How long you’ve been involved with the New England Antique Machinery Club Inc. and why did you originally become involved?
NEAMC was formed in 1986 by a small group of blokes interested in antique machinery, and the first rally was held on Rob Taber’s property at Dangarsleigh. I went to the Rally as a spectator and was blown away by the engines and tractors present. I joined the club the next year. I was always fascinated by steam engines and growing up in Sydney, this meant railway locos, but I realised that there were still rural steam engines about that people were bringing back to life.
What is the ambitious project involving Tom Faint’s steam traction engine that the club is currently working on?
Previously the club has returned to steam two local portable steam engines. This current project involves a much bigger steam traction engine. The engine was owned and operated by Tom Faint from Hillgrove. It is in Victoria, in a dismantled state, and the plan is to transport it back to Armidale and restore it to working order. Once restored, the engine will be put on public display and will be steamed at various local events.
Introduce us to Tom Faint – who was he, where did he live, and what was his impact on our local community?
Tom spent his whole life at Hillgrove, initially working for his father, who was a steam operator and contractor. When he was about 20, he purchased his own engine to go into business himself. Tom was a well known local identity and had interests in many areas – mining, sawmilling, road transport and agriculture. He spent his working life involved with steam and was one of the last steam contractors in New South Wales.
Describe the steam traction engine originally owned and operated by Tom.
The engine is a six nominal horsepower, double crank compound sprung, three speed steam traction engine No. 65715, built by Marshall Sons & Co., Gainsborough, England. It was despatched to the New South Wales agents R L Scrutton & Co. on 2 July 1914. The engine was originally ordered by the Brooklana Timber Co. on the Dorrigo Plateau and purchased by Tom in the early 1920s.
Tom owned many steam portables and traction engines, but referred to this one as his “good engine” and used it extensively in the district. He used the engine for hauling logs from the forest to his sawmill. It was also used on occasions to drive his sawmill or the stamping battery on his mining lease via a flat belt from the flywheel. It was used for road haulage of sawn timber, mining machinery and portable engines.
In 1936 it was used to move the disused Hillgrove courthouse to other blocks in the village. It was also used in the agricultural industry for chaff cutting, threshing and land clearing. The latter was done by using the winch to pull out stumps and trees.
Where is the engine currently located … how did it actually end up there?
The engine is currently in Victoria. After Tom’s death, the engine was sold in 1971 to the Southern Highlands Transport Museum in Colo Vale, who got it running and painted it in original colours. In 1986, a member of the Steam Preservation Soc at Menangle bought the engine, but found later that it required some boiler work to renew the steam ticket.
This involved stripping the engine, which was done. Unfortunately, the work was not completed, and the engine was sold in the late 1980s to a collector in Victoria.
Why does the club feel it’s important to bring the engine back to the New England area?
This engine has huge local heritage significance, being associated with a well known local identity and having worked in a range of industries. It spent most of its working life with the one operator, who was one of the last steam men in New South Wales. It was associated with one of the earliest steam preservation groups in the country.
This engine is unique in that it is the only engine of its type manufactured by Marshall Sons & Co. Marshalls made engines to order, with the customer specifying what features they wanted on the engine. Brooklana Timber Co. ordered the engine at the 1913 Royal Easter Show, where Scruttons had a very similar engine on display.
The interesting thing is that the 1913 engine was sold into the Uralla district and in fact, ended up in Tom Faint’s ownership. It is also a unique engine and happily also survives intact in Victoria.
What kind of condition is the engine currently in – will it take much work to get it up and running again?
The engine is completely dismantled. The boiler is in good condition, but does need several firebox stays replaced. Some of the parts are well worn and will need repair or replacement but luckily, most of the bits are there.
It will obviously take a substantial amount of funds to transport the engine from Victoria and rebuild it. What kind of financial assistance has the club received for this project? Can the public also help out with donations?
The National Cultural Heritage Committee recognises the heritage value of this machine and has denied the current owner an export permit, thus preventing it being sold back to England. NEAMC has received a substantial grant from the NCH Account to help purchase the machine, but has to come up with a $15,000 contribution towards the purchase price. We also have to fund the transport back to Armidale and the subsequent restoration and display costs.
We have set up the NEAMC Heritage Machinery Fund to do this. Donations of $2 or more to the fund are tax deductible. Donations can be sent to NEAMC, P O Box 1144, Armidale or by contacting myself.
Ultimately, what do you and the New England Machinery Club Inc. hope to achieve by bringing Tom’s engine home?
This is a unique opportunity for our club to give something back to the local community. Unfortunately, too much of our industrial heritage has been lost to either the scrap metal industry or to overseas buyers. Here is an engine that is a one off, has a well documented history and is associated with a colourful well known local identity.
By restoring this to working order, we can display some living history and actually show younger generations exactly how things were done in the past. To those who have never experienced it, the sight, sound and smell of a working steam engine is unforgettable.
Support has been obtained from TAFE, who plan to use the engine as an educational resource for their engineering students.
How do readers contact you to find out more?
Readers interested in helping with this project, wanting to make a donation or just have a chat about it are welcome to call me after hours at home on 6775 5537.
Thanks Ron. Interview by Jo Atkins.
Note: black and white inset photos show Tom’s engine, which NEAMC plan to bring back to the area.
This article can be found in issue 71 of New England Focus