Hooked on steam power

Moving Well | Mike Rosel | Posted on 20 February 2017

As a boy, Adam Powell had absorbed the romance of steam power – a passion that's never left him.

By the age of eight, Vermont South boy Adam Powell had absorbed the romance of steam power both directly – via Puffing Billy – and indirectly, through the tales of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Then his dad introduced him to the growing collection of steam engines and related relics of our industrial heritage conserved at Scoresby by volunteers of the Melbourne Steam Traction Engine Club since 1963.

Adam was hooked. By 17 he had started his apprenticeship as a fitter and turner and joined the club’s 160 volunteer ‘steam nuts’, aged from their teens to their eighties. RACV member Adam helped get a Harman steam hammer, built in Port Melbourne around 1910, operating in the blacksmith’s shed.

Adam Powell in the steam room

Heavy metal

For a look at the metal beasts that helped transform Victoria from a sheep run to an economic powerhouse, drop in to the National Steam Centre at 1200 Ferntree Gully Road. Dominating the site is 111 tonnes of the Rapier W90 walking dragline excavator, which helped mine Yallourn’s brown coal from 1950. And yes, it walks – very slowly – on special occasions.

Beyond are five large display halls and other buildings with club and private exhibits open to the public. In addition to static engines, you’ll see steam ploughs, a steam tug’s engine room and farm traction engines. Kids can push buttons to drive an indoor model railway, and on Sundays can circumnavigate the six-hectare site on a miniature 12-inch gauge railway passing dozens of other farm and factory machines that have done their duty and are rusting in peace.

Adam Powell in a steam room
Working on a steam car

Annual Steamfest

Vintage car lovers might discuss restoration challenges with former GMH engineer Warwick Bryce, who is working on the chassis and engine of an iconic 1908 White steam car, a type used by two American presidents.

The centre is open on weekends and Thursdays. The last Sundays of the month (excluding December) are ‘run days’ when steam and diesel machinery operates. 

Steamfest is held annually and draws up to 3000 visitors as outside collectors bring their machines to complement the centre’s 800 engines and related items, including Australia’s largest collection (150-plus) of working steam engines.