Wajax

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

The team weren't keen on competing, but the big noise insisted.

Wajax

Wajax… you’d be forgiven for thinking Wajax was some infection under your nails… or elsewhere!

The forest Henry was looking after was on the Northerly boundary of the conservancy it belonged to and the big noise’s office was on the Southern Boundary. So whenever there were meetings at conservancy office, Henry always had to leave early and so arrived home late. There were even times when the weather played her part and he couldn’t get home for a couple of days. Bearing that in mind, he wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in sending a team to the conservancy’s Wajax competition, because they would have to travel 240 kilometres to get there, and the effort wasn’t worth the perceived outcome. It wasn’t so much the distance he was concerned about, they would have to travel in the old Bedford gang truck towing the Wajax trailer, which as well as the pump and fire equipment, carried two hundred gallons of water, so the trip wouldn’t be a pleasant one.

The Wajax was a portable fire pump with a two stroke motor. They were good pumps, made in Canada, but tricky to start, especially when cold and sometimes tricky to prime. The forest had two of them mounted on trailers that besides the token amount of water, carried shovels, packs of hose and other tools. The pump had a distinctive sound, because it had no mufflers and the operator didn’t have earmuffs in those days either. Fire people have their finicky rituals and when the forest’s equipment was going to be inspected by an officer sent to do so, everything had to be spick and span and all the tools in a certain order. If things weren’t tickety, a report would go the big noise and Henry would get a rap over the knuckles!

The big noise sent an order, not an invitation as usual, Henry’s crew had to participate in the Wajax competitions! So, he thought he’d better find out what the rules were and what they were supposed to do. Of course they’d put out fires. Because he’d avoided most conservancy gatherings, they were a bit of a Cinderella forest in that they didn’t receive much attention nor did they look for it… it was good to be under the radar. There were four members in a team. One carried the pump on a backpack frame, one carried the awkward induction hose, one carried the bypass coupling, nozzles and short hoses all packed in a nifty bag, and the other member carried a backpack of hose, which had three section of thirty metres of hose in it. The team lined up thirty metres from the waterhole, on go, they ran to the waterhole where the pump was set up and primed. On the outlet of the pump a short hose was attached with a bypass coupling and attached to that was another short hose bypassing water back to the waterhole. On the other side of the bypass the hose in the backpack was attached and the hose was run out to thirty metres. It was uncoupled from the rest of the hose in the pack and a nozzle attached. Water on! And a flap had to be knocked over that stood on a stand. When the flap was over, water off! The nozzle was removed and a bypass attached, on each side of the bypass a four meter length of hose was fitted and nozzles were fitted to those. Time was up when the two other flaps were knocked down. Simple enough, Henry told his team.

They didn’t know how seriously they should take this competition, why should they bother their arses to perform like champions when we were the team that travelled the farthest? Well, Henry heard that Dave and his team of logging blokes had never been beaten… and Dave had pissed him off over something trifling that he’d long forgotten. So that was motivation enough, they were going to make the effort. Henry chose a team. Skip was to carry and man the pump, well he was as strong as a lavatory without a lid and wouldn’t notice the weight of the pump. Young Bert was to carry the induction hose, he was a nimble bugger and a fast runner to boot. Mel was to carry the bag with bits and pieces because he was nimble-fingered, liked fiddling with machinery and could run like a hare too. Henry thought he’d carry the backpack of hose and be the coach.

They practiced, gradually working out efficient ways of each movement and who did exactly what. They hadn’t had the opportunity to see what the other teams did, so they made it up as they went along. The hoses had treads on the male and female joiners so the thread had to be spotlessly clean to work fast. The bottleneck was the pump, being two stroke, if it failed to start on the first pull of the starter rope, time would be lost, so Rob at the local garage made sure the spark was good and that the carburettor was doing its thing. There was no visual difference between the throttle knob and the choke knob, so they put a dob of green paint on the throttle. They didn’t bother timing themselves, they just aimed to do the job efficiently.

They had to be on the road by 5:30am to be on site by 9:00 so their breakfast was one of those famous mutton pies, and something to wash the grease down. They arrived a bit late because Mel had to duck into a patch of trees – pastry didn’t always agree with him. The draw had already been done and they were drawn to perform last, which suited them because their bones we a bit stiff after the long drive. As spectators they were surprised about two things. The rest of the team captains knew nothing about teamsmanship… they talked among themselves, while Henry followed closely what the other teams we doing and ‘helped’ the judges when they missed deductible faults, and he made a few up. The other thing was that the other teams hadn’t improved their techniques, they just weren’t slick enough.

The team to beat turned out to be Dave’s, who had blitzed the field at one minute fourteen seconds. Henry’s crew’s run went smoothly and were clocked one minute and seven seconds! It’s fair to say there was some amazement shown and the judges couldn’t find any faults, despite lobbying from other captains. They were getting the hang of it. Henry and co were packing up ready to head home, being coy about their victory, when the big noise came to him to ask if they would do a demo run. Henry supposed they were wanting to have another look at their techniques, Dave in particular. Anyway, Henry agreed, because, he couldn’t think of an excuse not to, so the team prepared… sharing a secretive wink of, ‘we’ll show the buggers’. On the run to the waterhole, Skip tripped and fell forward… I told you he was strong bugger! Instead of falling splat on his face, he managed a forward roll, Wajax pack and all, and Henry helped him to his feet by taking some of the weight of the pump. Still, they were the first team to break a minute… they did so by two seconds!

A few beers smoothed some of the ruffled feathers at the trophy presentation, but Henry could see that there was going to be a target on their backs next time. Actually the next time they won again, although Henry was only the coach then. They retired after that, no more orders came for them to attend. But after that very first time, Henry couldn’t pass the Golden Fleece pub without shouting for the boys. And they weren’t so coy about celebrating with a few beers under their belts!


Submitted: May 31, 2021

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