Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck

By: Vivienne Haldane

Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck
Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck
Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck
Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck
Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck Restored Ford V8 vintage fire truck

Deals on Wheels spoke to two recently retired volunteer firefighters from Hawke’s Bay who know their station’s mascot - a barrel nose, vintage fire engine – like the back of their hands.

The 1939 Ford V-8 fire engine did sterling service fighting fires in the region for 40 years and is still going strong, albeit now in a retired role. It is mostly brought out in December for the Waipukurau Christmas Parade and can also be seen tootling around the streets around that time of the year, dispatching lollies to the kids. This seems like such a good old-fashioned tradition, one worth keeping – a bit like the fire truck.

The Waipukurau Fire Brigade bought the vehicle in April, 1939 for 446 pounds and 15 shillings. It was quite a step up from the previous fire truck, a Model T Ford.

The fire brigade was very proud of its new acquisition which featured an open driver’s seat, deep well in the back, lockers along each side for hoses and equipment, spotlight on the right-hand rear, ‘and tray for latecomers to climb on.’

It was originally classed as a personnel and equipment carrier and never had a pump mounted on it. Instead it had a Ford V8 trailer pump that was towed behind it. This was hooked up to the water mains when used for firefighting.

By 1966, the fire brigade had Landrover and Bedford fire engines, making the Ford redundant for most firefighting work. It was decided to convert the fire engine to a tanker and a disused 400-gallon steel petrol tank was fitted into the V-8 with a Scammel pump mounted on the back step. This served as a useful water tanker up until the 1980s for grass and herbage fires.

In 1976, regional fireboards were taken over by the New Zealand Fire Service – equipment and fire engines were upgraded and the Ford was retired in 1979 with just 4760 miles on the speedometer. Even today it registers only 10,000 miles.

The fire chief of the day, Jim Hastie, decided that rather than selling the Ford V-8, the Waipukurau Fire Brigade would like to purchase it. This they did for the princely sum of $10 – the cost of ownership papers at the time.

The fire brigade volunteers also built a museum to house it and other firefighting memorabilia.

Peter Hallagan, now in his 60s, was with the Waipukurau Fire Brigade for 44 years. Since he worked as a mechanic, it was usually his duty to do running repairs on the fire truck and he has only recently passed the batten onto someone else.

His good mate, electrician Gary Weaver who has just retired as fire chief, having been with the fire brigade for 50 years says, "Peter is an ‘old school’ mechanic and probably one of the few who knew anything about the Ford."

Peter’s love affair with the Fire Service started 60 years ago when he was a boy. "There were some fireman who lived in my street. The steam trains used to run up and down the line nearby and would often set fire to the track. The V-8 would come down the street, siren wailing and I thought, ‘I want to drive that!’"

Fire -truck2

Apart from regular maintenance and a new coat of paint in 1966, the fire truck was in its original condition but as Peter says, ‘it was ‘battle worn.’

"When we saw other restored vintage machines at the Art Deco Celebrations one year, we realised we wanted to fully restore the Ford. We dropped the bombshell on the brigade by saying, ‘It just needs a lick and a promise with some paint.’ But it went from a small job to a big job – it took about a year and was very costly. But we plugged away and managed to do it with the help of fundraising efforts and donations."

With most of the work being carried out locally – panel beating, spray-painting, upholstery and woodwork – the current version, all nicely polished, has been a real community effort.

"We had to go up a tyre size as the old ones (which were still in use in 1990s) couldn’t be replaced," says Peter.

The Ford has had recurring problems that have caused a few headaches.

"As the years went on the problems got worse. It seemed every year we’d have to put a new head gasket on but that was no big deal. Then we always seemed to have a problem with the engine leaking water out of head gasket. When it was ready to paint we noticed a bit of rust in the motor bay so we took the motor out to have a closer look," says Peter.

It’s currently got its engine out again as the result of piston trouble but the brigade are optimistic this will be sorted before its next outing.

Not everyone likes the Ford’s crash gearbox, which means very few put their hands up to drive it. "It’s a challenge. Not everyone can hop and drive it, nor do they want to," says Peter.

Adds Gary, "People are wary of it because of that – they can’t and don’t understand, you have to double-declutch. The young guys don’t get the synchromesh thing. You have to do a picture on a white board or get them look on YouTube to understand it."

Ford V-8 fire truck facts

  • Imported as a chassis and bonnet to cowl and built from there.
  • Originally a personnel carrier that was used as a fire appliance: it was modified as a tanker, and then restored back to original.
  • Registered July 1939.
  • 30 horsepower.
  • Top speed 60+ mph.
  • The trailer pump could pump up to 500 gallons per minute.

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