1942 International fire truck restoration: part 1

By: Lyndsay Whittle

1942 International fire truck restoration: part 1 1942 International fire truck restoration: part 1
1942 International fire truck restoration: part 1 1942 International fire truck restoration: part 1

Deals on Wheels’ latest ongoing project is the restoration of a 1942 International fire truck. Read part one in the series here.

No sooner had I downed tools on the restoration of my 1953 K Bedford (featured in Deals on Wheels over the past 14 months) when I received a phone call from Evan Taylor, deputy chief of the Titirangi Volunteer Fire Brigade, asking me if I’d be interested in carrying out a refurbishment of their 1942 International fire truck.

I must be honest and say that vehicle restoration was never really on my radar until just over a year ago when I went to do a story on Murray Firth’s 1931 W Bedford and wound up becoming friends with the guy as he helped me restore the old K that had been sitting around for about 30 years waiting for me to get my act together.

The project

Titirangi’s deputy chief Evan Taylor, AKA The Colonel, and I have a bit of history with the old fire truck, or ‘appliance’ as they’re known in fire service parlance.

For the past 20 years, The Colonel has driven the Old Inter in Christmas parades and also did a bit of a stint with the old truck back in the latter part of the 20th century in a film called Isaiah’s Fire, which is where he got dubbed The Colonel.

My association with the machine goes back a little bit further to the 1960s and ’70s when I used to drive it to fire calls.

To the uninitiated, the International appeared to be in good order and is well looked after by the brigade. However, there was deterioration happening beneath the shiny exterior and it was this that The Colonel wanted tending to in order to keep the machine in top condition.

So with community grants from to the Portage Licensing Trust and The Warehouse, New Lynn, the project was ready to get underway.

Of primary concern was the need to have the vehicle fully completed in time for the number of West Auckland community projects that the Old Inter attends over summer.

As we journey through the restoration process over the next couple of months, I’ll also be sharing some of my experiences with this iconic old fire appliance as a working machine.

But in the meantime I think it will be interesting to read of the old truck’s life prior to my knowledge of it.

This interesting piece of information was sent to me by fire service historian John Walker.

Fire Truck Resto3

A history lesson

Hi Lyndsay,

I’m delighted to hear that restoration work is underway on Titirangi’s old International.
This is a really unique fire appliance with a far broader history than you might imagine.

It started out as an International FFN-3 fire truck for the US Marine Corp. In this guise it was fitted with a John Bean Royal 55 Hi pressure piston pump positioned immediately behind the seats, with two high–pressure hose reels mounted above the pump and a 400US gall water tank at the rear.

There was minimal other equipment carried. This was a standard fire truck for the marines and was used at Naval Air Stations, Naval Dockyards and other marine installations.

In late 1942 to early 1943, Auckland and the wider area became a staging post for the American campaign in the Pacific Islands. This saw something like 30,000 marines and all their equipment passing through the area and saw all sorts of depots and camps established.

Among these were the well-known stores at Sylvia Park and the lesser known one at Camp Bunn in the general area of Morrin, Jellicoe and Pilkington Roads. Some buildings from Camp Bunn remain on the left-hand side of Jellicoe Rd as you approach Pilkington Road.

It would seem probable that the International was used for fire protection for Camp Bunn, Sylvia Park and other US installations in the area. Local fire protection coverage of the time didn’t amount to much and there would have been security issues as well.

Other possibilities are that the truck was sent here on its way to the Pacific Islands but never left, or even less likely, that it saw service in the Islands and was returned to New Zealand as the Pacific Campaign wound down.

There are comments recorded about Trevor Gilbert and others seeing the truck in a shed outside Camp Bunn and having it demonstrated to them towards the end of the war. This tends to support the first option as, if it was in transit or storage it would have been housed in a more secure environment.

The high-pressure fog system on this fire truck evolved from the John Bean orchard spraying system invented in 1884. The principle behind this was that the water fog was made of what was known as ‘the optimum-sized droplet’ which was deposited on the foliage and evaporated quickly leaving the chemical residue behind.

This concept continued to evolve over the early 20th century but it was not until the late 30s that an orchardist used his trusty John Bean sprayer to put out a fire in his neighbours house. News of this achievement found its way to the John Bean company management and serious trials started with a unit mounted on an International KB chassis.

By this time, the largest John Bean system had evolved into a three-cylinder horizontal positive displacement pump capable of producing 800psi at the pump dropping to 600psi at the nozzle and giving about 30gpm (gallons per minute) at the nozzle.

The US Marine Corp became a significant buyer of John Bean-fitted apparatus. It was found to be very effective in extinguishing smaller aircraft crash incidents, structure fires and fires on board ships where it allowed a single firefighter to operate in restricted spaces unhindered by having to manhandle a heavy conventional hose line.

There were hazards in the use of this medium and it was very easy to push the fire through the structure or even worse have it come back at you if the Bean gun was directed down.

Post-war, John Bean continued to build high-pressure fog fire trucks using the same pumping system until 1990 when it withdrew from the fire apparatus market altogether.

At the end of the war, the International was towed into Pitt St (Auckland Central) Fire Station with a failed clutch. The brigade mechanics of the time, the late Ken Cox and Bill Angell repaired the clutch and the Bean pump unit was frequently demonstrated.

Bill Angell recounted to me one occasion, when the brigade was fully committed he and Ken Cox responded on the International to toitoi bushes on fire in Hobson Street opposite St Mathews’ church. They got to work using the Bean guns and were somewhat astounded to see the toitoi bushes blown out of the ground and down the road.

Sometime after this, thinking that this high-pressure fog was the coming thing, the Auckland Metropolitan Fire Board decided to build a new Ford appliance incorporating the John Bean equipment off the International.

This saw the International loaded on to the train and sent off to Standard Motor Bodies in Wellington where the US-built body and tank were removed along with the Bean pump which was then mounted on to a 1950 Ford and a typical well type body constructed.

The International chassis was passed to the Waitemata County Council who had it fitted with a standard COMOCO fire pump and the tank and body it now features.

The new Ford went into service as The Flyer in the Central Fire Station replacing the 1935 Ford which had fulfilled this role for the last 16 years in early 1951.


John Walker

Back to the present

We recently began a staged deconstruction, starting with the removal of the 400-gallon water tank which wasn’t nearly as easy as we imagined it would be.

So if the first part of the operation is anything to go by, we can look forward to quite a few more challenges along the way.

Follow Lyndsay's progress in the pages of Deals on Wheels magazine. Subscribe here.

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