One of my personal quirks is that I am interested in almost everything. Especially when it has to do with history, technology, crafts, science or arts. And even better; a combination of these. It sometimes brings me to the most curious and unusual places. From measuring instruments in the top of the local village church, or reenactment, to giving lectures on a variety of subjects. So when a friend calls to help restoring an historical fire engine…
The Opel Blitz
As you know, I live in a small village called Doorn. Located in the middle of the Netherlands, its only claim to fame is that the German Kaiser fled there after the first world war. For the rest it’s pretty standard; a couple of churches, bars, stores, banks, a town house, police and… fire brigade.
Established about 90 years ago, the volunteer force was responsible for extinguishing fires and trying to save people and animals. Quite important in a village surrounded by forests. In the early fifties they got a new fire engine. Because no readily available models fitted their needs the fire chief and local body shop owner designed a special model, suited for the woods. Instead of one bench placed lengthwise in the middle, they placed two benches on both sides, faced inwards.
This way you don’t luse any personnel on a bumpy forest road. To keep it light and practical, the pump was left separate from the truck. An “M.S.A.” (“motorspuitaanhanger” – motor pump tender). This way you could put the pump close to the water, and still use the truck to move materials and personnel.
They bought a new Opel Blitz truck and a local garage built up the back. The village painter made it a nice bright red. In 1953 the engine was put to work. Equipped with everything a fire brigade needed It was used for countless fires, accidents and interventions.
After more than 30 years of service, longer than any modern fire car today, the little fire engine retired and was replaced by more modern equipment. But instead of sending it to the scrapyard, volunteers of the fire department restored the wagon and kept it running. As a reminder of the past, occasionally used for parades, publicity and ceremonies.
A couple of years ago the old fire engine was taken over by a non-profit foundation. The aim of which is to preserve the local fire fighting heritage and share it with the public. Alongside of the board (dealing with official matters like insurance and finances) there is a work-group who keep the material running. This group is formed by members of my friend circle, all who have a technical background. Electricians, mechanics, and – yes – a weird woodworker who doubles as a guide and historian.
Together we do the maintenance, restorations and repairs. Two years ago we acquired a new old M.S.A.. The original unfortunately got lost in history, but we managed to get hold of a similar model, of almost the same age. One minor detail: it needed a complete restoration…
So a couple of friends set out to do the motor and bodywork. After almost a year she was ready to pump again. To keep it in good condition we take it out regularly to do some light work. Like emptying ponds and cellars, and… GAMES!
Last year we used the pump to provide a water ballet during a laser show on the night before Koningsdag, our national holiday. This was received so well that we were asked to organize it again this year.
The next day we traditionally drive around with the public. (During these little tours I stand on the back and tell something about the engine’s history). But when the weather is bad we have to do something else… We hang two ropes over the moat of the local castle, on which there are two bouncing balls. Everybody who likes to give it a try may use the water jets to send the balls across the water. When succeeding an alarm goes off and you get a lottery ticket. With this you can win a private fire engine drive across the village on your birthday…
Days like these always take a lot of preparation, especially because on a classic a classic car like this there always some work to do. So last week the M.S.A. resided in front of the shop. After two years I finally finished the leather belts to strap the hoses and tools to the tender.
And last weekend we had to replaced a leaking membrane in one of the breaks on the rear axle. Half a nights work to replace two small rubber buttons of € 3,- …
But the nice thing about these cars is that you can do things like these yourself. The car was made to be taken apart and serviced. And you only need “normal” tools, you can take apart the whole thing with a couple of spanners, hammer and screwdriver. It’s great to keep this little piece of local heritage running, and preserve the history that goes along with it.
The next three days we will be filled with preparations and setup for these festivities. Wednesday evening we have the laser-show and at koningsdag de game and tours. Hope to see you there!
Follow the adventures of the Opel Blitz at facebook; BHBD…