine ceasing operations on the South Maitland Railway (SMR) in 1983, which makes the SMR the 2nd last railway to use steam haulage in Australia.

36 Class locomotive
The Hunter Valley Steamfest just isn't about trains, a significant focus is also on the various steam engines that played a huge part economic development of the area. The bigger traction engine were used extensively in the farming, forestry and road construction industries, but also there were multiple uses for smaller steam engines to power generators, water pumps, shearing rigs and almost anything else that required a stable power source.

So this year I decided that I would attend this wonderful Hunter Valley festival for the first time and so arming myself with Canon 400D, I headed off to Warabrook railway to catch the local train to Maitland. Now the Steamfest is unique in that steam trains operate continually throughout the weekend and so even as I waited for my local train, one of the historic steam trains passed through, the beautifully restored 1902 built C-32 class 'Hunter'  No. 3265 locomotive. The 3265 still holds a special place in the hearts of Hunter train buffs, as it is last of the 32 class locomotives still operational and still carries the Hunter nameplate.

Once at the rally grounds there were so many excellent examples of steam propulsion it is nearly impossible to know where to begin to describe the displays. However, what I'll do is give a very short overview of just some of the examples of a technology that once dominated the landscape of 20th century Australia.

McLaren No . 1170
The J & H. McLaren No.1170 - This Traction Engine or 'road locomotive' as they were commonly known), is a great example of the type of equipment that would have been found working around the Hunter region around the start of the 1900's. Typically they were single cylinder of around 7 - 8 horse power capacity and would have been in great demand around harvest and  shearing time.

Christina - Unlike the McLaren, this John Fowler & Sons model, plate No. 16770 appears to had a life in the road construction industry as a road roller. Although very similar to the J & H. McLaren Traction Engine models the road rollers had a wider front track and  smooth rear wheels for compacting the road surface. Both factories were located in the English town of Leeds and the two competing factories even shared a common boundary. At the height of their manufacturing heyday the John Fowler Steam Plough Works occupied a 15 acre site and employed over 2,500 workers.

Sooty - Another John Fowler & Sons road locomotive, built in Traction Engine configuration, plate designation No. 16605 . 

Aveling & Porter Type D
The Aveling & Porter Type D Road Roller - This is great example of the road rollers that were imported into Australia in their 1,000's during the 1920's as road construction became a priority as more and more vehicles began using the roads after World War One and demand was high for better construction techniques. A lot of these 8 ton, 6 horse power road rollers were imported by Noyce Brothers in Sydney and were sent throughout the state. The cost of one of these machines was apparently around £1321, or around $360,000 today! 

Hazel - This is a very rare example of a Traction Engine built by Wm. Allchin of Northhampton in England. The Allchin plant was very small when compared to others of the period and they only produced around 220 machines by the time they stopped building in 1925. Out of the 220 machines produced today it is believed that there are only 20 left in existence and of these 17 are in England, with three believed to be in Australia ... Hazel being one of them.

Marshall Traction Engine
1905 6 horse power Marshall, Sons & Co Traction Engine - Marshall, Sons & Co, located in Gainsborough, England   was one of Englands largest agricultural machinery manufacturer and were one of the early adopters of the internal combustion engines for tractors, which ironically sounded the death knell for steam operated tractors.

1920's Super Sentinel
1920's Super Sentinel Steam Waggon -  At least 100 Sentinel Steam Waggons were imported into Australia between 1921 to 1927 from the Shrewsbury factory in England and there is believed to be only 15 examples of these unique vehicles still surviving today. These odd looking trucks found a niche in our early motoring history, being able to haul over 6 tons and had an achievable top speed of around 20kph from their two cylinder engines, making them more powerful than the horse drawn drays of the time. However, by the 1930's they had all but disappeared off our roads as the petrol engine began to be more readily available to the transport industry. The slow, cumbersome Sentinels were no match for the newer technology and 'choof, choofed' into automotive history.

Vernier Tractor
While it is nostalgic to look back on the age of steam as representative of a gentler era, it must be remembered that this form of propulsion was dirty, high maintenance and very inefficient. An example of this were the early steam wagons that used around 200 kilos of coke, 150 litres of water and had an operational time of around 3 hours which made them very energy inefficient. Also, the steam trains were filthy, smelly and had a bad habit of setting fire to the Australian bush from their embers.

So well it may have been a bit of fun to have a tactile engagement with the past, but I think the age of steam has past and is best left to the industrial romantics. 


Geniaus said...

Thanks for another interesting post. I do enjoy reading them

Mark said...

Great blog you have here. We really do live in the best part of the world and your photos are great. Thank you.

The Reverend said...

Thanks for the kind comments, hopefully be out & about in the Hunter Region again over the coming weeks with my trusty camera's.

Joel Turner said...

The 2 whistles on Sooty, is one a 3-chime while the other is a whistle from a beyer peacock engine?