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Wilton’s first fire engine to be restored

Wilton's 1851 Excelsior hand tub engine, the first fire engine owned by the Wilton Fire Department, is scheduled to be restored by the Wilton Firemens Relief Association next spring. 

(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

Wilton's 1851 Excelsior hand tub engine, the first fire engine owned by the Wilton Fire Department, is scheduled to be restored by the Wilton Firemens Relief Association next spring. (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

WILTON — When the Wilton Firemens Relief Association hauls out the town’s antique 1936 muster truck from it’s storage place in Frye’s Measure Mill, sitting next to it is the first-ever fire engine used by the town — an 1851 Excelsior hand tub. But unlike the show-ready muster truck, the old hand-pumped, hand-drawn engine is in sad shape.

The engine was first purchased in 1875, when Wilton established its Fire Department, and was in use until the early 1900s. Since then, it used to be taken out for parades and other events, but since has fallen a little into disrepair, according to Relief Association President Joe Torre. But although the engine needs a lot of polish and shine, it really only needs repairs on the wheels in order to return to it’s former glory.

“We consider it to be our first piece of fire apparatus in town,” said Torre in a recent telephone interview with the Ledger-Transcript. “The relief association wants to work to restore it.”

The truck hasn’t been in a parade in something like 10 or 15 years, said Torre, but residents still remember it, and sometimes ask about it. And when members of the relief association became interested in restoring the antique, they were surprised to find it wasn’t under the purview of the association. A warrant article in 1948 had assigned the responsibility of maintenance and preservation of the engine to the Select Board.

Torre, along with fellow relief association member Ron Caswell, met with the Select Board in October, to see about temporarily easing the vehicle to the relief association for a nominal fee, so they could do the work to clean it up and bring it back to it’s former glory. Selectmen agreed, said Torre, and a draft lease agreement has been drawn up to be presented to the relief association at the association’s December meeting.

Last year, the hand tub underwent an appraisal by David Falconi of Southborough, Mass., said Torre, and it was discovered that the parts were 90 percent original, and overall, the piece was in good condition. In fact, most of the work needed on the engine was nothing more than elbow grease, Torre said.

“Scrubbing and washing alone would make a big difference. It would just take a little plain old work to get it to look nice,” he said. “It would be very time intensive, but have a low cost.”

Aside from washing the engine, it would also have linseed oil applied to the wood, and all the brass polished. Torre estimated the materials would only cost a few hundred dollars, with the labor being provided by the Firemens Relief Association.

The association also has the option of repairing the wheels on the apparatus, or spending up to $10,000 to completely restore the machine, but Torre said the association was content to start with simply cleaning it up, for now.

The association would like to get the engine back to a certain standard so it can be hauled on a flatbed truck in the town’s parades, and displayed during Wilton’s next Old Home Day in 2014.

Assuming the Select Board and Firemens Relief Association can reach an agreement on the leasing of the truck, said Torre, the group would start on the restoration in the spring.

The Excelsior hand tub is on display at Frye’s Measure Mill in Wilton and is available for viewing during the mill’s business hours.

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