A History of Engine Power
Film by Digby Brown and Charlotte Teek, featuring Bernard Smith and the late Arthur Smith at Tallangatta.
Project Director: Malcolm McKinnon.
Project Coordinator: Karlie Hawking.
Produced in partnership with Tallangatta & District Heritage Group Inc.
Archival footage and stills reproduced with kind permission of Bernard Smith.
This video was created as part of the Murray Arts “Stories of the Upper Murray” project, with assistance from the Commonwealth Government’s Regional Arts Fund, Regional Arts Victoria, National Museum of Australia, City of Wodonga, Shire of Towong, and Museums Australia (Victoria).
Contact Murray Arts.Copyright
Murray Collections Network, and the artists.
”Engines were the only source of power, anything you wanted to do you needed to start an engine, or get out your horse.” Bernard Smith, 2006
Prior to the introduction of electricity in the 1920’s, homes and businesses in Tallangatta relied on power from engines. Engines were used fro almost everything.
Over 150 of these engines have been collected and reconditioned by engine enthusiast Bernard Smith of Tallangatta; a collection that resonates strongly with Tallangatta’s history.
-The collection started when I left school when I was about 18. And my father and I did the engines up from day one as I call it. And initially, I started with bringing one particular engine home, and then he became interested also, and the two of us then worked for many years as a spare time job, restoring the engines. We had really the pick of the engines, because we had the petrol agency, and we went around the farms and saw what was being pulled out of the dairies, and so on, because electricity then was coming to the area, and they were no longer used.
There are about 150 engines all together in our collection that are restored and to the running stage. The uses for the engines are very varied. Anything from driving the cream separator, to milking machines to drive the vacuum pumps, to sawing the wood, to shearing sheep, to virtually anything that you need power for on a farm to do the normal day to day jobs. There were just hundreds and hundreds of manufacturers in the old days. Everyone has a go at manufacturing some of these engines. But of course, not a lot of them were very successful.
If an engine has some faults and is very difficult to start, or something like that, well, then it becomes more of a challenge to try and beat the engine. You don't like anything to beat you. There's this one behind me here. This is perhaps the favorite one. This is certainly the oldest one we've got. It was made in 1866 in Ipswich, in England, and it is Ransomes Sims.
We found it at Lockard's Gap. When we first looked at it, we thought, that's not recoverable. Everything was missing. It was rusted out, and so on. But then thinking about it, we thought, well, it's so old that we perhaps should do something with it. The boiler and the smoke box were buried in the ground, and of course, all rusted away. It's had a complete new bottom put in the boiler, all new tubes, new smoke box, new chimney.
Most things are new, I'm afraid. And there was only five of this particular model made, two came to Australia. But of the five, this is the only one that has remained. One of those things you get addicted to, I don't suppose it's as bad as smoking or alcohol. But nevertheless, it's something we've enjoyed doing. So when you're doing something you enjoy, you tend to keep doing it, even though it's costing you money.
I think for the future of my collection, I would like to see them housed somewhere where they'd be looked after better than what they at the moment, really. It would be good to see them go to a good home, after all these years of work and collecting. They're just the fore runners of any modern engine, really. It's just the history of engine power.