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STEAM POWERED WHIMS   

Research by Gordon Freegard

 

This interesting article is reproduced from the combined sources of a book titled "Steam in the Forest" written by Maurice Southcombe and information gathered together over many years by Phil Wyndham.  Although it is not directly related to the timber industry around Pickering Brook, it deserves a place on this website. These huge steam traction engines were used in various forms at many mills to power machinery or to haul timber because they were so powerful.

Some were modified into giant tractor "whims" and were developed during the transition from horses to motorised power in the industry. Steam traction engines were used to clear land around the district and Archie Anderson had two of them. He was responsible for clearing land around Pickering Brook using these monsters. A few were modified to become "motorised whims" and used for dragging logs through the forest to the mill landings. 
 
It appears they were unique to Western Australia and only about four of these huge "whims" were ever built. A true piece of Timber Industry history.

No record of the early days of steam in this State would be complete without mention of the steam tractor engine

Evidently Mr. Wanliss of the Rockingham Timber Company was one of the first to use this method of transport. In the "Enquirer" of the sixteenth August, 1871 is recorded the fact that Mr. Wanliss imported from Melbourne, an eight horsepower traction engine called the Thompson's Road Steamer and it arrived in this State aboard the schooner "Azelia". After its arrival, it was used by the company for general haulage concerned with the building of the line and also hauling materials to and from the mill. One of its jobs a few months later was to haul the new loco, the "Governor Weld", from Perth to Rockingham where it was assembled.

This tractor caught the attention of the then Colonial Secretary, Sir Luke Leake who showed great interest in this new form of transport.

In the "Enquirer" of October 1st, 1877, a news item states that in company with Mr. Lee Steere, Sir Luke traveled to Jarrahdale by train from Rockingham where he was welcomed by the manager Mr. Steedman. A gloom was cast over the visit by the fact that a Mr. George Vackner had been killed in the mill the day before, having been caught in a belt and severely mutilated. The report went on to say that Sir Luke met up with an old friend in a new guise, The Thompson's Road Steamer, now stripped of its wheels and used to drive the saw-sharpening machinery in the mill.

Imported portable and traction engines played a significant role in logging and milling timber from Australian forests. Although steam power units were a fire hazard in summer, they nevertheless proved popular, because the engines could be fired from offcuts and waste timber - virtually free fuel. Several Australian-built steam machines called "whims" worked in the forests near the Yarloop district of Western Australia from the late 1890's. They could straddle a log, then lift and transport it to a sawmill.

The idea for the whims was conceived by an employee of Millar's Timber Company, Harry Stephen, around 1896. He obviously thought that there must be a better way to haul the logs through the forest to the mills. So he set about designing his steam whim (or steam transport log carriage, as he called it). Having worked out the concept for his invention, he applied for a preliminary patent application for it whilst living in Torbay in March 1897, but never proceeded any further with the patent application: although the nameplates on the side of the whims proclaimed them as "Stephen's Patent". The patent application appears to have been lodged before any prototypes had been built because the prototype steam whim did not have several of the items mentioned in the specifications :- "trunnioned boiler"; "sliding carriage" underneath the body frame and the  "driving mechanism" was not wire rope as described, but a link belt running over cogged wheels to present slipping.

Note: When doing his research, Phil Wyndhan tried to obtain a copy of Harry Stephen's patent application from the "Commissioner of Patents" in Canberra, and he ran into typical government bureaucracy. He was not allowed to see a copy of the patent application as it was still pending. Phil pointed out that it was now 90 years since it had been lodged and was therefore irrelevant. He still had no joy so he wrote to the local Federal Member of Parliament, who in turn wrote to the Minister of Science, who granted permission for him to have a copy of the patent application. So after 4 months he finally got his copy.

 

Millar's were interested in the idea and gave him every assistance, including the use of the company's workshop. The wooden framed prototype steam whim he built circa 1897, was possibly constructed at Torbay or Denmark, but this cannot be confirmed.

 

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HARRY STEPHEN, THE INVENTOR OF THE STEAM  WHIM, BUILDING HIS THIRD STEAM WHIM.
 THIS PHOTO WAS TAKEN IN YALOOP. ALTHOUGH THE EXACT DATE IS NOT KNOWN,
 BUT THOUGHT TO BE AROUND 1905   #2

 

This original whim, or "steam transport log carriage" consisted of a wooden framework and platform approximately 25 x 7 feet wide, over four large wheels, almost 10 foot in diameter at the front and 11 foot diameter at the back. Power was provided by a 8-inch bore single-cylinder steam engine powered by a vertical boiler. Firewood was carried on an extended  platform behind the boiler. A steam winch and steel rope and chains were used to lift the logs, which were secured under the whim by chains and quick-release hooks. The whim could carry approximately 19 tons at a time. One man was employed to steer the machine and another to look after the boiler. This whim became the first mechanised form of log-carrying in Western Australia.

 

THIS PROTOTYPE STEAM WHIM WAS BUILT LOCALLY USING TIMBER FOR THE CHASSIS.
 IT WAS AT HOFFMAN'S MILL WITH HARRY STEPHEN AND ONE OF HIS SONS ABOARD
 WHEN THE PHOTO WAS TAKEN ON 30th JULY 1898.    
 #3

 

This prototype formed the basis of a steel framed whim that was made in Melbourne by the Geo. W. Kelly Company (later Kelly & Lewis). A horizontal boiler at the rear powering a single cylinder, which in turn drove via various gear and clutches, the rear driving wheels, the steering and lifting winches. The driving wheels were 2.70m (9'0") diameter and the front wheels 2.40m (8'0") diameter. The whole machine was nearly 8.00m (26'0") long. The wheels were fixed to large arched axles similar to the standard bullock drawn whims. The logs were carried underneath the steel frame between the wheels, but it could still carry 19 tons of timber.

 

             STEAM-POWERED WHIMS WERE DEVELOPED IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA FOR LOG-HAULING. THIS VIEW  SHOWS THE STEEL-FRAMED OUTFIT,
 WHICH COULD HANDLE UP TO 19 TONS OF TIMBER AT A TIME. A CREW OF FOUR WAS NEEDED, TWO ON THE WHIM AND TWO ON THE GROUND. IT WAS MADE BY GEO. W. KELLY IN MELBOURNE.    #4

 

     TAKEN IN 1914. IT IS NOT KNOWN WHEN THIS WHIM WAS BUILT. NOTE THE EXTRA STRENGTH,
 STRONGER WHEELS AND A STEEL FRAMEWORK COMPARED WITH A WOOD FRAME ON THE EARLIER MODEL. EVIDENTLY THE BUILDER MR. STEVENS PROFITED BY THE EXPERIENCE GAINED FROM THE EARLIER MODEL.    
 #5

 

Driving the monster was both an art and a science and there were only five men who succeeded. They were Harry Stephen Senior, Harry Stephen Junior, Jim Stephen, George Fisk and George Scott. The crew of a steam whim consisted of a driver, a fireman to operate the whim, and a faller and swamper on the ground to prepare and attach the logs for carrying. To carry the logs, the steam whim would straddle the log, the 2 sets of steel cables, front and rear would be passed under the log, which would then be raised into the carrying position by the steam winches, before being secured by chains with quick release fasteners. The whim then proceeded to the nearest railway, where it would  release its log, ready to be loaded onto the railway wagons. The steel framed whim seems to have undergone quite a few changes during its working life. The steel framed wheels do not appear to have been very satisfactory, as a photograph taken in 1900 shows it with four wooden wheels. Various other amendments seem to have been made, presumable from experience whilst working with the whim. The boiler was also changed to a vertical type.

At dawn it would steam off into the forest at 7 m.p.h. to commence hauling up to 12 huge logs to the railway landing, in a days work. The whims made their own roads through the bush, like an elephant pad, butting down scrub and small trees as it went at 4 m.p.h fully loaded. They were as tall as a double-decker bus and fully loaded weighed as much as a DC6 airliner. The driver steered by steam, worked the winches by steam and drove it along by steam. His mate would feed firewood into the boiler, rather like stoking up a chip bath-heater. Fellows called swampers went ahead, cutting wood and stacking it by the track for him to collect as he went. The main problem with the machine was water - it would boil away about 150 gallons on a three mile trip. When it could the machine would stop by a creek to refuel.

These whims were restricted as to where they could work. They could not work during winter when the ground became too soft to support the weight of the whim when loaded, and in our long dry summers they had to work within easy reach of a stream to replenish their water supply at frequent intervals. Although the performance of the steam whim was limited, Millar's must have considered it worthwhile. Between 1904 and 1906, at least two larger wooden-framed machines were built at Millar's workshops at Yarloop. These larger whims were over 9.00m (30'0') long, had a track width of approximately 4.00m (13'0") and could haul logs of up to 18.00m {60'0") long and 1.50m (5'0") diameter, or 4.80m (15'9") girth at mid point. They took 12  months to make and cost a small fortune but there was big money to be earned in the timber country at the time. One photograph shows "to carry 30 tons" written on the side. A Jarrah log 18.0m long would weigh around 30 tons depending on its girth.

 A WOODEN-FRAMED STEAM WHIM BUILT IN YARLOOP c.1904-06. THE FRONT AXLE WAS ARCHED TO PROVIDE CLEARANCE FOR THE LOGS.
 OVERALL LENGTH OF THE MACHINE WAS 30 FEET. THIS DRAWING IS BASED ON ONE OF THE PHOTOS.     # 6

 

          #7

 

       STEAM HAULER AT THE 22 LANDING, HOFFMAN'S MILLS    #8

 

The steel framed whim and the two larger wooden framed whims appear to have operated for Millar's mills in the Yarloop area, mainly Hoffman's and Mornington. This could have been because any breakdown, such as a broken wheel or axle could be fixed at the Yarloop workshop. It appears that one whim may have also operated down near Denmark on the south coast. One whim was powered by a compound steam engine, one high and one low pressure cylinder. The other two were much more powerful and one had two 7inch cylinders and could do 15 m.p.h.

 

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The whims worked constantly from the time they were built in the late 1890's until 1914, when all the operators went off to the war, together with many other timber workers. During the war years, the inventor Harry Stephen, now living in Gosnells, died on 15th December 1915, at St. Helen's Private Hospital, Stirling Street, Perth aged 70 years. He was buried at Karrakatta Cemetery, Presbyterian Section D. A. Plot 604. His eldest son, Henry Charles was blown up at Bullecourt in 1917. James and George were fitter/mechanics for Millar's at Torbay, and moved around various Millar mills. James was killed in a fire at his camp whilst working as an engineer at Lake View Lease gold mine, Kalgoorlie in early November 1915. George had volunteered and gone off to fight in World War 1. It is not known what happened after George returned from World War 1, but he died in 1948. After the war, the steam whims never appeared to have operated again and they were superseded later by crawler tractors.

What happened to the original prototype steam whim in unknown but the last of the wooden steam whims built in 1906 was purchased by the Standard Quarry Co. (Vic.) in 1912 for transporting stone from place to place. The other wooden framed whims was destroyed by a bushfire in the 1930's. The efforts of Charles Craig, superintendent of Millar's mills, kept the steel framed machine intact in the bush near Cookerup until the 1964 when  the nearby Millar's Hoffman's mill closed down forever. Scrap iron merchants reduced to scrap,  in a matter of days, what could have been a most historical souvenir of the timber industry. So ends another chapter in the history of steam in the timber mils.

 

       THE STEAM WHIM AS IT APPEARED IN 1958. IT WAS LATER CUT TO PIECES BY
 SCRAP METAL MERCHANTS, AN INCONSIDERATE ACT AS THE EARLIER ONE WAS
 DESTROYED BY BUSHFIRES DURING THE 1930's.     
 #20

 

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Steam traction engines were also later used by the Millar Bros. in the Denmark area for hauling logs. These were equipped with a drum inside one of the rear wheels, and on to this was wound several hundred feet of thick steel rope. When the going got too rough for the tractor to haul the log it would couple the rope onto the log then move ahead, paying out the rope until it reached a large tree. After having backed the wheel against the tree, the wheels were put out of gear and the drum gear engaged. The log was then winched along until all the rope would be wound in, then the process would be repeated. In this fashion the log would eventually reach the landing.

Another worthy of mention, is the one purchased by the Buckingham's, another milling company, during 1880's. This remarkable machine was first used in the Kelmscott-Roleystone area as an ordinary steam traction engine. At some time later it was converted to a winch and used for pulling logs. At a still later date it was again converted, this time to a geared locomotive. This latter role was evidently very successful for it continued this work for some years before it was discarded.

 

    STEAM TRACTION ENGINE CONVERTED TO OPERATE ON RAILWAY AT BUCKINGHAM"S MILL AT KELMSCOTT      #26

 

The Adeliade Timber Company also used one of these converted steam traction engines as a loco up until the mid 1930's. This one was known as "Snorting Liz" and was a familiar sight at the Wilga mill for many years.

The steam traction engine was also in great demand during the early days of "Group Settlements" in the 1920's and was used extensively for tree-pulling and clearing operations. Steam traction engines were used to clear land around the district and Archie Anderson had two of them. He was responsible for clearing land around Pickering Brook using these monsters.

ARCHIE ANDERSON'S FOWLER "B^" STUMP PULLING STEAM TRACTION ENGINE   #27

 

ARCHIE ANDERSON'S FOWLER "B^" STUMP PULLING STEAM TRACTION ENGINE
 AT ILLAWARRA ORCHARD    #28

 

ARCHIE ANDERSON'S FOWLER "B^" STUMP PULLING STEAM TRACTION ENGINE
 AT ILLAWARRA ORCHARD 
     #29

 

     ARCHIE ANDERSON'S FOWLER "B^" STUMP PULLING STEAM TRACTION ENGINE
 Left - Right:  ARCHIE ANDERSON,       ?          , JOE GIGLIA, "DOLLY" THE HORSE     #30

 

Reference:     Article:        Steam in the Forest by Maurice Southcombe
                                      Australian Tractors by Graeme R. Quick
                                      Phil Wyndham
                                      Pickering Brook Heritage Group

                    Images:      1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25      Phil Wyndham
                                      6   Steam in the Forest by Maurice Southcombe
                                      26  Rails Through the Bush
                                      27  Kalamunda & Districts Historical Society
                                      28, 29  Tom Price

 

 

 

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