Vintage Fire trucks at Big Rig Show

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Classic Chevrolet fire truck.

Classic Chevrolet fire truck.

Oakie Allen is a veteran firefighter — a former Battalion Chief who worked at Station 3 in Eau Claire, Wis. That’s the city where the Chippewa Valley Chapter of the Society for the Preservation & Appreciation of Antique Motorized Fire Apparatus in America ( gets its mail.

“Like the name SPAAMFAA says, we’re a group of people trying to preserve old fire trucks,” Allen told Old Cars Weekly. “We take trucks from the graveyard and save them.”

SPAAMFAA was organized in Syracuse, N.Y. in 1958 and today has 3,000-plus members and over 50 Chapters. “The Chippewa Valley Chapter ( is a new chapter,” Allen said. “We’re in our third year and have about 35 family members and out of that, we have 22 or more vehicles.”

Ambulances are collectible, too.

Ambulances are collectible, too.

It’s common to see SPAAMFAA signing up members at Hershey, but Allen’s western Wisconsin chapter is the first one in the Badger State. According to Allen, the chapter started growing on its own and then became affiliated with Terry Biddle, the president of Photo Card Specialists (

Biddle’s company specializes in the designing and printing photographic business products for the transportation industry. Photo Card Specialist photographers promote and photograph a number of truck shows. Biddle and his family joined the new SPAAMFAA chapter and got the members to participate in the 4th Annual Eau Claire Big Rig Show (

Allen was at the show selling raffle tickets and calendars to raise the money for the restoration of a 1954 FWD fire engine originally owned by the Chippewa Falls Fire Dept. “We found that truck sitting in a field,” he explained. “We’re restoring it as a club and we’re selling raffle tickets at six for $5 and fire truck calendars for $8 each to cover our costs.” Allen said the raffle prizes would include vacation packages, a fire chief’s pedal car and fire truck photos.”

Barney Fife was also at the Big Rig Show.

Barney Fife was also at the Big Rig Show.

Like Ed Peterson — the Hershey Region AACA member who always loved fire trucks and SPAAMFAA and inspired lots of antique fire truck owners to attend the AACA Eastern National Meet at Hershey each fall — Oakie Allen can tell you all the details about his own vehicles and the ones that other Chippewa Valley Region members own.

One of his trucks is a 454-powered 1984 Chevy 4x4 mini pumper with a 400 gallons-per-minute (gpm) Waterous two-stage pump-and-roll system and an under-the-hood Generac generator that cranks out 4,000 amps. “This is an ‘ain’t’ truck,” Allen joked about the 22,000-mile unit that he originally helped spec out in ’84. “It ain’t quite a rescue and it ain’t quite a brush truck; it was set up as a quick-attack unit, but also carried the Jaws of Life.”

Allen seemed to be as proud of other chapter members’ trucks as he was about his mini pumper and his re-powered 1953 FWD. He bragged about Joe Alf’s V-12-powered 1947 American LaFrance Series 7 open cab pumper that has 6,275 original miles on it and came from Ely, Minn. He told the story of the truck that member Mark Porter bought from Keith Franz’s Venerable Fire Company in Slinger, Wis., earlier this year. “It’s a 1958 FWD 750-gpm pumper that Mark picked up 55 years from the day that the Chenequa Fire Department placed it in service,” Allen explained. “And that wasn’t planned; it just happened that way.”

The trucks that the Chippewa Valley Chapter members brought to the big rig show ranged from Mike Stage’s 1926 American La France Type 14 Double Bank Service truck that came out of Elmira, N.Y. to an aerial ladder truck that two collectors drove from Los Angeles to Eau Claire, crossing the desert with wet towels wrapped around their heads to fight the heat.

“You do not have to own a fire truck to belong to SPAAMFAA,” Allen emphasized. “If you have the interest you can always work on the club project.” Allen said he was happy with the way the chapter is going. “All the trucks at this show have brakes now,” he pointed out. “But we still have a few that don’t, so we can always use new members.”

OCVW advertiser American Truck Historical Society had a booth.

OCVW advertiser American Truck Historical Society had a booth.

(This year’s Big Rig Show will be held Aug. 15-17 at the Chippewa Valley Technical College parking lot in Eau Claire, Wis.)

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