Model T Ford firing up
WITH a solid wrench and a couple of quick jerks, Mansfield Fire Brigade’s 1924 Model T Ford chugs to life – as restorer Rod Dolan quickly pulls the crank free.
This happened last week, when four local historians gathered at Maindample to discuss their mammoth Ford restoration project.
“We just want to see the old girl up and running again,” Mr Dolan said.
“It’s a slow job, but we are getting there piece by piece.”
Joining the men for the first time was Peter Thomas, who had flown in from Queensland for the occasion.
Mr Thomas’s father, Sedgwick, originally bought the fire truck after it was decommissioned by Mansfield in the early 1940s.
His memories helped the restorers piece together a more complete picture of the truck and how it looked 80 years ago.
“It definitely had a cab,” Mr Thomas said.
“Made out of wood, I think – I was only five or six when Dad brought it home, but there was definitely a cab.”
In response, Mr Dolan rolled his eyes – “that’s another job; we will have to build that by hand out of ply – lucky we like the work”.
The Ford was first used as a grocer’s delivery vehicle in Melbourne, before being purchased by the Howie family for use with the Mansfield Fire Brigade in the early 1920s.
It was decommissioned in the late 1930s, and now, almost 100 years after it first came off the production line, Mansfield’s fire truck is slowly being restored.
“It has been to a lot of places, and it has a lot of history attached to it – our aim is to have it be a display at the Mansfield Fire Station, and for it to be driven around Mansfield on special occasions and in parades,” Mr Dolan said.
Of course, talking about the truck’s history soon moved to other memories – with Gavin Dundas recalling his dad using a “fire beater” or “basil”, a tanned sheep hide attached to a long stick, to beat the flames down by hand.
“That was before super phosphates became common,” Mr Dundas said.
“In this area, before super, everyone had native kangaroo grass which stayed green through summer – so the fires were fought by hand.
“But in the 1930s, crews had to switch to using water – super meant farmers were able to grow European grasses, which burnt hotter and faster than the native stuff.”
Fred Forrest recalled the Mansfield Fire Brigade trying to improve response times, with a special serrated pole fitted to the front of an early model fire truck.
“In theory, it was supposed to cut fencing wires when you drove through them,” Mr Forrest said.
“The crews didn’t have to open and shut gates in an emergency, they could drive straight through – I think they ended up pulling entire fences out; it never really worked as well as the theory behind it.”
The road to restoration is a long one, but all the men involved are keen to start with as many original pieces of the Model T Ford as they can get their hands on.
“We would love anyone in the community who might have pieces to give us a ring – tyres, gauges, an exhaust – we would love the number plate,” Mr Dolan said.
Since starting the restoration, the men have already re-painted the truck in traditional fire-engine red, re-mounted a fuel tank and, more importantly, got the engine running.
“We have no fixed time line for when the job needs to be finished,” Mr Forrest said.
“We are just putting her together piece by piece.”
If you have any memorabilia that might help Mansfield’s first fire truck return to its former glory, please contact Mr Dolan on 0419 316 089 or Mr Forrest on 0427 572 656.
FIXER’UPPER: Mansfield’s first fire truck, a 1924 Model T Ford, is well on the way to restoration thanks to the hard work and dedication of (from left) Fred Forrest, Peter Thomas, Rod Dolan, Jack Pollard and Gavin Dundas.