Naomi and I had both been wanting to attend the Steamfest event in Sheffield in northern Tasmania for years but for various reasons we were never able to go. All I really knew about Steamfest was that there were traction engines and other working steam displays. I wasn’t even sure if there were trains. There are very few preserved railways in Tasmania. The high cost of maintaining infrastructure and public liability insurance killed off several organisations over a decade ago.
Sheffield is a very pretty town well known for its many murals. It is about half an hours drive inland from Devonport, near Mt Roland. I’ve been there once or twice, we even looked at a house there but still haven’t managed to photograph the murals.
We decided to go on the first day of the three day event and set off from Sisters Beach at around 8:45am. It was a nice morning and we had a pleasant drive along the Bass Highway to Devonport before turning onto the road to Sheffield. We arrived around 10:15am and decided to leave the car in a car park in the town and walk the kilometre to the venue. There was parking in a field adjacent to the site but we were not sure how easy it would be to park there. Sometimes with this sort of event you end up driving around a muddy or bumpy field and at the end of the day it’s hard to get out because of the crowds. As it happened the field was very flat and not at all full so we could have driven right up to the gate but we didn’t mind. At least we didn’t mind until it was time to go home and we had to walk back to town again :-).
Due to Covid restrictions we’d had to buy our tickets online, that caused a minor drama when my printer refused to have anything to do with Windows 10. I haven’t needed to print anything in such a long time and I was quite worried that I couldn’t print the tickets. However, a call to the organisers solved the problem as they said they would print them for me and have them waiting at the gate. Sure enough when we arrived there they were so we were quickly admitted.
A printed program provided a map of the venue and listed the events so after getting our bearings we headed off to look at the traction engines.
I have seen traction engines in steam before but never so many in one place before. I was interested to learn that the reason there were so many traction engines in Tasmania was because back in the 1860s it was believed that railways would be expensive and uneconomic in our small colony. Traction engines could haul freight. Just under half the traction engines produced by Marshall Sons & Co for the Australian market were exported to Tasmania. Other manufacturers included Robey, Aveling & Porter, McLaren and Fowler.
The experiment was a failure though. The travel times were much longer than anticipated. A load of boilers and other machinery sent from Hobart to Fingal in the northern part of the state, about 200kms, was estimated to take 3 days and took ten. The weight of the traction engines when loaded with freight broke several bridges and cause damage to roads causing the regular service from Hobart to Bridgewater some 20 kms away to be cancelled after just four months. So in 1870 the railways came to Tasmania after all.
As well as the traction engines which were manufactured between about 1906 and 1928 there were steamrollers which had been owned by local councils. There were also some fascinating pieces of farm equipment, threshers, hay bailing machines, rock crushers etc.
There was also a large display of tractors, Massey and Ferguson were well represented but strangely we did not see any John Deere even though their distinctive green and yellow machinery is very popular here. There were a large number of the grey Ferguson tractors. This year is the 75th anniversary of them being released in Australia.
We saw a large display of Mack prime movers including this vintage one, there were a few other vintage trucks and cars dotted about the site. Naomi has taken a lot more photos of the cars and trucks and she will eventually post some of them here too. Vintage vehicles are a passion of hers and once she is moved up here for good she will have more time to process and post some of her own photos.
It was really nice to see so much of the machinery was in working order. There were plenty of events to allow the operators to have a bit of fun with their machines. There was a slow race, a barrel race, tractor pulls and a tug’o’war between a traction engine and a bunch of kids. Surprisingly the traction engine won. We were sure that they would let the kids win as unlikely as that would be. We were barracking for the traction engine so we were pleased about that.
A few other groups were also providing entertainment. There was jousting from the Knights of the Templar, horse riding displays from the Light Horse and Brian Fish from Oatlands was there with his bullock team. There was a costume competition, a lot of people getting around in Steampunk clothing, and a few stalls selling arts and crafts and bric a brac.
There is also a section of two foot gauge railway line in use at the site with a steam engine and a couple of diesels operating. However, I think that I will save these for a separate post later in the week.
We had a fabulous day at Steamfest and I am sure that we will return there next March for another visit. We may even take Toby and Teddy as it is a dog friendly event. The organisers and the many volunteers did a great job considering that their Covid plan was only approved three weeks before the event. Our only tiny criticism is that it would have been nice to have had a bit more seating provided in some areas so that we could rest our weary feet while watching some of the events.
http://www.sheffieldsteam.com.au/ – The Sheffield Steam & Heritage Centre