Tuesday, 7 April 2009

1939 Leyland Fire Engine

This vehicle, known as a Pump Escape in the fire service parlance, was ordered in February 1939 by the Dartford Borough Council Fire Brigade, and was intended to replace an earlier Leyland of 1929 vintage.
It was completed in early October 1939, with the pre-delivery photographs being taken on 3rd October and the registration number, GKO 224 being allocated on 5th October.
It was driven to Dartford from Chorley, Lancashire soon afterwards and the Leyland representative accompanying the vehicle remained in the town for a number of days to carry out training and familiarisation with the Dartford firemen.
The earlier Leyland was however kept in service because of the Second World War having started GKO 224 then took its place in Overy Street fire station (the site of which is now known as Merryweather Close) alongside a Morris Commercial delivered in 1931.
In 1941 all the Fire Brigades in the country, along with the AFS, were nationalised and the Dartford Fire Brigade ceased to exist. The Leyland lost it’s ‘Borough of Dartford’ insignia and carried the coding 30-A-1 instead, this being necessary due to war-time restrictions and the threat of invasion.
Another requirement was that all brightwork should be painted over, but this met with much opposition from the Council, as owners of the nearly new fire engine, and it was agreed to let the brasswork dull off until the end of the hostilities.
The Leyland gave sterling service during the war years, and in April 1948, when the fire service was de-nationalised it became fleet no. 124 within the newly formed Kent Fire Brigade. The agreement on the formation of the NFS was that control of fire brigades would be handed back to local authorities on the cessation of the hostilities. This was decided against because of the lessons learnt in the war, and to have hundreds of individual town and village fie brigades was considered unworkable.
The decision was to allow County and Country Borough Councils to take this responsibility, so Dartford Borough Council had had possession of their newly purchased fire engine for less than two years.
A few battle scars and general wear and tear necessitated a re-paint in 1946, this being carried out by Barney Sands of Northfleet. Unfortunately, they got the colour wrong and the rather orange looking red was also incorrectly applied to the blue steel bonnet.
Blue steel finished (as found on gun barrels) was used on the fire engines bonnet in order to dissipate the heat from very hot long running engines during long periods of pumping. This example is painted in a colour that resembles this finish.
Further painting was carried out by the Kent Fire Brigade after 1948, incorporating their insignia, but the bonnet remained painted red.
In September 1955 the Leyland was withdrawn from service at Dartford, and replaced by a new Commer Appliance. It was then re-furbished and became a Brigade ‘spare’ or ‘reserve’ and was eventually allocated to Maidstone where it remained till March 1956, now sporting a chrome bell and searchlight, taken from Maidstone’s 1939 Dennis which had recently been withdrawn.
It was then transferred to the Kent Fire Brigade Training Centre, which was a camp that had been established at Linton, Kent during the war, by the NFS.
Here it was used for training recruits in the use of the wheeled escape ladder carried on it, although a Merryweather all steel escape was substituted for the original Bayley wooden escape.
During the early 1960’s the Leyland suffered the ignominious fate of being painted Napier (Dark) green with Black wings, which was the standard livery for non-operational vehicles at the time.
In 1971, the Chief Officer at the time, Mr Babington decided that the Leyland deserved to be restored and kept as a museum piece, his decision being reinforced by the interest that had been shown in the vehicle by a Dartford fireman who had witnessed the vehicle attending fires many time during the early 1950’s, when he was a boy.
The restoration was completed in 1973 and it was taken on its first outing by the Dartford fireman mentioned above, this being the official opening of the Thanet fire station. The vehicle has been looked after by this person ever since, who although now retired is still carrying out this role.
In 1983 the power unit was rebuilt due to one of the piston skirts breaking up, but it was still running in its original bores, so a .040inch re-bore was carried out the only replacement pistons obtainable were that size.
Big end and main bearing were re-metalled and line bored, and new exhaust valves were fitted.
This was the first major engine rebuild since new.
Here then is Dartford’s 1939 Leyland Fire engine, displayed for your interest.
Technical Data & Specification
Model F.T.4.a
Engine Leyland 6 cylinder OHC petrol. 8.84 litres
Ignition System Dual, with 2 plugs per cylinder. One set is connected to a Delco Remy coil & distributor, and the other to a CAV Bosch HT Magneto.
Carburettor Zenith updraught type (brass)
Gearbox Leyland 4 speed “crash” type 1st & 2nd gears (sliding partion)
3rd & 4th gears (constant mess, sliding dog)
Rear axle Leyland underslung worm type 5.4:1 ratio
Brakes Front; Vacuum operated by individual servos
Rear; Vacuum assisted by master servo
Fire Pump Gwynne two stage turbine with reciprocating primer,
700 GPM (3100 LPM) capacity.
Escape Ladder Now carrying a 50 foot wooden Merryweather, in place of the original 50 foot Bayley which was disposed of in the 1950’s
John Meakins May 1997

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