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  • Writer's pictureSheree Hoddinett

Feeling the Power of Steam

Long before technology ruled the world, the power of the steam engine reigned supreme. You have the chance to take a step back in time and experience the true power of steam engines for yourself at the Old Petrie Town Steam Fair on the first weekend in June. Hosted by the Queensland Steam and Vintage Machinery Society Inc., the fair is the largest steam engine and heritage event in Queensland and will feature an array of machinery including standalone engines, old tractors, vintage cars and so much more.

Have you ever wondered how things worked on the farm long before you were born? Or even the machinery used to make local suburban roads? Or better yet, maybe the kids have hit you with these curly queries.

The answers to these questions will likely be part of the steam fair. Initially started in the 1990s, the steam fair has been a regular event in the community, with the exception of a few years in the early 2000s.

Queensland Steam and Vintage Machinery Society Inc. president Bill Ives has a passion for all things steam engines and has been a part of the society now for 35 years.

“My interest stems from my father because he was interested in all things mechanical,” Bill explains. “But my first real recollection of a steam engine was when I was three in 1965. I was standing on a station platform in Sydney and the vintage train was there, so that's my first recollection. And then in 1974, we were at a railway museum and I said to my dad, ‘I'm going to drive one of those one day.’

“And then I did. About five years later, I started working on them at a railway museum in New South Wales. We moved to Queensland in the 80s and in 1990 I bought a Marshall steam roller and not everyone can say they have their own steam roller.”

With more than 60 members from across the City of Moreton Bay council area, the Queensland Steam and Vintage Machinery Society Inc. work hard to keep more than just the magic of steam engines alive for future generations. New members are always encouraged to join the group.

“We're trying to encourage more people to come on board because let’s face it most of us aren’t young anymore,” Bill says. “We're all happy to help people understand the old machinery. If they want to get involved, we're happy to take on new members and we will show them what they want to know.

“If they want to learn how to run a steam engine, then we'll teach them how to run a steam engine. If they want to know how to work on stationary engines, petrol engines, that sort of thing, we'll do that as well. We will also assist anyone looking to get their qualifications in steam engines.”

“I mainly work with steam engines and to me, it’s like they’re alive, because you have to work with the elements to make them run.” Bill

So what can visitors expect to see and do across the steam fair weekend?

“They'll see tractor engines driving around, so big steam tractors weighing up to 20 tonnes,  steam rollers that used to make the roads around local suburban areas, steam portable engines driving different types of belt driven machinery and there's going to be vintage tractors and vintage cars too,” Bill explains.

“On the Sunday, the normal markets will be on as well. Our steam museum will be open, so the mill engine, which is an engine used for crushing sugar cane up north will be running, it's got a 13-foot flywheel and it weighs about 12 tonnes, just the flywheel alone!

“There's an engine out of a steamship that we run, so it should be running that weekend as well. There'll be something for everybody to see with different displays and demonstrations around the park.

“The steam engines and tractors have a designated roadway, so people will be able to see them in action as they drive up and down the roadway. So, they'll be able to see them doing what they were made to do.”

Having been lovingly restored to its former glory, the oldest engine in the shed is from around 1884. The oldest one running during the steam fair is from 1900, certainly a historic piece of machinery.

“It’s great that members of the public can see some of these really old pieces in operation in our shed, they can’t get on them, they can’t touch them, but they can see them,” Bill says. “I mainly work with steam engines and to me, it’s like they’re alive because you have to work with the elements to make them run. There’s a lot of thinking involved in the process, you have to consider whether you have enough water, whether you have enough fire, what the air is going into the boiler like, that sort of thing. So there is a bit of skill behind it.”

For Bill, one of the best things about hosting events at the museum is seeing the reaction from visitors.

“There's a lot of, ‘Oh wow, what's that? Or how big is it?’ There's usually lots of smiles, especially on the faces of kids,” Bill says. “And you see the older people that may remember steam trains when they were originally running.

“We also have people come up to us and say, ‘My grandfather used to have one of those steam tractors on the farm and they used to do ploughing with it.’ So it’s just the opportunity to share in and see the joy on everyone’s faces.”

If you’re looking for something to do on the first official weekend in winter, you don’t want to miss all the fun and flair of the Old Petrie Town Steam Fair.

“We want people to come out and enjoy themselves and enjoy Old Petrie Town because it's a great place to go,” Bill says.

“It's just a great place for the whole family and on top of that, our steam event is always great. It’s as good as we can make it and we just want people to go away knowing they have enjoyed themselves and most people do.”

Don’t miss the 2024 Old Petrie Town Steam Fair on the weekend of June 1 (10am-4pm) and June 2 (7am-1pm) at Old Petrie Town, 901 Dayboro Road, Whiteside. Entry to the event is free, but donations are happily accepted.

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