A Diamond in South Australia
An Insight into the Museum’s 1940 Diamond-T Pumper
The Chicago-based Diamond-T Motor Car Company was established by founder C. A. Tilt in 1905. Initially, the company specialised in high quality touring cars before turning their attention to trucks – a product for which they became well known. While they built the basic chassis, proprietary components from other manufacturers were fitted, such as Hercules engines. By the 1930s, their ranges afforded a sense of additional luxury with features such as electric clocks and cigar lighters. Referred to fondly as the ‘Cadillac of trucks’, it is not surprising that Diamond-T fared well in international exports.
Diamond-T Appliances in South Australia
Although Diamond-T vehicles began appearing in NSW from the early 1920s, it was not until the establishment of Adelaide’s Commercial Motors (which obtained local distribution rights in the mid-1930s) that the brand became well-represented in South Australia. The beautiful car-like streamlining of the trucks captivated the attention of many, including the newly appointed Chief Officer John J. White of the South Australian Fire Brigade (SAFB).
From 1936 through to 1940, sixteen Diamond-T chassis were purchased for use as fire appliances in an effort to modernise the ageing and inadequate SAFB vehicle fleet. The majority of these chassis were built into pumpers and hose carriages, although a salvage van was also commissioned. By the late 1930s, the Diamond-T had become the standard chassis used by the South Australian Fire Brigade with all bodywork contracted to the local J. A. Lawton & Sons Pty Ltd of Port Adelaide.
Established in Adelaide in the 1870s, J. A. Lawton & Sons Pty Ltd went on to secure major contracts with transport agencies, building trucks through to trams and buses through to fire engines. They certainly lived up to their tagline, “we will build anything on wheels”. The company built eight of the sixteen chassis into pumping appliances, which were fitted with Hale type rotary gear pumps of a 350 gpm capacity.
Originally, the SAFB’s Diamond-T appliances were fitted with Hercules branded engines, but many of the larger versions were later upgraded with Ford V8 engines to improve their performance.
The Newest Diamond(-T): SAFB Fleet Number 45
The Museum of Fire is fortunate enough to have in its collection one of the sixteen Diamond-T fire appliances acquired by the SAFB. The 1940 Model 404-H, allocated SAFB Fleet Number 45, was the Brigade’s final acquisition of Diamond-T units. This newer model demonstrated the latest in Diamond-T design, boasting an updated bonnet and grilles with fewer but thicker bars. To some, this design would not be considered as ornate as the earlier 405D chassis, viewable in SAFB Fleet Number 43.
Commissioned in March 1940, SAFB Fleet Number 45 saw service at several Adelaide fire stations, including Prospect and Semaphore. During the 1950s, the unit was modified for bushfire operations. To achieve this, hose reels and a 200 gallon water tank were fitted into the rear seat space. Unlike the other Diamond-T appliances in South Australia, this unit retained its original Hercules JXE 6 cylinder petrol engine until it was retired in 1971. During its final days of service, it operated as a spare out of Adelaide Headquarters.
That was not the end of the journey from SAFB Fleet Number 45, though! Following its retirement in 1971, it was donated to the Historic Fire Engine Association of Australia (HFEAA) for inclusion in the then planned museum. Enthusiastic HFEAA members drove their newly acquired 1940 Diamond-T appliance (as well as a 1942 American La France pumper) back to Sydney. Although the team braved the cold in the open cab appliances, they could report no faults as they performed beautifully on the road.
In the 1980s, the unit was converted to its original configuration (before the addition of a water tank). This work was completed by staff and students at the Sydney TAFE Ultimo School of Vehicle Trades. Dulux Paints also offered assistance with repainting efforts, restoring the vehicle to its former glory. Over the years, it has undergone further mechanical and body rejuvenation by the Museum’s amazing workshop volunteers. This beautiful appliance transitioned into the care and custodianship of the Museum of Fire, where it remains an integral component of our Parade Fleet.
If you'd like to see the Diamond-T at the Museum head over to our voting for the upcoming People's Choice Heritage Day: Voting Page Heritage Day | museum-of-fire (museumoffire.net) Voting is open until Monday 14th June 2021! Heritage Day will be held on Sunday 11th July 2021. Visit our website for more information.
-Story by Laura Anderson, Museum of Fire Curator