When Joe Donovan started working as a hobby farmer, the tractors he drove were not equipped with the suspension seats, air-conditioning or sound systems found in today’s machines.
They were, however, the inspiration for the 80-year-old’s lifelong passion for steam engines – something he has found a new purpose with as a volunteer at Pearn’s Steam World.
For the past 12 years Mr Donovan has spent at least one day a week helping to restore the museum’s more than 200 vintage steam engines – the biggest collection in the Southern Hemisphere.
After selling his hobby farm in Hagley and moving to Westbury with his wife, Mr Donovan said his introduction to the steam world came by chance, after reuniting with an old school friend.
“He was telling me about it all and suggested I go along,” he said.
“I didn’t really know what it was all about.
“I remember they were restoring an old tractor and that immediately sparked my interest.
“It was just a matter of tidying it up really, but I was hooked and I have been there ever since.”
The Pearn brothers started the steam world collection in the 1950s, in an effort to preserve the history of steam engines, which were quickly being replaced by new machinery and combustion engine tractors.
Today the collection boasts vintage steam engines, tractors, dozers, vehicles and even fire engines, with numerous displays offering a unique insight into Tasmania’s agricultural history.
A miniature steam train also never fails to entertain the steam world’s younger visitors.
Mr Donovan said it was the visitors – young and old – who made the experience so special.
“They come from all over and quite often they are explaining details to us, the volunteers,” he said.
“You get to meet people with some incredible stories behind them and an awful lot of knowledge.
“As volunteers we welcome them in and tell them what it is all about, but we don’t usually tell them something they don’t already know.
“It is a great way to connect with people who have similar interests and passions.”
In 2001, the entire Pearn brother’s collection was donated in trust to the Westbury community.
Today, the museum is run solely run by volunteers, with all profits returned to aid the restoration of the collection, along with ongoing improvements.
Open seven days a week, Mr Donovan joked that sometimes there were more volunteers to be found at Pearn’s Steam World, then visitors.
“We do get very busy with visitors – it’s a major attraction – but there is never a shortage of volunteers either,” he said.
“The real problem is, we are all retirees, and we are starting to lose the generation who group up with these types of machines.
“I am a bit over 80 and so I would rather work to encourage the young ones along to learn what it is all about.
“That is the only way we are going to keep it all going into the future.”
Pearn’s Steam World is open daily from July through to September from 10am to 3pm, and 9am to 4pm during other months.
For more information visit steamworld.com.au.