I had the opportunity to view this engine at a festival day in the center of Dartford, Kent on September 15th, 2015 when my wife Susan and I visited there along with my UK cousin Valerie and her husband David. Having spent half of my life as a firefighter, I was very much drawn to the truck. (In addition, there was a RAF Supermarine Spitfire on display as well. Both machines were in excellent condition.) This type of decommissioned fire engine is highly prized in the United State amongst fire engine buffs. The style is not like anything I have seen in America. The wooden ladder on wheels is very unusual. It's really quite a striking vehicle.

Kevin Sivell & Tim Goodhind, 2015

Not wanting to be a bother but with the blessed urging of my cousin Valerie, I spent a few minutes speaking with the attendant of the engine that day (also a retired fireman). I myself had just retired from the fire service during this trip after 27+ years in the Amherst Fire Department (Massachusetts). He, however, had served over 40 years on the London Fire Brigade! I was definitely outclassed! What a gentleman! We took a photo together but, being shortsighted on my part, I did not get his name.

Quite a while after our return to the US, I ran across my photos of the engine and wanted to know more about it. I reached out out to the Dartford Borough Council which, in turn, put me in contact with retired Dartford fireman John Meakins. Fireman Meakins has spent many years involved with this particular truck. From him I learned that the engine attendant I'd met in 2015 was Mr. Kevin Sivell.

Fireman Meakins was kind enough not only to send me the photos below but also an article which had appeared in the "Vintage Spirit " magazine in 2013 outlining the history of the engine. John figures prominently in the story as well. Many thanks to both John and Kevin for adding this memorable piece of local Dartford history to our website! We're eternally grateful!- TSG

Trevithicks Industrial Dartford 2013 or 2014, John Meakins Trevithick event, Dartford town centre, 10 05 2015 Trevithick gathering, Dartford, Market Street, 08 05 2016 Wedding, Glen & Lauren, Maidstone, 25 07 2014

Dartford BC, 'Santa's House' event, Acacia Hall Mansion, 02 12 2017, Kevin Sivell Dartford BC, 'Santa's House' event, Acacia Hall Mansion, 02 12 2017, Kevin Sivell Dartford BC, 'Santa's House' event, Acacia Hall Mansion, 02 12 2017, John Meakins Dartford BC, 'Santa's House' event, Acacia Hall Mansion, 02 12 2017, John Meakins

Leyland FT4A, South Darenth Car Show 06 07 2013 GKO's engine E105 petrol Wedding, Chilston Park Hotel, near Lenham, Dec 2017 Wedding, Chilston Park Hotel, near Lenham, Dec 2017, John Meakins Trevithick gathering, Dartford, Market Street, 08 05 2016

1939 LEYLAND PUMP ESCAPE by Alan Barnes, "Vintage Spirit," 2013

"In February 1939 Dartford Borough Council Fire Brigade placed an order with Leyland Motors Ltd for the delivery of a new fire engine. The new Pump Escape was intended to replace an existing Leyland engine which had been used in the Kent town since 1926. In 1938 fire brigades throughout the Nation had been required to upgrade their firefighting arrangements, together with the setting up of additional resources in the form of the Auxiliary Fire Service. These firefighting improvements had been enforced due to war clouds looming and were consequently aided by government funding.

The vehicle was completed in October 1939 and a series of pre-delivery photographs were taken on the 3rd of that month, two days before the official registration GK0 224 was allocated. The vehicle was driven from the Leyland Works at Chorley shortly afterwards and one of the firm's representatives remained in Dartford for a few days to carry out training and familiarisation with members of the Dartford Brigade.

The Leyland is a Model F.T.4a powered by an 8.84 litre Leyland six-cylinder OHC petrol engine with a 4 speed crash type gearbox. It has a dual ignition system with two plugs per cylinder, with one set connected to a Delco Remy coil and distributor, and the other to a C.A.V Bosch H.T. magneto. A Leyland underslung worm type rear axle, with a ratio of 5.4:1, is fitted and the braking system features front brakes operated by individual vacuum servos, while the rear brakes are vacuum assisted by a master servo. The fire pump is a Gwynne two stage turbine unit of 700 gallons per minute capacity and primed by a reciprocating primer. The machine was originally fitted with a 50ft wooden Bayley escape ladder although this was subsequently replaced during the 1950s.

The Second World War had broken out in September 1939 and the Brigade decided that rather than being a replacement for the existing Leyland it would be prudent to keep both appliances in service. The older Leyland was kept at the Tower Garage on Princes Road and used by Auxiliary Fire Service personnel. The new Leyland was allocated to the Overy Street Fire Station and worked alongside a 1931 Morris Commercial Pump.

The details above have been taken from an information board compiled by John Meakins and which is displayed with the vehicle. The following details were also gleaned from this source of information:- In August 1941 all fire brigades in the country, along with the Auxiliary Fire Service, were nationalised and the Dartford Borough Fire Brigade ceased to exist. The Leyland lost its distinctive "Borough of Dartford" insignia and was allocated the coding 30-A-1, this being necessary due to war-time restrictions imposed because of the threat of invasion.

Another requirement following the outbreak of war was that all brightwork on the engines was to be painted over, but this met with a great deal of opposition from the local Council. They weren't happy about having to paint over the brass on their nearly new fire engine and it was eventually agreed to let all the brasswork dull off until the end of hostilities. The Leyland served in the town, from Overy Street fire station, throughout the War and was still operational there in April 1948 when the fire service was denationalised. When the National Fire Service had originally been formed it was agreed that responsibility for provision of fire brigades would be handed back to local authorities when the war ended. However, the War had provided valuable lessons in the organisation of the service and it was felt that a return to the system of having hundreds of individual town and village fire brigades would be unwise. It was decided to allow County and County Borough Councils to assume this responsibility and, as far as Dartford was concerned, the town was now served by the Kent Fire Brigade and the Leyland became fleet number 124 in the new Brigade.

John's "potted history" also tells us that the battle scarred fire engine was repainted in 1946/47, the work being carried out locally by Barney Sands coachworks of Northfleet. Unfortunately they managed to get the colour wrong and the rather orange looking red chosen was also incorrectly applied to the blued steel bonnet. The blued steel finish, as also found on gun barrels, was used on fire engine bonnets in order to dissipate heat from very hot running engines during long periods of pumping. Further repainting was carried out after 1948 which included the addition of the wording Kent Fire Brigade as well as the name Dartford, and also the Kent "Invicta" insignia. The wings were finished in black but, unfortunately, the bonnet remained red.

In September 1955 the Leyland was withdrawn from service at Dartford when it was replaced by a new Commer appliance. The machine was then re-furbished and became a Brigade "spare" or "reserve" appliance and was eventually allocated to Maidstone. It remained there until March 1956 and at that time sported a chrome bell and searchlight which had been taken from Maidstone's 1939 Dennis Big Six PE which had just been withdrawn.

The "Dartford" Leyland was then transferred to the Kent Fire Brigade Training Centre, which was a camp that had been established during the War by the NFS at Linton. Here, the machine was used for training recruits in the use of a wheeled escape ladder and by that time the original Bayley wooden escape had been replaced by an all steel Merryweather ladder. During the early 1960s the Leyland suffered the ignominious fate of being repainted Napier green with black wings which was the standard livery for non-operational vehicles at that time."

John's information board continues: "In 1971 the then Chief Officer of Kent Fire Brigade, William Babington, decided that 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 times during the 1950s when he was a boy. The restoration was completed in 1973 and it was taken on its first outing by that Dartford fireman to the official opening of the new Thanet Fire Station in March of that year."

The fireman concerned was John Meakins and he continued to look after the Leyland for many years and did his best to ensure that it was maintained in display condition even after retirement from Kent Fire Brigade in 1996.

Reverting briefly to 1983 ... the Leyland received its first major engine rebuild when a section of one of its piston skirts broke away. The engine was still running reasonably well but an "unnatural" noise could be detected! A +.040 inch re-bore was carried out because the only replacement pistons which could be obtained were of that size. The big end and main bearings were also re-metalled and line bored, and new exhaust valves were also fitted.

John continued to run the Leyland from its allocated base at the new Dartford Fire Station (located in Watling Street since 1975) on behalf of Kent Fire Brigade/Kent Fire & Rescue Service. KFB has been known as KFRS from 2003. However, as the years elapsed, and with progressive changes in management, the sort of interest shown by Chief Officers past was no longer evident. Support for the old machine, along with the museum at Maidstone HQ, was waning fast from the powers that be. By 2009 it was clear that any kind of living heritage that had already been preserved within the organisation was unlikely to survive.

In 2010 the old Leyland was ousted from its home station as a result of personnel wanting to expand the area occupied by their gymnasium equipment. The vehicle was then re-located to rather unsuitable garaging facilities at Chatham fire station. This did not suit the long term custodian, John Meakins who, five months later managed to get it transferred to a garage alongside the museum at Maidstone HQ. John had been curator of this museum since 2000 and, although not as accessible for him as Dartford fire station, he was at least able to keep his eye on the machine and also do a bit of cleaning and maintenance when in attendance for his museum duties.

Whilst attending a couple of events back in Dartford, John crossed paths with various members of Dartford Borough Council and detected more than a passing interest in the fire engine. This resulted in him making a glib comment to the effect that the vehicle would probably be better off back in the hands of its original owners than with Kent Fire & Rescue Service. Little did John know that the leader of the council, together with one or two others, had already become very enthusiastic about the old Dartford fire engine! At a meeting held soon afterwards at Fire HQ, which was to do with the fate of the museum itself, John raised the subject of the Dartford Pump Escape and suggested that the best thing to do with the vehicle was to sell it to someone with a keen interest in it. In view of his almost total involvement with the vehicle during nearly forty years of it being in preservation, he recommended himself as the new owner! Alas, from John's point of view, this was not to be and a deal was struck with Dartford BC for GKO to be transferred to them for the sum of £1. Although disappointed that his long term love slipped through his fingers, John is now working hand in glove with the council, and is the main driver of the fire engine for the civic and other events that the vehicle attends. Although John is pleased that GKO is now in more dedicated hands than it was last year, he would never agree that the vehicle was rescued from an uncertain future, due to the fact that he's always been in the wings to give his "old flame" a good home.

The official handover of the appliance to the Council took place in January this year, appropriately enough at Dartford Fire Station, although this is now at Watling Street. The Overy Street station where the Leyland served from 1939 until 1955 was developed for new housing in the 1990s and is known as Merryweather Close ... so named after the first motor fire engine used by the town's fire brigade in 1912. The handover ceremony was attended by members of the Council as well as Fire Service representatives. The Leader of the Council Jeremy Kite said "When we saw it, we knew we just had to have it. The fire engine is fantastic and it was great that we could buy it and give it a good home back in Dartford."

The Leyland will now be cared for by Dartford Borough Council and will be available to hire for private functions such as weddings and fetes and it will also appear at various fund raising charity events held in the Borough ... so its future certainly seems assured for the foreseeable future. The old girl is currently back at the Watling Street fire station in Dartford, being garaged by courtesy of a goodwill agreement with Kent Fire & Rescue Service! This is a temporary arrangement and Dartford Council are planning to eventually have a proper facility of their own where, hopefully, the vehicle can be on display as well as just being garaged.

My thanks to John Meakins for providing all historic and technical details of the Leyland and for allowing the use of some of the pictures from his collection. Thanks also to Alan Thompson who drove the appliance during the photoshoot."

And my own thanks again to Fireman John Meakins for providing me the above photos and article. Thank you, John, for allowing me to highlight this sliver of Dartford history. - TSG

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