Written by Chris Martin

On the 18th of June 1865 Askin Morrison’s Avelling and Porter Traction Engine became the first mechanised machine on Tasmania’s Roads. Prior to this we had horses and bullocks only. The Tasmanian community met the occasion with much acclaim and fanfare with Parliament making a special trip to inspect the trial runs.

The fact that the National Rally was to be held at Quercus Park the weekend before SteamFest led to the concept of the road run about a year ago in my discussions with David Toyne and Terry Dooley. Soon after the decision to do the run I uncovered that 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the first traction engine’s operation in Tasmania so the concept really took off with the extra meaning assigned from commemorating this occasion.

With the road run and National Rally as a driving deadline a living restoration project for Tracey and I was embarked upon starting in mid January. With many saying that the van would best be restored with a box of matches I must thank those who assisted in the restoration – particularly Lizard, Dan and Jayne Williams, John and Kylie Russell, Phil Turner and his team of builders. After some late nights the van arrived at my place on the Friday night of the first day of the National Rally and was towed to Quercus Park in time for the run. It was a huge effort and particularly thanks to Dan and Lizard – we made it!

The 150th road run was a huge success with those participating thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie and teamwork to keep these 100 year old engines on the road. The shot below shows the engines with living vans parked near the school at Deloraine

Eight engines commenced the run at Quercus Park including the Launceston built 1910 Salisbury Roller recently restored by Eric and Michael Howe and Peter Martin.

We expected that the Salisbury might only finish the first day but with some coaxing Vivian pushed on for the hills and successfully completed the 3 days including some substantial hill climbs. The shot below shows the Salisbury coming over the bridge at Deloraine.
On Monday we drove through to Osmaston where Louella Raines hosted our team at her house. From Osmaston we travelled to Deloraine by morning tea. We were warmly greeted by the public there with many onlookers and schoolchildren enjoying the cavalcade. From Deloraine we pushed on to Dunorlan for the end of day 2. A very enjoyable meal was had by all at Weegeena Hall on the Tuesday evening – complete with a road steam slide show from Ralph Proctor.

On Wednesday the convoy had its most challenging run with the hills approaching Railton and the steep climb from Railton up to Sheffield. The number of engines increased when Jake and Michael Coleman’s “Lykamobile” steam car joined the convoy straight off the Spirit of Tasmania.

150TH ANNIVERSARY STEAM ROAD RUN– Quercus Park to Sheffield
by Leigh Delaney

The steam road run celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival in Tasmania of the first steam traction engine was my second foray into the wonderful world of steam on the open road. The first one was in 2013 when I had the privilege of driving Ross and Jo Lloyd’s Marshall “Blackbutt” between Bendigo and Echuca. This Tasmanian run was to take us from the site of the National Vintage Machinery Rally at Carrick to the Redwater Creek Heritage and Steam Society’s Steamfest at Sheffield, a distance of about 84kms in 3 days. My steed this time was the Robey which is in the safekeeping of the Tasmania Transport Museum Society at Glenorchy.

The Robey was delivered to the special order of the Public Works Dept in Hobart in 1928. Its primary purpose was as a power source to drive a crusher so it spent most of its working life moving between quarries in the south of the State. It’s greatest claim to fame appears to be that it assisted in pulling together the pontoons of the floating bridge across the Derwent River in 1943. A photo of this event is the only one we have been able to track down of the engine in service. It was withdrawn from service in 1956 and languished in the PWD, subsequently Dept of Main Roads, yard until it was restored to working condition in the mid 1980’s. The preservation of steam heritage in Tasmania owes much to one of the DMR’s senior engineers, Fred Lakin who was responsible for the preservation, and in some cases restoration, of a number of significant items including the Robey.

The Robey is a 10 hp single cylinder engine which weighs in at 17.5 t when ready to take to the road. If someone can tell me why you would order a single in preference to a compound I would be very interested to know. Since restoration, the boiler pressure has been reduced to 100 psi instead of the original operating pressure of 175psi. This was to have implications as the run progressed.

Mick Williams and I had spent a fair amount of time leading up to the NVM Rally restoring the humpy which had been towed around to accommodate the crew during the Robey’s working life. It had spent many years in the yard at the Transport Museum as a storage shed. The undercarriage was missing and much of the exterior cladding was badly weathered and rotten. We were unable to find any photos of the humpy in its original condition and so restored it to a “best guess” at its layout inside. We were able to confirm that its exterior had originally been grey after removing a window frame. The wheels and undercarriage we fitted successfully carried it through the run although they are smaller than the originals. It is evident from damage to one side of the humpy that the body was originally slung between the wheels. We were unable to locate suitable wheels of this size but if we had it would have made the vehicle close to 3m wide which could have been even more challenging on narrow and winding country roads in Tasmania.

Every steam engine has its peculiarities which is one of the big attractions which keeps us all interested. Mick and I had steamed the engine over the 8 kms between Hobart and Glenorchy and return on a number of occasions and felt we had a pretty good understanding of its operation. We were to learn lots of new things about it on the run to Sheffield.

The first day of the run was between Quercus Park, near Carrick, to a little, “blink and you’ll miss it” place called Osmaston. This day was always going to be a shakedown as we sorted out engines and worked out how fast everyone could travel. The country we were to traverse was undulating which made the driving more interesting and energetic but the first day was pretty easy going really.

To our surprise we found that the Robey was one of the faster engines and once into her stride she would average about 7 kph. It’s a difficult engine to settle into a slower speed. I can’t help but think that a few more pounds of steam pressure would give her the extra flexibility when it slows down rather than its tendency to stall. More pressure would also go some way to alleviating some of the tendency to stop on the centres which means you have to go a little bit backwards before you can go forwards.

Descending hills is a particular challenge. At the top we wind on the handbrake till it starts to drag and then adjust it as we descend so that either gravity is providing the momentum or we are have to put a small amount of steam on to maintain the desired speed. As the engine starts to speed up we can then generally retard its progress by small amounts of mid or reverse gear. If we rely too heavily on reversing,the piston tends to pump up the boiler and, if you’re close to the “blood” on the pressure gauge, it doesn’t take long to unseat the safety valves. This poses a further challenge in that the safety valves are under the canopy and if they blow off and it’s cold weather, all vision is lost in a cloud of steam. I’m not sure if this approach is accepted practice on singles but it is the only way we can keep it all safely under control.

The Robey carries quite a bit of water in a belly tank and well tank. The steam driven piston feed pump is mounted on, and draws water from the belly tank. The injector draws its supply from the well tank, the bottom of which is considerably lower than that of the belly tank. On the road we generally use the pump to replenish the boiler rather than the injector. The latter is reliable but temperamental and there is so much noise while on the road that it is virtually impossible to hear when the injector picks up.

The first day we were happily steaming along, topping up the wood in the bunker and, with regular dipping for the level, content that we had sufficient water. My theory is that this is where the low boiler pressure reared its ugly head again. After lunch we had done about 17 kms over fairly easy country with some short steep climbs and found we had about 1/3 of the well tank of water but couldn’t get any into the boiler. The level was below the pickup for the pump and there was no way to get the injector to pick the water up either. Consequently a call went out to Dan the waterman to come and give us a drink. We stopped well before we were anywhere near critical which was fortunate because the logistics of keeping water up to seven engines was keeping him on his toes and it was some time before he arrived.

Most of the trip on this day was over back roads with little traffic through beautiful rolling country just made for steam engines.

The morning of day 2 was wonderfully clear and crisp which meant clouds of steam in all directions. We had been warned that there was a steep climb not far up the road and that the road we were on was likely to get busy with traffic. Once we hit the road, we didn’t go very far before at the end of a straight section was the hill. Its hard to judge really but I will stick my neck out and say that it was a straight climb of about 3 – 400 m. We stopped at the bottom to change to low gear and wait for the engine in front to crest the hill and then with a good fire and plenty of water in the glass we barked our way up the hill. She might have done it in high gear but we decided notching up in low gear was preferable to the possibility of stalling on the hill and having to secure it while we tried to change down gears. Every now and then the gears will change like they are fitted with synchromesh but most of the time it takes a bit of grunting to get them to mesh and it is nigh on impossible to get the engine out of gear if there is any load on the crank.

One of the best bits about a big single is the wonderful exhaust bark when it is working. The unfortunate bit for the operators of the Robey is that you can’t hear it under the canopy with all the gear noise going on. She must have sounded fantastic climbing this and the subsequent hills.

So we crested the hill and then needed to stop for a brew up of the boiler and then continued in the convoy down the road. The country became more hilly but water supplies had been sorted out and we were making sure we took advantage of every opportunity to top up the tanks.

Day two was crammed with excitement because it also brought us into contact with heavier (we’re talking Tasmanian country town heavy here!) traffic as we had to negotiate the streets of Deloraine. The run into Deloraine and our stop at the local schools was pretty straightforward.

Our next stop was beside the Meander River just off the main street. Getting there involved traveling down some beautiful tree lined streets and then down a short steep incline to join traffic which was queued up because of road works near the bridge which was just around the corner. We were crawling down the hill with heaps of handbrake on to check our progress but as we approached the intersection the grade got continually steeper. Traffic wasn’t moving so we came to a halt about 30 metres before the intersection and threw a log under the rear wheel while we assessed the situation. I wandered down to the policeman who was controlling the traffic in anticipation of our arrival and pointed out that the engine was difficult to control on such a steep incline and that we would appreciate plenty of room to move. So our time came and he waved us on. Just as we started to crawl down to the intersection, he let a semi trailer go across in front of us. For a moment I was considering escape routes but the handbrake, full reverse gear and full regulator brought us to a stop without incident. In hindsight, we would have had greater control if we had been in low gear but we had no idea the road would get so steep so quickly. Thus our entry into Deloraine wasn’t quite as polished and smooth as it might have been but we got there safely.

After morning tea we left Deloraine taking the road to Mole Creek before turning off at Lemana, for lunch and then across country on quiet roads to Dunorlan and our overnight stop by the railway line.

Day three dawned as crisp, clear and cool as the others had. We had planned to depart at about 8 am allowing the slower engines to get a head start. The fire had been banked overnight and tended at various times. At 6 am I was lying in the bunk wondering when the daylight would come when I heard the rush of steam from safety valves which were just starting to lift just outside the door of the humpy. I darted out to find that we had a full head of steam and, since we had topped the boiler up the night before, not much room to squeeze water in to knock some pressure off.

The Robey steams pretty freely and it was difficult to keep the safety valves seated so we had a hasty breakfast and hit the road much earlier than intended.

The passage of the engines through the countryside on this cold morning was a photographer’s dream. Wide open farming country with the Great Western Tiers in the background was a wonderful setting for steam engines trailing a column of steam as they rumbled along.
The countryside became more and more hilly as we headed towards Railton which made for an interesting and energetic drive. The real challenge, however, was to come between Railton and Sheffield.

We stopped in Railton for lunch which attracted considerable attention from residents and tourists which wasn’t really all that different to how it had been for the whole run.

We had been warned, once again, that there was a long steep climb out of Railton but, if you haven’t driven it, that comment is a bit like “How long is a piece of string?” The first kilometre or so was a reasonably easy and straight climb as we left the town. I was using the “little and often” method, which had served us well, to maintain a good glass of water and keep a good strong fire going. It wasn’t long before the climb started to get considerably steeper and the road more windy and narrow. The “little and often” was working pretty well, however as we got well into the climb it was evident that we were going backwards slowly but surely. The steam pressure was slowly falling and frequent stoking wasn’t giving me the pressure I needed to be able to put the feedpump on as frequently as I really wanted to. Every time I did, the pressure went back a little. This is when a maximum pressure of 100 psi really starts to take its toll. If you lose 30 psi off 130 there is still plenty of power left to play with and capacity to work against the addition of feedwater. If you lose 30 psi off 100 then, on a grade such as this one, you are getting to the point where the engine is struggling to pull itself let alone accept cold water into the boiler. So the short of it is that we had to stop about 300 m from the top of the hill to get everything back in order.

We finished the climb in style and it was then an easy run into Sheffield and to the Redwater Creek Heritage and Steam Society’s grounds where we parked up, shut down the engine and opened a stubby to celebrate a fantastic run.

Our thanks go to Chris Martin and his crew from Redwater Creek and the crews of the other engines for a truly memorable experience. So many people put so much effort in and I hope they had as much fun as we did.