Tilly Vaughan

Volunteer engineer

Listen and read

If a stranger asks me what I do, I… say that I volunteer at Scienceworks, and part of the volunteering that I do is driving old heritage tractors and steam engines around their oval on designated Machines in Action days.

Well, the first thing I do when I get to work…on Machines in Action day is, I go down to the workshop and don a pair of overalls and put my little blue engine drivers cap on and put a rag in my back pocket like I’ve been told how to do by the older gentlemen, and get ready to go up to the garage to start up whatever engines we are going to be running that day. If it’s a steam engine, well, then I get the great job of scrubbing out the insides of the fire tubes before we get ready to fire up the steam engine.

The rag in my back pocket is for wiping down my hands instead of using my overalls, so that they don’t get too dirty. It’s a bit of a ritual, if one of the guys has noticed that I haven’t got a rag in my back pocket, they’ll say ‘Tilly where’s your rag?’

Most people don’t know that it takes a couple of hours to get one of those things to start running. Once we’ve cleaned out the fire tubes, we start the fire, and that can take about an hour to heat up the water so that it’s boiling. And then it’s got to take another hour or so to get up to the steam pressure where you can actually operate the vehicle.

Next time when I’m volunteering at Scienceworks I will be probably on a training day. A lot of people don’t know that we actually practice driving these vehicles. I’m still a trainee, so I’m under supervision by the senior staff here. And so it will be another day of cleaning machines and learning to drive them.

It depends on who’s available on the day, but on most days I would be driving or helping to drive one of the steam engines – either the roller or the traction engine. There’s also a bulldog tractor that I’ve been trained to drive, or the chamberlain tractor. Or there is also the small pavement roller, that I enjoy because you can go backwards and forwards really quick. These engines are from the early twentieth century.

My passion is… industrial heritage and old machinery and also places where they worked. I was an engineer for seventeen years – a mechanical process engineer – and I’ve just started to do more study about industrial heritage and a lot of old machinery.

I first got into this area… here at Scienceworks by coming to a Machines in Action day. I was quite surprised to see all the machinery out and what was available to look at, and I asked one of the volunteers a question and he couldn’t answer it but he quickly got one of the engine drivers to come over and have a chat to me about it. And I just thought that that was superb, and I just felt like I’d met people who were as passionate about this kind of area, that I was. And here they were having the time of their lives. And talking about it as well as demonstrating the vehicles. So, when I got invited to become more involved I was really happy to join the crew.

In my volunteer job… here at Scienceworks, particularly here with these machines is to remember that they are actually historic vehicles. They were once working machines, so it is important to take care of them and to a certain degree drive them carefully so that future generations can enjoy what we’re seeing these days.

Others say that I’m… passionate about this area and they’re happy that I am, especially since a lot of the people that I meet during this job, they’re older gentlemen and they’re kind of happy to see a younger generation becoming involved, and particularly, female.

In my volunteer work, I never dreamed I would… be driving a steam traction engine through the streets of Spotswood, on public roads, and have people in cars stopping to take my photograph. You feel like a sort of local celebrity. You’re not sure if they like it, or they think it’s unusual or weird, or yeah, but I never thought that that would happen to me.

If I had a magic wand I would… instantly clean those steam vehicles so that I didn’t have to spend up to 45 minutes trying to scrub out those fire tubes, or have to get inside the fire box to clean that out, which they do once every year, to do a boiler inspection, and I got that job this year. But they told me it was because I fit and I actually do. I can actually stand up inside the fire box and that’s because of my height. I think that sort of says why, maybe a lot of the young steam apprentices got that job, as assistants, the boys, like fourteen or fifteen year olds because they were smaller. And they got the best jobs on the roster, ay?

In a crystal ball I see… that my work in the future might be augmented by having maybe solar transport vehicles. Maybe someone who is doing my role a hundred years down the track will be demonstrating a solar form of transport.

Outside the office… when I’m not obsessed with industrial bits and pieces, I tend to watch track cycling. And I’m heavily involved with my local cycling club, in assisting them as opposed to getting out there and being competitive myself.

What’s all that smoke? Well, that comes from the combustion process of the tractor. Actually one small child asked me once why I was making so much pollution and I had to think and said ‘well actually your parents car probably makes just the same amount, but these days we don’t see it.’ Due to the technology advancement that we’ve had, you just don’t see this type of pollution.

What's that?
The Bulldog tractor out for a Machinery in Action dayThat is a bulldog tractor. It was made in the fifties. It runs on kerosene, but I’ve been told it can also run on butter. I’d rather spread it on my bread.



Music provided by the Orbweavers

“It takes a couple of hours to get one of those things running.”

Image Gallery

Machinery in Action Day 2002 Tilly Vaughan Tilly Vaughan in the Scienceworks workshop