For Ed, it’s full steam ahead

By David Chapman

STEAM engines have fascinated Ed Gibson his whole life.

In fact, he can actually pinpoint the moment he was smitten.

‘‘I came to the Echuca Steam Rally when I was four or five and I looked up at a traction engine and thought ‘this is seriously fascinating’ and I got hooked,’’ Ed said.

‘‘Mum and dad bought me a model traction engine that you put metho in when I was 10 and the rot set in from there.’’

Surrounding himself with a group of friends with a similar interest only fuelled his passion.

That burning desire became real 19 years ago when Ed bought himself a 12-tonne Ruston Proctor eight-horsepower compound traction engine.

Built in 1911 in Lincoln, England and imported to Australia that same year, it went straight to work on farms around the Guyra and Glen Innes areas in northern NSW.

‘‘It was used for direct ploughing, harvesting and general farm work,’’ Ed said.

‘‘Sometime in the 1920s or 30s it went to a sawmill where it spent the rest of its life.’’

Ed bought the engine from an elderly gentleman in Sydney.

‘‘The engine hadn’t run for 50 years before he had it,’’ Ed said.

‘‘The guy in Sydney had got it in the 1970s so there’s a gap there where I’m not sure what happened to it.’’

Ed flew to Sydney to see the engine and was confronted with a sight that would have scared off most backyard mechanic enthusiasts.

‘‘It was in a lot of bits,’’ Ed said of the engine.

‘‘The owner was going to rebuild it but it got to the stage where he was too old, the parts were too heavy (to lift) and he just wanted it go to someone who would restore it.’’

Six weeks later Ed drove back to Sydney with a semi-trailer and brought home the entire engine in pieces.

‘‘I spent seven to eight years working fairly consistently doing it up,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s still not finished. There’s still some more stuff to go but it is essentially up and running.’’

It’s an incredible achievement considering all Ed’s mechanical knowledge is basically self taught.

‘‘I’ve always had an interest in mechanical stuff,’’ he said.

‘‘It comes from growing up on the farm, repairing machinery. I’ve always been interested in that.’’

However, rebuilding a 108-year-old steam behemoth is probably not what a regular farmhand would work on on a daily basis — particularly when parts weren’t readily at hand.

‘‘I had the original parts but a lot of them couldn’t be used,’’ Ed said.

‘‘So I used them as a patent to make a new part.

‘‘I had to go see a patent maker, then go to a foundry to get a casting and then have it machined.

‘‘All the brassware had been taken by scrappies over the years. The bearings for the crankshaft and the second shaft were all brass.

‘‘I had to replace all the bronze and there was 80kg to 90kg in bronze castings.

Ed even had to hand twist every link in the giant steering chain.

‘‘Like anything, you want it right you have to do it yourself,’’ he said.

Also helpful was the librarian from the factory in Lincoln where the engine was made more than 100 years ago.

‘‘They have all the records and original drawings, original build sheets, replicated parts manuals and even instructions for driving it.’’

The attention to detail and the almost decade-long restoration was clearly a labour of love for Ed.

‘‘It’s like a big Mechano set,’’ he said.

‘‘There’s just so much satisfaction in taking something that doesn’t go and then making it go.’’

And it does go. To start the engine, it takes three-and-a-half to four hours from stone cold to get up to steam.

‘‘If you used it yesterday and started it in the morning, it would take about an hour,’’ Ed said.

‘‘It burns half a tonne of wood a day and works on the principle of steam locomotive boiler — it produces steam which runs the engine.’’

It needs 1000 litres of water — 500 litres in the boiler and the other half in the water tender.

‘‘It has two speeds and the top speed is about 8km/h,’’ Ed said.

‘‘There are 16 of these in Australia, so it’s not a particularly rare model.

‘‘Harvesting contractors would have had these and they were used for thrashing, driving irrigation pumps, towing heavy loads and pulling dead trees.

‘‘I get a lot of enjoyment working it.

‘‘They have a tractor pull at the steam rally and you get to see the power of it.

‘‘Using it for what it was originally meant to be used for, you see the practicality in it.

‘‘It has 180lb of boiler pressure and the 8hp engine is roughly equivalent to 200hp of a diesel engine.

‘‘When salesmen went out to farms, they would say this engine would replace eight draught horses.’’

Ed’s steam engine only comes out mainly for the Echuca steam rally or when friends visit his farm.

Hoping to inspire a new generation of steam enthusiasts, Ed took the engine to Moama Anglican Grammar school and 208 Primary School in Echuca in the lead up to this weekend’s steam rally.

‘‘It was nice to get the engine out and show the kids,’’ Ed said.

‘‘We blew the whistle and started it up for them.

‘‘It was good to show the younger generation and get them interested in stuff that’s not on an iPad.’’

He is keen to instil the love of steam engines into his own children Thomas, 10, Jack, 8, and Hannah, 4, with Jack already showing a keen interest.

Ed said steam engines was a good hobby, and a ‘‘very satisfying hobby’’ at that, but it is clearly much more to him.

‘‘It’s a living, breathing machine,’’ Ed said of his steam engine.

‘‘And it’s so simple. You fill it with water, put fire in it. It absolutely has a character of its own.

‘‘I have a very tolerant wife — Claire. Actually, I have a wife who appreciates my hobby.’’

■ THE 56th annual Steam Rally Echuca-Moama attracts about 5000 people and features more than 300 exhibits.

One of the the oldest exhibits is an 1880 Shand Mason horse-drawn steam fire engine which will be displayed by the Fire Services Museum, East Melbourne and used to put out the fire during the ‘Burning Down of the Dunny’ on the Sunday afternoon.

This year’s program has also added the interest and excitement of an original Fairground 46-key organ.

The event has a strong focus on families with face painting, jumping castles, colouring competition, horseshoe toss, animal nursery and buskers on show.

Day passes for adults are $22, $7 for children, $17 for concession, pensioners, seniors and disability card holders while a family day pass is $50.

The Steam Rally runs from June 8-9 with both days starting at 9am and finishing by 4.30pm at Echuca’s Rotary Community Park.