Engineering apprentices to fix 1930s fire engine

Cummins Generator Technologies apprentices working on a 1930s Merryweather fire engine belonging to Burghley House. Pictured: John Searle and Alex Rhodes. EMN-160429-120414001
Cummins Generator Technologies apprentices working on a 1930s Merryweather fire engine belonging to Burghley House. Pictured: John Searle and Alex Rhodes. EMN-160429-120414001
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Ahistoric fire engine which was first used on the streets of Stamford in 1930 is being lovingly restored by a team of young engineering apprentices.

Tucked away in a workshop at Cummins Generator Technologies, in Barnack Road, is a vehicle built by Merryweather & Sons of London.

Over the next two years, a team of 14 apprentices will spend every Thursday working on the fire engine, returning it to full working order.

It will then return to Burghley House, where it had been in storage, and will go on public display as an important part of the town’s heritage – and to inspire other young people to consider a career in engineering.

John Searle, 21, who is currently in the second year of a four-year apprenticeship, said: “Back in 2014, Burghley House approached Cummins and asked if the apprentices would be interested in restoring a 1957 Ransomes tractor which was totally rebuilt. That was so successful that, this year, Burghley asked if we would be take on a much bigger, more complex task.

“We arranged for the fire engine to be delivered to us on the back on a truck. Now it’s in the workshop we have begun the complex process of taking it apart, photographing and cataloguing all the parts and working out what needs fixing or replacing.”

The apprentices have been tasked with completing the work with limited supervision. They have spent hours researching Merryweather fire engines in the library and online, looking for information on their design and construction.

Cummins is paying the apprentices’ wages, and providing tools and consumables, but aside from that there is no budget set aside for the project.

Alex Rhodes, 19, a first-year apprentice, said: “This is a great opportunity for us to learn mechanical and maintenance principles and to help preserve a historic vehicle.

“We feel lucky to be able to work on it. We are trying to do the work without spending any money, if we can avoid it. If we do need some, we’ll have to raise it ourselves.”

Despite being very dirty and having a partially-dismantled engine, the fire engine came complete with all its original parts – include the water pump, hoses and ladders.

It was not designed to feature an internal water tank, so when called to the scene of a blaze, the firefighters onboard would have had to find a nearby water source to use.

The apprentices believe the fire engine was used well into the 1940s – and during the Second World War it served as part of the National Fire Service (NFS).

The NFS was called to attend the aftermath of German bombing raids and coastal shelling from France – often whilst the attacks were still ongoing.

Most NFS fire engines were painted grey – but Stamford’s remained red throughout the war.

After being retired from service, the vehicle was kept at Stamford Fire Station for many years before ending up at Burghley House.

The apprentices, who are studying either for BTEC, HNC or HND qualifications, have been split into sub-teams focusing on the engine; water pump; electrics and gauges; and tyres, brakes and chasis.

The main problem identified so far is a crack in the engine block. Also, the brake pads are made of asbestos and will need to be carefully removed and replaced.

When reassembled, the vehicle will be resprayed red and a professional will be called into the handpaint detailed line work.

The apprentices are keen to hear from anyone who could provide more information on the fire engine’s history, or who help fund the project.

John Searle can be contacted by e-mail at john.
searle@cummins.com