Steamfest story

SteamFest – 12th 13th and 14th March 2022

After over 25 years, the largest annual gathering of Tasmanian steam power has become something of an institution in the north-west.   SteamFest will be held over the March long weekend beside the original Sheffield railway station – just off Sheffield’s Main Street on the east end of the town, with the largest regular collection of working steam road traction engines.   

There is nothing quite like the raw power inherent in the silence of a steam-powered machine.  A well tuned steam engine merely hisses as it turns over; none of the rumbles, explosions, and growls associated with the internal combustion machines of the time!  Of course, a steam machine with both the engine and boiler together can get noisy, as the bark of the exhaust up the chimney and the roar of the fire give indication of their presence.  Indeed you will often hear the phrase “the romance of steam” but never “the romance of diesel” – it just doesn’t sound right!  SteamFest is all about the “romance of steam”.

The 1906 Krauss steam engine is now 116 years old, and will provide train rides across the SteamFest site.  It will be joined by steam traction engines, steam road rollers, and veteran farm tractors, together with many working displays of a heritage nature, including vintage rural machinery, and an old-time general store.  Take a trip back in time to the days of our grandparents, with displays of a working model quarry, horse-drawn coaches and wagons, vintage cars and bikes, shingle splitting demonstrations, and many craft displays.

Kids will be well entertained with military re-enactors, exotic chooks, live snakes, face painting, model-car racing, archery, mini car rides, jumping castles, a tug-of-war with a steam roller, and other novelty items.  The entire family will enjoy the grand parade of all mobile machinery after lunch on each day.

Sweet Running Machines – the documentary about Tasmania’s own steam legends is also available at the souvenir Stand

Stationary Engines     Will be exhibited by both private collectors and members of the Northern Historical Machinery Club.  Stationary engines were used in the early 1900’s until electricity became widely available.  They were commonly used for sheep shearing, milking machines, saw benches, generators and water pumping.

Chaff Cutting     Chaff is cut from oats, hay and lucerne.  The chaff consists of all the grain and stalks cut to about 6mm long and packed in chaff bags.  It is commonly used for horse and sometimes cow feed. 

Threshing     Is the process of removing grain from the straw in all cereal and grass crops including beans and peas.  Oats have, at past SteamFests, been threshed using a Marshall threshing ‘Drum’ built in 1885. 

Hay Pressing     The straw (after removal of the oats in the threshing machine) will be pressed into bales which are tied by hand using wire.  The stationary hay presses were superseded by ‘mobile’ presses which travel around the paddock picking up the hay or straw as they travel.  In the past at SteamFest Eric Howe has used his 1910 Ann-Arbour, stationary hay press previously owned by Mr. Sam Cope – of Ulverstone.

Bullock Team    Brian Fish is one of only 2 people in Tasmania who has a working bullock team.  He has made most of the equipment used by his bullocks himself as finding the parts were not readily available.  Brian has worked with horses most of his life, and thought that he would like to try his hand with the bullocks.

He uses a variety of breeds, and is practical about what makes a good team member.  “You soon know which ones will have any potential, which one will make a good leader, and if he only just wants to work he’ll go into the body, and if he is a big strong bullock who is willing to do something he will go into the pole.”  The ‘pole’ is the wooden bar that comes from the wagon and goes between the rear bullocks in the team.

Brian uses a lot of body language when he is working with this team, and occasionally cracks the whip.     The bullocks need to be worked regularly to keep them fit and willing to work.  He works with them for about 12 months before taking them out with the public.

Tasmanian Lighthorse   The Light Horse Regiment will be present at SteamFest across all three days of the festival and will be dressed in the traditional Lighthorse uniform.

“We will be performing skill-at- arms for all to see over the weekend,” troop sergeant Nevill Thomas explained.   “Skill-at-arms is a training regime used by the Light Horse Regiment to get troops experienced in using horses and weapons at the same time.”

The members of the Tasmanian Lighthorse Historical Troop keep alive the history, traditions and memories of the Light Horse in Tasmania.

“Apart from our common interest in horses we share a passion for keeping alive the memory of the sacrifices made by our Lighthorse ancestors,” Mr Thomas said.

Rock Crusher   This heritage rock crusher was bought by Carl Dick’s family in the 1960’s. 

It worked with the Sheffield Council for many years and also on Carl’s family’s farm.  It last worked in 1983 and then sat waiting to be restored.  Carl started on the restoration in 2012 and had it working again from 2013 onwards.

Rock-crushing – but this is just one part of a greater process. After the rock is crushed, it’s loaded onto bullock drays and  taken to where it will be crushed by a steam  roller to  build a road.  Make sure you stay and see how it’s all done!

Tractor Pulling   These competitions run all day and really get the adrenaline flowing. Watch the tractors pulling heavier and heavier loads.

The SteamFest Story

It is a truism that the greatest treasures can be found at one’s front door step. And so it is with Sheffield’s annual SteamFest.

With more than a quarter century of development, SteamFest is now a very large undertaking indeed. Last year more than 12,000 patrons, exhibitors and volunteers passed through the gates.

The very large Sheffield Recreation Precinct in Spring Street, is crowded with a diverse array of displays and entertainments. This does not divert one from the focus of the event – Steam !!

Lovingly restored leviathans of a bygone era sit patiently, ruminating with the slow, easy motion of pistons, cams and levers tracing mesmerising patterns until brought to life with the blast of a steam whistle. Everyday they will crunch ponderously, trunk to tail like elephants, on the gravel roads in the grand parade.

Skirting the perimeter of the site, the diminutive Krauss locomotive pulls carriages crowded to capacity down the railway line to East Victoria Street station with its iconic view of Mount Roland towering majestically over Sheffield, and SteamFest. This, along with the myriad of murals have made Sheffield a photographers paradise.

SteamFest was first held in 1994, in the spirit of the great Steam Fairs of Britain. We cannot hope to achieve the bewildering size and patronage of their events, but we do have several machines that they cannot own, as ours are the only known examples left in the world. Treasure at our own front door!!

Every year SteamFest has ever more working steam era machinery, mostly agricultural, with links to the Sheffield area and beyond. It is said that one needs the whole three days of the event to see, and appreciate it all.