The First Fire Engine of the Indian Railways

The John Morris fire engine - a journey of service with the Nizam to the National Rail Museum.

By National Rail Museum

The John Morris Fire Engine at a car rallyNational Rail Museum

The John Morris fire engine was built by the famous fire engineers - John Morris and Sons Ltd. of Salford, Manchester in 1914. It was bought to India by the seventh and last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osaman Ali Khan, for the then Nizam State Railways' Lallaguda ‘Carriage and Wagon’ Workshop Fire Station. After a service of nearly four decades, the fire engine was finally retired in January 1960 but is kept in working condition till today. 

The horse-drive John Morris Fire EngineNational Rail Museum

The history of John Morris is very closely linked with the history of the British fire brigade itself.

In the year 1865, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act was set up in the United Kingdom for the establishment of fire brigades within Greater London area.

Just ten years later, in 1875, the fire engineering company John Morris & Sons was founded. The first fire fighting vehicle in Britain which was fitted with a turntable ariel ladder was also built by John Morris for the Manchester Fire Brigade in 1904.

The John Morris Fire EngineNational Rail Museum

In 1912, this company entered into collaboration with Belsize Motors Ltd. of Clayton, Manchester, to market fully assembled fire-engine motors. One of their earliest creation was sold to the Nizam’s Hyderabad Railway.

The John Morris Fire EngineNational Rail Museum

This particular model proved very successful and was in production till 1921 and was sold to many countries throughout the world.

Today, only two Morris-Belsize fire-engines are known to exist. Other than the one with National Rail Museum, New Delhi, a 1912 model is preserved by Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Society, U.K. But the tyres of that vehicle had to be replaced in 1929.

The Morris engine with the National Rail Museum, New Delhi, is the only one left in the world, to be fitted with original Shrewbury & Challiner solid tyres.

The John Morris Fire EngineNational Rail Museum

Ever since its original purchase in 1914 by the Nizam State Railway, the fire engine has been in active service in the Lallaguda Carriage and Wagon Workshops in Secundrabad. While the fortunes of the railways itself changed, the engine continued to be at Lallaguda.

The Morris fire engine was used for various duties in the workshop and the Railway colony. Documentary evidence also indicates that the fire engine was often called out to help the Municipal Fire Service to fight fires in the city.

John Morris Fire Engine under maintenance (1914)National Rail Museum

During its active service of over four decades, the fire engine was being maintained at its best in the Lallaguda Carriage and Wagon Worshops in Secunderabad, Hyderabad. Even today, the fire engine has an annual restoration routine which keeps it in its top shape.

John Morris Fire Engine under maintenance (1914)National Rail Museum

Design details

This sturdy vehical was fitted with an 80 HP engine with a maximum speed of 40mph. It has 4 cylinders, a gear box with 4 forward speeds & 1 reverse gear. It also includes the patented Morris “Ajax” turbine fire pump with a delivery of 500 gallons/minute. 

The fire engine also has a 12 volt battery, two head lights, one rear light, one search light and two side lamps.

The John Morris Fire Engine at a car rallyNational Rail Museum

The fire engine was initially restored in 1980 and went on to win the Raja of Tirwa Trophy for the most faithfully restored vehicle in the 1981 Annual Statesman Vintage Car Rally in New Delhi. This rally is held by the Statesman, a renowned Indian news and media house.

The engine has since been a regular participant in these annual rallies.

The John Morris Fire Engine at a car rallyNational Rail Museum

In 1981, the John Morris fire engine was brought to National Rail Museum, New Delhi. From then, began the second success story of this vintage fire engine.

In the years 1983, 1985, 1993 and 1994, it was chosen for the best performance in the hill climb at Sohna. From 1995 till today, it bagged the Statesman Challenge trophy almost every year for being the oldest car to complete the road section of the rally.

The John Morris Fire EngineNational Rail Museum

John Morris fire engine recently participated in the "21 Gun Salute International Vintage Car Rally & Concours Show" in 2017.

One of the most prestigious international events of the country, this show is organized by 21 Gun Salute Heritage & Cultural Trust. Every year, they showcase the heritage of vintage and classic automobiles in India.

The John Morris Fire Engine in a Rally (1914)National Rail Museum

Morris also participated in and won at the 51st edition of the “The Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally, 2017” at New Delhi.

The John Morris Fire EngineNational Rail Museum

Till date, the John Morris fire engine has been winning hearts as the oldest, most well restored, vintage car of the Indian railways.

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