And Pigs Might Fly: The Tale of the 1939 Dennis Ace Pumper (ME 260)
What’s in a name? Well, quite a bit if you’re known as the ‘flying pig’...
The Ace chassis was first manufactured in 1933 by the vehicle specialist company, Dennis Bros. It was considered to be quite revolutionary at the time, with unusual features such as a setback front axle, bevel pinion diff, and hydraulic brakes. The engine was mounted well forward and so the protruding ‘snout’ (bonnet) of the Dennis Ace soon earned the model the nickname of ‘flying pig’. Funnily enough, a number of the dedicated volunteers who run our vehicle workshop have also confessed to me that the model drives like a – you guessed it – ‘pig’.
Pictured Above: Two Dennis Aces are pictured at the front of the Museum of Fire’s Dennis Heritage Day, 2021. Dennis Ace Fleet Numbers L to R: ME 260 and ME 242.
The Dennis Ace and the New South Wales Fire Brigades (NSWFB)
In February 1934, the NSWFB (now known as Fire and Rescue NSW) ordered their first Dennis Ace chassis for comparison trials with a Leyland ‘Cub’. This unit was the fourth to be produced by Dennis Bros, and was delivered from the factory in July. However, it was not installed at the North Sydney Fire Station until February 1935 after it had undergone rigorous testing and body construction. Over the next six years, the NSWFB acquired some 36 more Ace models, including one built as a salvage tender and one as a bus for transport. The first of these units went into service from early 1936, initially going to suburban brigades such as Hunters Hill, Enfield, Homebush and Rozelle, then later to the Newcastle suburban area. After the closure of a number of metropolitan stations in 1946, they were systematically transferred to country areas to allow withdrawal of the last of the solid-tyred Garford engines.
The NSWFB’s Aces were fitted with ‘Braidwood’ style bodies which featured two hose lockers, seating for two in the front 'cab’ and further seating for about eight on top of the hose box. Enclosed storage lockers were incorporated into the running boards between the front and rear mudguards. All examples were built new with gallows to carry a Pretoria 30ft extension ladder, and brackets to carry three scaling ladders were also fitted on top of the hose box.
Although the Aces were originally operated in completely open configuration, all were fitted with windscreens from the late 1950s. Around this time, 60-gallon water tanks were fitted into the rear hose compartment, as well as hose reels for ‘first aid’ operation. Flashing red lights were fitted on the wind-screens, but many later had rotating red beacons fitted to the ladder brackets. Safety features such as turn indicator lights, sealed beam headlights and seat belts were added during the 1960s.
By the late 1960s, the Aces were at the bottom of the ‘chain of hierarchy’ in the Brigade fleet, and they were progressively replaced in fire stations by newer (but not necessarily new) vehicles, such as the Bedford J1 pumper. Most were withdrawn by 1975, but the last lingered on at Dorrigo until 1979. Over the years, several Dennis Aces have made their way to the Museum of Fire where our team ensures their preservation into the future.
Pictured Above: A rare gathering of Dennis Ace fire engines from the 1935-1939 period. You know you’re on a winner with 4 Aces, our volunteers certainly enjoyed a bit of humour with the cards. Fleet Numbers L to R: ME 238, ME 260, ME 242 and ME 255.
A Journey: The 1939 Dennis Ace Pumper (ME 260)
As one of the later examples of a NSWFB Dennis Ace, the 1939 model (assigned fleet number ME 260) is somewhat well-travelled. The unit was first placed into service at No. 8 Liverpool Fire Station in 1939 where it remained until 1944. It was then used as a spare at No. 28 Marrickville (1944 – 1945), before it was moved on to No. 81 Windsor (1945 – 1954), No. 235 Bowraville (1954 – 1968) and No. 442 Scarborough (1968 – 1971). The unit was withdrawn from service in 1971 and later made its way to the Email factory at Orange.
An Ace at Email
Constructed in 1942, the Email factory site at Orange was first used for the manufacture of small arms. After the war, it was purchased by Emmco/Email which turned its attention to the production of whitegoods. In its early years, many of its personnel belonged to Orange’s migrant community. The factory later became known as Electrolux, and at its peak in the 1970s, over 2,000 people were employed at the site. While we do not know exactly when the Dennis Ace arrived there, it is assumed that the need for a fire engine onsite would have coincided with this peak period (and not long after the unit was withdrawn from service, too). The unit was donated to the Museum of Fire in 2005, eleven years before the closure of the Electrolux factory.
-Story by Museum of Fire Curatorial Team
NOTE: If you'd like to see the vehicle discussed in this blog then head on over to the Museum's display Sydney Royal Easter Show these school holidays (1st-12th April 2021).