The first year or two of my life, my family lived in an apartment over a firehouse. While that led to many sleepless nights for mom and dad, it turned me onto fire engines for life. We don’t own any fire engines, but we should, After all, the collection already has a police car and a tow truck So why not a fire engine?
When we moved to Wisconsin in 1978, it opened up an opportunity to become a volunteer firefighter. That led to some exciting rides hanging off the back of the truck and riding shotgun in a squad truck that clobbered a deer on the way to a blaze.
At that point the Iola Volunteer Fire Dept. still had a monstrous ’57 IHC brush truck and a classic ’69 Chevy pickup that served the same purpose at smaller grass fires. The IHC was a bear to drive, with a shift pattern that defied logic. The Chevy was light and agile and built like a rock, of course.
We had fun when we went on the Great Race in the mid-1980s and hitched a ride on Doc Fuson’s 1912 American La France with Terry and Gene taking turns driving. All of the modern equipment on the truck failed, but we made in from Albuquerque, N.M., to Amarillo, Texas, by switching to the old magneto ignition and ditching the electric cooling fan.
At lunch in Tucumcari, N.M., Terry and Gene asked me quitting was on my mind. “The New York Times reporter quit,” they said. We showed them our Wisconsin Volunteer Firefighter Assoc. card and joked, “Now which one of you has really rode to a real fire?” They were impressed and we never heard another suggestion that we couldn’t handle a fast ride in the hose bed of a fire engine.
We still enjoy seeing old fire engines at car shows. Like modern cars, many modern fire trucks look similar to each other, but years ago there were styling distinctions that set an FWD apart from a Seagrave. Those differences in appearance are what makes antique fire engine interesting to us.