VETERANS OUT OF SERVICE.
(Specially Written for FIRE AND WATER )
In old Roman days it was the custom to present veteran soldiers with a reed of honor on their retirement from military service. If the same rule could apply to veteran fire engines in the British Isles, whose term of life extends back 200 years or more, quite a number of the old “masheens” might be drawn up for inspection and decoration. The writer has seen many in his time; he has run with some, and can bear personal testimony to the good work they did in their day and generation.
He can feelingly remember the hard labor to which he and his fellow students were sentenced whenever the antiquated fire engine at Trinity College, Dublin, was hauled out to a fire—always at night, by the way, when the porters (dining hall, chapel, library, and examination hall attendants) had partaken so freely of the “good nut-brown October” brewed on the college grounds for use in the dining hall at “commons,” topped off in the porters’ lodge by libations, more or less copious, of potheen. On such occasions the students did the hauling and the pumping, while the porters bossed the job. That engine was at least 120 years old in my day, and doubtless had been operated by the men immortalised by Lever in “Charles O’Malley, the Irish Dragoon,” and the fast men of old “Botany Bay Square.” Yet, though she creaked and grumbled and grunted and worked as if afflicted with chronic rheumatism, under the brawny arms of the undergrads, one could throw a fairly heavy stream up to a third floor window. Peace to her remains! Chief Pur.oell told me the other day that they must now be looked for in the junk shop. He and his men now guard Trinity College.
Another existed under similar conditions as the protector of the deanery, canons’ residences, and the university men in the castle at Durham.’ It was 200 years old, if it were a day, when the writer was a schoolboy—and that was not yesterday—and manned its brakes, yet it more than once got ahead of the city fire brigade, and on one occasion effectually stopped an ugly fire and was instrumental in saving a valuable iibrary—incidentally, also, the life of the owner.
Of another in a Nottinghamshire “stockinger” village, which was so uncertain in its powers of locomotion as always to be hoisted into a cart or wagon, whichever was handiest, the writer was honorary custodian. Yet. when it arrived (as it always did— in course of time) at such fires as were commonly met with in the locality, somehow’ its stream always “got there.” even w’hen, on one occasion, the supply of w’ater (if water it could be called) had to be drawn from a half-sewer, half-cesspool, w’hose fetid fluid, it is supposed, acted the part of a chemical stream and choked out the flames.
Another, whose “counterfeit presentment” accompanied this article, by the courtesy of the Scientific American, and the beginning of whose active life considerably antedates the middle of the eighteenth century, was that strikingly conspicuous piece of fire-protection machinery now’ relegated to innocuous desuetude in the “calm retreat and silent shades” of the East Anglian town of Stowmarket (of malting fame), Suffolk, which, though, like others of the sameclass.it was most generally accommodated with a wagon or cart, when summoned to a fire, was, nevertheless, such a “good ’un to go” that its services w’ere in constant request, even when a more powerful machine, with trained firemen, could have been procured from Ipswich. It still survives—in fact, today it is the object of litigation between rivals for its possession—although a uniformed volunteer fire brigade, with modern equipments, has superseded the willing, but scratch crew whom an alarm of fire called out to operate it in the good old days, when lights were unknown and even gas was frowned upon, and sew’ers were a negligible quantity. The old engine which, if necessary, could do good work today, is of a fiery red hue—the garments of Mephistopheles w’ould pale by comparison—and, as a condescension to a possible mental density on the part of the townsfolk of 200 years ago had a hornbook—at all events, a horn-covered page, of which envelopment a portion is still to be seen, whereon are printed directions as to how it should be operated. These included instructions for the keeping in order of the pump, which is at one end, and has the accustomed handle bars. In order that this pump should be always ready for use, the custodians of the engine are told that the “pevets” (pivots) and the long iron “spendil” (spindle), should lie “drest with sallet (salad) oil and tallow.” The leathern hose, immediately on returning from a fire, must first be “liquored with neats-foot oyl, beeswax. and tallow, and quoiled (coiled) up.” The engine wheels are of solid w’ood, and it is still possible to place in position the six-foot delivery pipe, although none of the leathern buckets, which at one time were carried on the machine, are any longer to the fore, and have not been for many a long year. These fed the water into the well, which was of wood and six feet long, fifteen inches wide, and copper-lined. At each end was an opening, into which the water was f d by buckets handed up one way. when filled from brook, streamlet, pool, or well, and down the other, when empty, to be refilled and passed back again. It was a tiresome job, that was, but none ever shirked his or her duty—for the girls and married women often fell in and helped as bucketers. in fact, Dan Cupid not un frequently kindled sparks on these occasions which afterwards many waters could not quench. Can the same be claimed by the swell, spick-span, uniformed, brass helnteted, axebearing firemen of today? En. R