Steam Tram Motor No. 1A, built in 1879, began Sydney's love affair with trams which was to last until the last electric tram left Sydney's streets on 25 February 1961. It was one of four steam tram motors imported to Sydney as a temporary transport measure to cater for the large numbers of visitors to Sydney for the International Exhibition of 1879. It was built at the Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, U.S.A. and hauled double decker trailers conveying passengers from the Redfern railway terminus to near the Botanic Gardens.
The steam tram motor is basically a small saddle tank locomotive with four driving wheels in an 0-4-0 arrangement .A wooden cab encloses the entire locomotive, which features five windows along each side. Access to the cab is through doors from either the front or back platform. The tram is powered by an orthodox locomotive type boiler, American bar type framing, conventional 'D' type slide valves and spring suspension. Coke and later coal was carried in a bunker on the rear platform and water in the semi-circular saddle tank of 246-gallon capacity.
The steam tramway was planned to operate for the six-month duration of the exhibition. However, it proved so popular that an extension to Randwick was opened in 1880. The peak period of steam working was reached in Sydney during 1894, when the length of the tramway reached 40 miles (64.7 km). At that time there were over 100 steam trams in service. Intense competition from horsebuses saw trams racing buses along various routes. Gradually the trams forced the buses to the outer limits of the city in a pattern that steam would soon follow. By 1905-6 the city steam tram routes were taken over by quiet, clean and fast electric trams, and steam trams were gradually relegated to outer suburbs. The last Government steam motor was withdrawn from service in 1937 and replaced by a trolley bus service.
The Museum's steam tram motor No. 1A witnessed the full 59 years of steam tram operation in Sydney and ended its working life at the closure of the last Government-operated passenger steam tram line at Kogarah on 3 July 1937. The Department of Road Transport and Tramways presented the tram to the Museum in 1940. It was restored to steaming condition during the mid-1980s and displayed in the Transport exhibition of the Powerhouse Museum from 1988 until 1999.
Burke, David, "Juggernaut: A story of Sydney in the wild Days of the Steam Trams", Kangaroo Press, Roseville, N.S.W.,1997.
McCarthy, Ken, 'The Era of the Steam Tramway' in "Trolley Wire ", April 1973, Vol. 14 No.2.
McCarthy K. & N. Chinn, "New South Wales Tramcar Handbook 1861-1961, Part Two," South Pacific Electric Railway Co-operative Society Limited, Sutherland, NSW, 1975.
Margaret Simpson, curator