Strawy Fire Brigade

This Scarecrows in Motion display was created for the 2005 Kurrajong Scarecrow Festival. The display includes two life-sized scarecrows, live scarecrows in matching uniforms and a fully animated replica of an historic steam powered fire engine. A sound track of steam engine sounds, with lots of bells and whistles, accompanied the show. It took ten weeks to create this display.

2005 Kurrajong Scarecrow Festival Display

'Big Ben' -- a Famous Sydney Fire Engine

The Strawy Fire Brigade display was inspired by a marvellous 1891 Shand Mason Fire Engine called 'Big Ben', that served the NSW Fire Brigades (formerly Metropolitan Brigade) from 1892 to 1929.

'Big Ben' was the most powerful land steam fire engine ever used in Australia. It was featured in both the Federation Parade of of 1901 and the Centenary of Federation Parade in 2001.

'Big Ben' can now be seen in the Penrith Museum of Fire.

Shand Mason Fire Engine
'Big Ben' Shand Mason Fire Engine, 1891
'Big Ben' was a steam operated pump mounted on a four wheeled carriage, 4.6 m long x 3.2 m high. 'Big Ben' weighed five tons.

Water could be drawn from a hydrant or a river through the intake pipe. In 10 minutes, 100 psi (700 kPa) of steam pressure could be produced in the boiler. The three cylinder pump could then throw a 1.75 inch jet of water 200 feet (60 m) vertically into the air. This was needed to fight fires in the ten to twelve storey buildings that were becoming common in Sydney in the 1890s. A steam engine like 'Big Ben' could do as much work as 80 men operating four hand pumps.

'Big Ben' was drawn by two to four horses. When the fire alarm sounded, the stable doors swung open and the horses pranced into position in front of the engine. Harness, suspended above the engine on hooks, was lowered onto the horses and quickly snapped into position. A gas burner automatically ignited the kerosene-soaked wood and coal in the boiler fire box. Then they were away!

In USA, Dalmation dogs used to guide the fire engine horses and clear the way to the fire. On arrival at the fire, the dogs used to lead the horses away to a safe place and guard them until the fire was out.

Strawy Fire Brigade

Here are some scenes from our Strawy Fire Brigade show with our Strawy Family of scarecrows.

Strawy Fire Brigade Scarecrows and Firemen
The Strawy Fire Brigade display was animated by live scarecrow 'firemen' in replica 1890s fireman uniforms (left to right): David Webster, Alex Wagner, James Wagner, Anne Dollin and Les Dollin. Photograph by John Wagner.
Scarecrow Fireman SparkyFireman Sparky, with his walrus moustache, is the Strawy Fire Brigade Chief.
Scarecrow Sparky and his hoseFireman Sparky sits on the driver's seat of the fire engine. He holds a big fire hose with a golden nozzle. Scarecrow-style water (a bundle of silvery steamers) squirts out of the fire hose as the pump operates.
Little Scarecrow FritzLittle red-haired Fritz is an orphan boy whom the Strawy Fire Brigade adopted. Kind hearted towns people made Fritz a beautiful little uniform to match those of the other firemen. Fritz has the job of blowing the steam whistle and ringing the big brass Strawy Fire Brigade bell as the fire engine races to the fire.
Fire house dalmationsMate and Little Mate are the Strawy Fire Brigade's Dalmation dogs. They both wear specially fitted brass helmets, just like those of the firemen.
Little Mate the DalmationThis is a closer photograph of cheeky Little Mate. He is in training to be a firehouse dog just like his Mum.
James and the dalmationsHere is 'Fireman' James looking after Mate and Little Mate on the Judging Day.
Yet another Dalmation!And if you look really closely you might even spot one more Dalmation dog - he is hiding inside one of the lamps on the front of the fire engine!
The scarecrow steam engineLive scarecrow, Les, is shown here with the steam engine part of the Strawy Fire Engine. There is a boiler with a tall chimney on the left. Lots of gauges and levers cover the front of the boiler. A silvery steam whistle is in the centre. Smoke streams out of the steam whistle and the chimney as the display is operated. On the right is the water pump with its rotating fly wheel. And at the top right is a most elaborate scarecrow-style pressure release valve!
James' fire brigade drawing
This terrific drawing by 'Fireman' James Wagner, aged 11, captures all the fun and action of the Strawy Fire Brigade display - and its historical origin in the 'Big Ben' steamer originally proudly owned by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

Scarecrow Festival Performance

The Strawy Fire Brigade display was taken to Memorial Park in Kurrajong, NSW, on Sunday 23rd October 2005 for the Kurrajong Scarecrow Festival. The scarecrow display blew clouds of smoke and was animated to a soundtrack of an operating steam engine with lots of bells ringing and whistles blowing.

The Strawy Fire Brigade display entertained the crowds throughout the day. Fireman Les explained the fascinating history of the steamer fire engines and asked the children to help the scarecrow brigade fight the 'fire' by calling out steam pressures and instructions to the scarecrows.

At the end of the day, members of the Kurrajong Fire Brigade posed for a memorable photo beside the Strawy Fire Brigade and their own brand new Isuzu Category 1 Fire Truck -- the old and the new in fire fighting!

At Kurrajong Scarecrow Festival Children helping the scarecrow firemen
An historical scarecrow display
The display was awarded:
  • First prize in People's Choice Competition in the park; and
  • First Prize in the Special Projects Category.
Due to heavy rain on the judging day, we kept our Strawy Fire Brigade display in the protection of our shed, only bringing it out briefly for the judges to see. We were unwilling to let our display be damaged prior to the main Festival day on the following day. We were disappointed that by doing this, we were disqualified from competing for the 2005 Margaret Garcia Trophy for the Overall Winner. The committee stated that all entries for this Trophy must be displayed so that they are visible from the street throughout the judging day.
Les and Anne Dollin (in uniform, below) were presented with their award for first place in the People's Choice competition in the 2005 Kurrajong Scarecrow Festival by Miss Hawkesbury Showgirl, Lauren Duff, and State Member for Hawkesbury, Steven Pringle MP.
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