11 Mar Are you getting fired up for 2022?
When the Festival Committee was out and about last weekend, checking the route instructions for the motoring day to Opunake we took the time to call at Classic Auto Repaints, the workshop of long-time Taranaki branch VCC member Nigel Fraser. Even though it was Saturday, the door was open and his 1923 Chevrolet 1 ton truck was parked outside – clearly he was at work. But was he working on anything interesting?
It turns out he was, on something of significant local history and we couldn’t disturb him for long as he’s only got ten months let to get it finished in time for the Festival. “It” is a 1925 Dennis. Not just any old Dennis, this one was bought new by the Hawera Fire Board in 1925 and was in service with the Hawera Brigade for it’s entire working life. In 1963, now retired and in private hands the Dennis was donated to MOTAT. Sadly it suffered from inappropriate storage and at some time in the past some iffy ‘restoration” work and the Brigade, assisted by the Matthews family who had originally donated it to MOTAT decided to try to get their baby back.
In 2006 they succeeded and the Dennis returned to it’s rightful home in Hawera and was soon returned to running order for use at local events. A full stripdown and restoration was really what it needed, but as we all know, that is an expensive exercise and without significant outside funding, well beyond the resources of the brigade and its volunteers. A solution was to arrive from an unexpected source.
Just north of Waverley a massive new wind farm was being built. This required an awful lot of concrete to be made onsite and concrete requires a lot of water… which required the use of a tanker. The Hawera Fire Brigade were asked if they could assist in supplying the necessary water with their tanker. A deal was struck and the income from this meant that the restoration of the Dennis went from an unattainable dream to being readily achievable.
As a long-standing volunteer fire-fighter in the Opunake brigade and a lover of vintage commercial vehicles – as evidenced by his 1923 and 1931 Chevrolet trucks, Nigel’s workshop was the logical local choice to ensure this piece of Taranaki history would get the attention and expertise needed to return it to full working condition, looking as good as it did the day the Hawera Fire Board handed over their £987 back in 1925.
When we saw it on Saturday, the engine was out, in the hands of a suitable expert for rebuilding. Much of the front half of the chassis and running gears has been repaired, replaced and repainted, with Nigel working on the body sides, undoing some of the dodgy 1970s repairs. While things have suffered from it’s time away form Hawera, fortunately the Dennis is complete with all the fixtures and fittings unique to a vintage fire engine. Siren, hoses, reels and the pump with all it’s attachment and gauges are present, correct and after refurbishment will be in full working order. At some stage later in its life the original cast spoked wheels and solid rubber tyres were replaced with more practical 20 inch wheels pneumatic tyres. Nigel is keen to locate and refit the correct wheels but the fire brigade isn’t quite so enthusiastic.
Festival chairman Greg Terrill, a former Hawera local was suitably impressed to see the gilt sign-written “Hawera Fire Board” side panel still in perfect condition, the handiwork of his late father and VCC stalwart Eric Terrill. We don’t envy the task Nigel has of somehow having to mask or protect the lettering while repainting the rest of it!
It will be close-run thing to have the Dennis sitting ready and waiting for the Festival to arrive in Hawera in January next year but we are confident Nigel can do it!