It was the homecoming no-one ever expected.
An historic engine belonging to the Faulconbridge Rural Fire Service brigade and feared lost forever was tracked down and returned to the fold recently and will now be the centrepiece for future fundraising efforts.
The Tom Chalmers firefighting striker unit was bought to commemorate the death of their valiant captain, Tom Chalmers, who lost his life on October 28, 1968, while fighting a fire burning at the Blue Grotto in Whitecross, Winmalee. Greg Eley and Peter Hawkins of Warrimoo Brigade died alongside him.
“The vehicle served the Blue Mountains community until 1985 when it was transferred [by RFS management] to Cowra,” current captain, Mark Roberts, said. After that the brigade lost track of the Toyota 4x4 which had held so much importance to them.
“Everyone was a bit upset, it was purchased by the brigade with their own funds and it’s still a sore point with the older members,” Captain Roberts told the Gazette.
In 2013 a dedicated group of brigade members started serious efforts to trace the vehicle.
The engine had been “lost” but one of the team found it referred to on a blog.
“It took a bit of internet detective work to find the owner, Howard Morley, who lives on the South Coast near Mogo,” said Michael Mills, the deputy brigade captain and treasurer of the fund set up to restore the engine.
“He’d bought it from the fire service and had been using it as an airport fire tender and also for race track fire work for country racing.”
A group of the firies went down to visit Howard at his farm to see about the possibility of buying it back.
“Howard was wondering when someone was going to call him, he almost expected the station to want it back at some point,” said Mr Mills.
They went down in late November.
“From the minute he opened the garage he knew... it was going back to where it came from and used for charity work [and] he was quite happy with that.”
He only asked what he had paid for it way back in 1985 — $2000. Initially the crew were going to restore it as a piece of history.
“But we are also going to use it for brigade fundraising and also raising money for charities like Blaze Aid,” the deputy captain said.
On Sunday February 23, more than 100 people, including many older brigade members, saw the official return and restoration of the Tom Chalmers Memorial Unit at the Faulconbridge Community Hall. It was a re-enactment of the original dedication 45 years on, complete with a blessing from a minister again. Howard Morley handed the keys over to Tom Chalmers’ daughter, Margaret Smith, 76, whose husband, Owen, served under Tom’s captaincy.
“There were quite a few tears amongst the members,” captain Mark Roberts said.
Margaret Smith, 76, said she was very grateful to the brigade.
“The whole thing was overwhelming in that so many people remembered Dad in that form, over 45 years, it’s a long time.”
She said her then 35-year-old husband was lucky not to have died that day as well.
“It was amazing that he wasn’t taken at the same time as Dad. He was an assistant principal and always went there straight after school and that day he came home first.”
The truck is now mechanically sound but still waiting on a few “old” improvements like the original crew area out back. It is earmarked for community education, fundraising for firefighting and community disaster relief purposes.
And while the RFS has established an historic unit to keep track of vital older engines deemed so important to members, the Faulconbridge brigade isn’t taking any chances and will register it privately to ensure their 45-year-old piece of history stays in the shed at Railway Avenue.
History buffs can check out the restored engine at the station on every third and fourth Friday of the month from 7.30pm.