Ahrens Fox PS2 Fire Engine (1929) | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Ahrens Fox PS2 Fire Engine (1929)

Item details

Name of item: Ahrens Fox PS2 Fire Engine (1929)
Other name/s: NO. 8 ME (within Museum of Fire)
Type of item: Movable / Collection
Group/Collection: Utilities - Fire Control
Category: Other - Utilities - Fire control
Location: Lat: -33.7477317 Long: 150.6935074
Primary address: 1 Museum Drive, Penrith, NSW 2750
Local govt. area: Penrith
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Deerubbin


The SHR curtilage boundary is limited to the item itself and does not include the land it is located on or the structure it is housed within.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
1 Museum DrivePenrithPenrith  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Museum of FireCommunity Group 

Statement of significance:

Purchased as a replacement for the No. 18 Shand Mason Steamer in 1929, the NSW Board of Fire Commissioners recognised the need for a motorised pumper of the same 1000 gpm capacity. Thus, the appliance demonstrates the progressive development of Fire Brigade appliances, in order to meet the ever increasing demands of a developing City of Sydney. It is a surviving example of the NSW Fire Brigades' endeavours to deliver adequate fire protection during the early 20th century.

Aesthetically, this fire appliance demonstrates technical excellence and was a great leap forward from anything else the Brigade owned. In its time, it was a sophisticated product of American technical ingenuity. With such features as a secondary cooling system, a pump which can be operated as two separate units, pneumatic tyres and four wheel brakes, it was unique among NSW Fire Brigades appliances. The pump with its mass of chrome is, in both design and execution, aesthetically pleasing.
This appliances integrity as a fully working appliance with a high degree of original fabric, contributes to its significance in terms of both rarity and representativeness. This appliance is unique as the only one of its type to be imported into Australia. It is an exceptionally fine example of its type, being typical of the workmanship and technology of the Ahrens Fox Company of the early 20th century. It should be considered an outstanding specimen in terms of its capacity and size, and because of the esteem in which firefighting enthusiasts hold this appliance. This esteem also adds to its significance in social terms. This vehicle has always been regarded as the glamour vehicle of the NSW Fire Brigades.
Date significance updated: 26 Oct 04
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Ahrens Fox Co. Cincinnati, Ohio
Builder/Maker: Ahrens Fox Co. Cincinnati, Ohio
Construction years: 1929-1929
Physical description: The Ahrens Fox PS2 pumper consists of an Ahrens Fox chassis and pump, constructed by the Ahrens Fox Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, and a body constructed by the NSW Board of Fire Commissioners Workshops, (built along the lines followed by the American builders). The body incorporates a seating area for eight firefighters at the rear of the appliance. Situated in between the rear seating area and the driver’s seat is a hose box. The vehicle is mounted on four disc wheels, fitted with pneumatic tyres (38”x 9” – rear; 36”x 8” – front). The appliance is 22 feet long (6.71m), 7 feet high (2.13m) and weighs approximately 6 tons. It incorporates a six cylinder, T-head type, petrol engine developing 140bhp, with three spark plugs per cylinder and three separate ignition circuits. Each cylinder has a 5 7/8 inch bore and a stroke of 7 inches. The engine can be started either electrically or by manual cranking. This vehicle employs a heating system, (for defreezing in cold weather), a normal cooling system and a supplementary cooling system. The supplementary system can be activated when the operating temperature begins to exceed the radiator-absorbing capacity of the normal cooling system, (eg when working over a long period of time). This supplementary system employs water passing through the pump, so that the operating temperature can be regulated at will. The Fox pump operates on the same principle as the simple handle models of the 17th century; however Ahrens Fox developed the concept to a high degree of practical efficiency. With a capacity of 1.383 gallons of water and an output of 1000 gallons per minute, the pump sits astride the front wheels of the vehicle. The pump is of a twin “triple piston” type, with a 4 ½ inch (114mm) bore and a 6 inch (125mm) stroke. It is a “double-acting” pump – delivering water both on the top and bottom of the stroke. It can be operated as two separate units, each of equal capacity and each being driven by an independent crankshaft. Attached to the pump is a large spherical “air dome” or chamber, which acts as a pressure equaliser, reducing pulsations in water pressure generated by a 1000gpm pumping rate, thereby ensuring a constant flow of water. Incorporated in the front of the pump are 2 x 6inch suction inlets and 4 x deliveries – two on either side.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical Condition - Excellent
Archaeological Potential - Low
Date condition updated:29 Jul 04
Modifications and dates: 1929 Date of manufacture.
1953 Pump removed and reconditioned; appliance reduced.
1986 – Rust removal and repainting.
Further information: A report from the Museum of Fire (Kenneth Poulter) to the NSW Fire Brigades dated 9/9/86 states that the appliance required: - considerable repainting and rust removal. The front wheels, were sand-blasted and repainted.. Two areas of extensive rusting were removed from both sides of the body work. (The) vehicle has now been brought back to original condition. (The work) was completed on 4/9/86. MF 1986:1
Current use: Storage / Research / Exhibition
Former use: Fire Fighting Appliance


Historical notes: Until the late 1920’s, the brigade’s largest pumping appliance was the 1891 Shand Mason Steamer (“Big Ben”). On 8th March, 1928, Big Ben fought its last fire at the George Hudson timber yard fire, (although it was held in reserve at Pyrmont until 1938). During 1919-20, the Board had considered purchasing an Ahrens Fox pumper, but the price was considered “excessive”. As a result, John Morris and Son were approached for quotations for a Motor Fire Engine.

Following the George Hudson fire, the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW decided in 1929, that Sydney needed a “motorised” fire engine which could, like its predecessor “Big Ben”, deliver 1000 gallons of water per minute. The Board sought tenders, approaching manufacturers such as Fiat in Italy, American La France, Ahrens Fox of the USA and Dennis, Leyland and Merryweather – all of England. The Ahrens Fox PS2 pumper, (made in Cincinnati, Ohio), became the obvious choice, since it was the only motorised, high pressure, piston-type pump being made in the world (in contrast to the gear and turbine pumps, which were the alternative). At the time it was ordered, the model had already been in production, virtually unchanged, for at least 11 years. Retired firefigher, Lewis Phillips said that “It was the only one of its kind in Australia … What makes the Ahrens Fox so unique is that the company in America built it with right hand drive to suit Australian conditions. Our workshops built and fitted the body.” (LP 1975:22).

It was installed at Headquarters station, as No. 8 pumper, in August, 1929. The Brigade Annual Report for 1929 states that: “An Ahrens Fox Motor Fire Engine, having a pumping capacity of 1000 gallons per minute, was imported and stationed at Headquarters…” - (NSWFBAR 1929:6). At a cost of £3817 8s 4d, the appliance was considered an asset to the Brigade (AMSC). The NSWFB Annual Report for 1929 states: “A new Ahrens-Fox Motor with a pumping capacity of 1000 gallons per minute was installed at Headquarters and has proved its efficiency under actual fire conditions.” - (NSWFBAR 1929:17).

Over the next 33 years, it went on to justify this early enthusiasm as it successfully filled the void left by the retirement of “Big Ben”. This, however, does not mean that the appliance did not have its critics. The criticism was made that the Ahrens Fox was too big for Sydney’s streets and water mains. These criticisms were silenced at the Goldsbrough Mort wool store fire of 25th September, 1935, when it proved to be the most valued piece of equipment in the fire service. Creating a new pumping record, it pumped continuously for days (FM 1962:10) and, in the process, delivered 4,320,000 gallons (19,656 kL) of water whilst draughting from a canvass dam being fed by six hydrants. Through all this, it was only pumping at half capacity! - (FN 1971:12).

Being such a large vehicle, and with so much weight situated over the front wheels, the Ahrens Fox PS2 was difficult to control. Firefighter (later Deputy Chief Officer) J.E. Meeve is quoted as saying that it was: “… exceptionally heavy in the steering. Most of the weight was over the front wheels and at slow speeds you really had to wrestle with it. Once you got going, he adds, the steering improved, but then the whole appliance would start bouncing up and down… She was supposed to be capable of 90 mph, but I doubt if anyone here ever tried to prove it!” – (FN 1971:9-10). Retired firefighter, Edward Easton, said that “The Fox was a brute of a thing to drive according to those who drove it…. It was an awe inspiring sight to see it racing out of Headquarters and dash through the city.” (EE 1995:7). The motor could be started either electrically or manually by means of the crankhandle. Cranking the motor was a feat of strength of which, only a few were capable of performing unaided. “… only two men achieved (this) feat! – firefighter (later Chief Officer) H. Pye and a firefighter named Blackburn.” – (FF1984:174).

In time, the Ahrens Fox was used less for fires and more for displays and training, (FN 1971:12), taking part in a public procession at Auburn on 4th March, 1961 and the Parramatta Centenary Celebrations on November 26th, 1961. It was last used as a pumping appliance at a fire at Rhodes on 9th July, 1955.

the 17th September, 1963, the Ahrens Fox was approved by the NSW Board of Fire Commissioners for handing over, in full working order, to the Museum of Applied Arts and Science on a permanent loan basis. However, after inspection of the vehicle at Glebe Fire Station in early September, 1963, by Norm Harwood, the museum’s then Curator of Transport, it was decided that the museum could not take delivery due to space constraints. Mr Harwood described the appliance thus: - “…It is a monstrous engine, nearly 28 feet in length, approximately 10 tons in weight with the engine driven pumps mounted in front of the radiator…” Following this, No. 8 Ahrens Fox is known to have been in storage at Liverpool Fire Station in 1967. It wasn’t until 4th July, 1968, that the museum finally took delivery of the fire engine. The vehicle was reclaimed in November 1979 by the Fire Brigades on formation of the Fire Service Museum and finally presented to the Museum of Fire at Penrith in 1985 for preservation. The Ahrens Fox PS2 pumper recalls an era, which has long since passed into the history of the NSW Fire Brigades.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Ahrens Fox Ps2 demonstrates the progressive development of the Fire Brigade’s pumping appliances and equipment in order to cope with new demands and challenges brought about by a growing and developing city of Sydney. The development of firefighting technology is an ongoing process which continues today and this appliance is an important part of that historical process. It is a surviving example of the Fire Brigade’s endeavours to deliver adequate fire protection in the early 20th century.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
This appliance is associated with the Goldsbrough Mort Wool Store fire of 25/9/1935. It pumped for 27 hours non-stop as this fire, regarded to be one of Sydney’s largest and worst, caused damages of £800,000 and injured nine people including firefighters. Twenty eight officers and 129 firefighters were required to extinguish this fire.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
This fire appliance demonstrates technical excellence and was a great leap forward from anything else the Brigade had owned. It was unique among NSWFB vehicles because it incorporates a second cooling system designed to enable pumping for long periods, which allows the operating temperature to be regulated at will. Additionally, it was unique because the pump can be operated as two separate units each of equal capacity, each being driven by an independent crankshaft. It was the only motorised high pressure, piston-type pump being made at that time anywhere in the world. The large spherical air dome was distinctive of the Ahrens Fox design. The pump is a mass of chrome and is, in both design and execution, aesthetically pleasing. In its time, it was a sophisticated product of American Technical ingenuity.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Ahrens Fox PS2 is held in high esteem by Fire Engine enthusiasts and this is evidenced by the care and maintenance carried out by volunteer workers at the Museum of Fire where it is now located for display, as well as the articles which have appeared in various publications both from within, and independently of, the NSWFB. Over the years, this appliance has been displayed with pride through its participation in various parades and processions. The Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW recognised its social significance when it presented the Ahrens Fox to the Museum of Applied Arts and Science for posterity.
SHR Criteria f)
No. 8 Ahrens Fox PS2 is the only one of these appliances to be imported into Australia and, at the time, it was the only motorised, high-pressure, piston-type, firefighting pump being made in the world. It was unique among NSWFB vehicles through its use of a secondary cooling system and the fact that the pump could be operated as two separate units. Its integrity, being a fully working appliance, is of a high standard.
SHR Criteria g)
Its integrity as a fully working appliance makes this an exceptionally fine specimen of an Ahrens Fox PS2 pumper, which was typical of the workmanship and technology of the Ahrens Fox Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio who produced other models along similar lines. It is outstanding because of the esteem in which firefighting enthusiasts hold this appliance, which is regarded as the “glamour” vehicle of the NSW Fire Brigades.
Integrity/Intactness: High degree of original fabric. The rust removal and repainting carried out in 1986 does not detract from the item’s significance. It is a fully working appliance.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0171703 Dec 04 1968960

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismTourism NSW2007Museum Of Fire View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

rez rez
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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5055580
File number: S96/00935/1

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

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