Monday, August 9, 2010

August 9

8/9/2005: I pushed the lawnmower into the garage, having just finished cutting the grass, and grabbed the bottle of water from the workbench and took a slug of the wonderfully cold water. It was a typical brutal and humid August day, the time was only about 10:00am but even that early it was already in the mid-80's and still climbing. I took another slug of water, intending to then grab the weed trimmer, when my cell phone rang. I looked at the caller ID- "Al Keiss."

Al was my Captain (and later Assistant Chief) at my first Career Firefighting gig, the Naval Air Warfare Center Fire Department, in Warminster Pa. By this time however, I had since transferred to the Aberdeen Proving Ground Fire Department (but not after serving a short stint at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard FD.) Al was also an Operations Officer at a part-time job that I had, one that often required people at the extreme last minute to staff certain functions. It was not unusual for Al to be calling me at this time of the day to see if I was available to come in. I figured that was the purpose of this call; Al and I were also friends, and I always answered the phone when he called in some kind of obnoxious manner. "WHAT?" I said loudly as I thumbed the "accept call" button. Al was quiet.....This was unusual...He said something very quietly that I could not hear......

"What?" I said again, in a civil manner.....Al's reply this time was ice cold, and it sent a chill up my spine..."We lost John Kulick."

"What?" I went from an amused, humorous mood (messing with Al) to complete and total 100% confusion in a matter of 2 seconds.

"John Kulick is dead."

"WHAT?" (not loudly, just more firmly....)

"John Kulick was killed in Iraq sometime last night, no one really knows any details, Vince Crusco called me, the guys at Willow Grove called him.....When I know more I'll call you, but I wanted you to know."

John Kulick was one of the best firefighters I had ever worked with, both as a Career and Volunteer Firefighter..........

(I am going to stop now. I can't go on.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

TROPHY!!! (& sweat!!!)

The Hatfield Fire Company, of Hatfield, Pa. (Montgomery County) marked their 100th anniversary yesterday with a parade and celebration. Hatfield is an old railroad crossing town, just outside of Philadelphia. In it's heyday, it was an industrial manufacturing town- all kinds of steel, woodwork, and textiles were produced here and shipped out via the railroads. Nowadays, Hatfield is a bedroom community, with some heavy industrial still remaining and some light commercial.

It is a 24 mile ride one-way from the house. Going there is mostly downhill, down Pa. Route 309 through Quakertown. My original intent was to wake up around 7:30 and be out the door by 8:30, but I woke up around 6:45...figured I would try and get 45 more minutes in, but kept staring at the ceiling. So I jumped in the shower, had an english muffin, packed the cooler with some drinks, and was out the door and on the road by 7:45.

The forecast for the day was 85 degrees/partly sunny with some humidity. I should mention a peculiarity that the truck has: on extremely hot days, she looses coolant. I don't quite know where it goes. I do know where it does NOT go- into the crankcase (and by the way there is no oil in the radiator, either.) I kind of suspect that since it only happens on extremely hot days (85 degrees and humid) that perhaps there is a crack in one of the heads, and when she gets real hot, maybe it flexes enough to allow coolant to pass through????? I dunno....It sounds good. But like I said, no coolant in the crankcase and no oil in the radiator, so guess what....It aint broke so I aint fixing it!!!! Just keep your eye on it and have coolant and water on board to add on long trips!!

So heading south I made two stops, one at WaWa, to top off the gas tank ($25.00 worth @ 2.57, just a little under 10 gallons..) and then I stopped at Auto Zone to buy a gallon of coolant, which I had run out of some time ago. Remember, you just can't keep adding straight water, as you run the risk of boiling it off. Always make sure you occasionally add some coolant. Keep a hydrometer on hand to measure the cooling and boiling point levels of your coolant. She ran good heading S/B on 309. I always like getting her out on the open road- I suspect she has the soul of a road tractor, because when you shift her into 5th gear and put the hammer down, she loves to run.

In 1958 when she was built, "driver comfort" and things like ergonomics were not a consideration. The interiors of trucks were spartan affairs (apologies to Spartan Motors, Inc. a popular modern-day fire apparatus chassis manufacturer) and the thought of the driver being comfortable ended at a bench seat that was adjustable forwards and backwards. As a result, there is no insulation on the firewall (remembering that the engine is out in front of you, this is important!!!) Climate control ends with a flap, on the center of the back of the hood, just in front of the windshield, that you can open or close. There was a heater in the truck once upon a time, but it was removed long ago for unknown reasons. I have never replaced it for 2 reasons- I rarely take the truck out in the winter, and when I do, the heat coming off the engine and the exhaust manifold and pipes is plenty enough to warm the cab quite adequately!!!)

I arrived at the registration/judging area, and signed in. Dad (who was bringing over the 2007 Spartan/Toyne pumper by the way....) was running late (as usual) so I got in the judging line. As I was waiting for the judges, I quick went over her with a towel and some spray wax (remove the water spots) and I touched up the tire shine (I like Meguire's Hot Shine, thanks Captain Gonzo!!!) A note about Fire Department Parade Judging: I wont get into fine details, but around here, cleanliness is godliness. Judges around here are hell bent on finding the smallest amount of dirt or grime, usually an easy thing to do on a firetruck. Tools are checked for dirt, proper paint, etc. This all goes along with looking at equipment and how it is set up, but clean = happy judges. So when the 2 Antique Judges arrived, I flat out told them that "this is not a clean truck. It's privately owned, by me, without the benefit of a fire company's budget or the manpower to clean her to parade standards." I then handed them the three-ring binder I keep on board of all the factory documents (everything from original sales orders, to the telegram sent to the salesman stating "The truck is ready for pick up, come get it." They appreciated seeing the factory documents, and stated so. They did walk the truck, opened compartment doors, asked some questions, and did remark about the dirt and some rust here and there. I just politely reminded them that I was a one-man band with two ankle biters at home that had this obsession with eating and needing a roof over their heads. They did again mention seeing the factory documents helped me. So I parked the truck off to the side, and waited for Dad to show up, which he eventually did. After he had the newer pumper judged, we headed over to the line-up point, and the parade did manage to step off promptly at 1300 (rare for a parade to start exactly on time.)

So, on a hot, 85 degree day, you can imagine it gets kind of, just a wee bit, and a little warm in there. Going downhill most of the way, when the engine isn't working that hard, at 55 MPH it isn't quite that bad. But when you are in a parade going at a snail's pace, it gets downright unbearable in there!!!! I can't tell you the last time I ran the truck in a parade, but now I remember why I don't do it more often!!!! It gets (pardon my french) fucking nasty ass HOT in there! Anytime throughout the parade route that I stopped, I would open the driver's door, open the cooler and grab the bottle of water and take a gulp, and then wipe the sweat off my face and neck. The temperature gauge (the 1958 temp gauge may I add) rarely went above 160 degrees. The few times that it did, I would just shift down into the lo-hole first gear, which would raise the RPM's, and she would cool back down.

It was a nice parade route, through an old historic town, with lot's of friendly people who were appreciative of all the firefighters who came out to help the Hatfield Fire Company celebrate 100 years of service.

We arrived at Hatfield's sub-station on the outskirts of town, which is on a large parcel of ground, right next to Hatfield Meat's enormous processing/packaging plant. Here they had a small carnival set up for the firefighters and their families, and of course the usual end-of-parade activities. Occasionally, the wind would blow samples of aroma over from the rendering plant, but it was not all that bad. Dad hung out for a while, and then took the Toyne back to Bryn Athyn. I hung out for about an hour and a half, which was spent talking to old friends and watching the sights, which were plentiful. Finally the trophies were announced, and I walked away with "Second Place, Privately Owned Antique." I lost out to an absolutely breathtaking 1949 Ward LaFrance. When first place goes to a truck that you drool over, it's not hard to accept second!!!

Now for the fun part...Heading home, back up Route 309, up the mountain I had just come down....with the engine working hard going back uphill....making lots of heat......

Monday, June 7, 2010

Play the cards......

So while I am sitting here converting some of my CD's into my I-Tunes list to later import into my I-Phone (right now it's the soundtrack to "The Empire Strikes Back") I figured I would blog while I wait for the CD's to burn. And to open this one, sometimes you just have to blog about things other than antique firetrucks- for there IS more in life other than antique firetrucks. Hard to believe, yes I know, but true.

So about 20 years ago, a very close friend of mine (Joel Bain) was hired onto the City of Camden, NJ. Fire Department. Joel and I got to know one another through my father, from when he worked at Jevic Transportation as a driver. We hung out for a good while prior to him getting hired onto the CFD. So when he got hired, he was assigned as a proby firefighter to Engine Company 9, located at 27th and Federal Streets, quartered with Ladder Company 3 and Battalion 3. I would visit him at the firehouse often and hang out. I soon got to know most of the members of Engine 9 and Ladder 3 just as well as I knew Joel. One person in particular was Captain Joseph Gallagher, the skipper of 3 Truck on the same work group. Joe took an interest in me, as we determined through kitchen table talk that I took my Firefighter I and II at Burlington County Fire Academy, where he was an Instructor. He was not one of the instructors for my classes, but he was one of the "Burn Building Extras" brought in during live exercises. He remembered me as "the aggressive kid from Pennsylvania." So anytime I came to visit Joel, it turned into "visiting Joel and Captain Gallagher."

He and Joel taught me much about being a competent, aggressive, and efficient firefighter. Joe would often quiz me about building construction, and pour on the ball busting if I answered something incorrectly. In due time, Joe took the promotion exam, and was promoted to Battalion Chief. (Now importing the soundtrack to "JAWS") He was transferred to Battalion 2, at Liberty Station down on Broadway, quartered with Engine Company 8 and Rescue Company 1. Soon visits to Camden had to have 2 stops- one to 27th and Federal and one to Headquarters (where Joel had since been transferred to Ladder Company 1.) If I was in quarters and Joe got a run, he would throw me in the car, twisting my arm the whole time (yeah, right.)

Joe and his wife Sue were lovers of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where they had a small house in Avon, which is on Hattaras Island, about 10 miles north of the Cape Hattaras Lighthouse. Invitations were extended to come down and sample some the "easy life" as they touted it. I soon accepted, and learned that visiting the OBX is like eating potato chips- once is not enough. Eventually, in preparation of Joe's retirement, they bought a bigger place just a few blocks from the small place they had at that time; and he and Sue sold their home in Riverside and moved down to Avon full-time. They both kept busy with various volunteer activities, the local VFD, the Park Service down at the lighthouse, the Church Food Pantry, etc.

(now importing Lonestar "Lonely Grill) There is no scale or standard to measure against Joe and Sue's sense of hospitality, or their generosity when opening up their home to guests. I cannot even use the word guest, as when you visit them, you are Family. The home that they moved into is large and spacious, so much so that guests have their own separate "wing", with 2 bedrooms (one having a king size bed plus a set of bunkbeds and a TV) and a bathroom. You never, ever feel like you are intruding. When you are ready to explore the sights of the OBX, they make sure you know where you are going, what you are doing, and how to do it. If you are going to the beach, Joe opens up his "beach storage closet" inside the garage, and shows you where all the beach chairs (pilfered from an un-named Jersey Shore town), boogie boards, umbrellas, towels, and other accessories necessary for a successful venture to the beach are stored.

When you return back to their place in the mid-afternoon, the air conditioning is always set at a comfortable level. You hose off in the driveway, and Joe is ready to help you re-pressurize the tires in your car with his air compressor and hose (did I mention you can drive out on the Beach?? You have to have 4WD and let some air out of the tires, but you can do it!!!) After you get the car all restored while the wife rinses off the kids and gets them upstairs, you retire to the guest wing, and take a hot (or for the sunburned a cool) shower. Then take a nap for an hour or two, and wake up to the smells of Joe's cooking. (I never did mention that Joe's cooking in the firehouse, although rare, ROCKED!!!)

So, in short, JOE AND SUE ROCK. GET IT??

(now importing the soundtrack to "Days of Thunder.) About two and a half years ago, in a cruel twist of fate, Joe was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer. How in the fuck can something so cruel and inhuman happen to someone so good? I suppose all of the years of urban firefighting without SCBA finally caught up to Joe. However, Joe was never one to simply stand there and take shit, especially when he was always the one dishing it out. He decided to fight it. And an easy fight it would not be. Knowing where Avon is located will help the unknowing reader one of the huge problems of the impending battle- Avon is located on the OBX, without any specialized care of any kind, 70 miles from the closest (minor care) hospital, and 150 miles to Norfolk, Va. the location of the nearest (but thankfully a very good) cancer treatment hospital. A very close friend of Joe and Sue's, who has a little extra money and several places to live, offered the use of his apartment in nearby Virginia Beach, to save them from having to go back and forth or from having to dish out bucks for a hotel.

So Joe battled the Cancer, but not without getting his ass kicked. The radiation treatments caused a lot of damage to the soft tissues inside his mouth and throat. He had to have a feeding tube inserted into his abdomen, and "drank" nutrition formulas through the tube. He also had a traech tube in his throat, and between the damage from the radiation and the traech, when he talks he sounds like "The Godfather." (Side Note: he grows tomatoes in pots out on his back deck, so when he tends to them, of course Don Vito Corleone jokes are tossed at him, resulting in his sly smile....) Joe beat stage 4 cancer. What more can you say? This August, god willing, he will be cancer free for 2 years.

(now importing the soundtrack to "Saving Private Ryan") We recently returned from a long Memorial Day weekend to visit Joe and Sue. We needed a long weekend getaway, as our official family vacation (DISNEY!!!) does not come until late in September. The last time I waited that long for a vacation, I went batty. Almost 2 years after finishing his treatments, Joe is doing extremely well. He has lost a tremendous amount of weight (expected) and recently had the traech removed. While we were there, he was still not able at the time to eat anything in his mouth, but as of the other day, my wife received an email from Sue advising that Joe had eaten some ice cream and oatmeal!!!! THIS IS HUGE!!! (side note: he had tried, at my Nurse wife's insistence the last time we were down there in July of last year to eat some soft foods, but it didnt work too well.....) But apparently he ate and reported no problems. He does have a Doctors appointment in Norfolk later this week to have the ENT doctor look at his throat.

The cancer knocked him on his ass for quite a while, however, as soon as he was able, he jumped right back up. One of the most amazing things to me, that really blows my mind, is the fact that even though he cannot eat, Joe insists on cooking for his guests each and every night that they are in his home. What this man does in the name of hospitality is just priceless. And the treatment my children get from he and Sue- to say that they are like a second set of parents is an understatement. One thing that Joe loves to do is to take the boys down to the dock behind his house, and check out the scenery (a bit different from when we would sit on the front bumper of Engine 9 and check out the sights on 27th Street so many years ago.....)

Ok, enough. You get the picture. Good people overcame. Now importing Billy Idol "Rebel Yell."

Saturday, June 5, 2010


First my apologies for this delayed entry. After taking the truck to the below-mentioned show, several hectic days were spent doing laundry, getting the car ready, and everything else (including work!) that goes with getting the family ready for a road trip. We took a long weekend over Memorial Day and spent it in Avon, North Carolina in the Outer Banks.

Saturday, May 22, I took the truck to the Trinity United Church of Christ's second annual Car & Truck Show on Rt. 212 in Quakertown. I attended their first show last year, and was pleasantly surprised at the large showing. As many of us that regularly attend these events know, many "first time" shows are poorly attended, usually due to lack of communication. However they had a great turnout, so I eagerly filled out the registration form and sent it in a month or two in advance.

This year's show was not as well-attended as their first one, which I am assuming was due to the weather- Mother Nature just wasn't sure what she wanted to do. Many Car Enthusiasts are hesitant to take their "babies" out in any kind of precipitation, even "threatened" precipitation. If there is a guarantee of rain, I will not take mine out- but if it is one of those "partly cloudy with a threat" of rain, I'll go. If I get caught in rain, oh well. This was one of those kinds of days. Nevertheless, they still had about 100 or so vehicles show up.

I had a great spot, too- right under some very nice shade trees!!! Too bad I didn't need them, because as predicted by the "Weather 8-Ball" it was cloudy and overcast all day, with a spattering here and there of sunshine. It was also a bit on the cool side, too. That shade would have been handy last year when I was parked smack in the middle of the place with no shade whatsoever and it was 90 degrees and sunny all day. There were three or four other big trucks there, not as many as last year. A local trucking outfit had two road tractors there, all nicely chromed out and accessorized. I always enjoy looking at "working" trucks that are well cared for. One of them had a set of locomotive air horns mounted just forward of the steps into the passenger side of the cab, just behind the steer axle. The horns were pointing out to the side of the truck. It was very obvious what they were there for, and when I said to the owner "blind spot horn, huh?" he just smiled and winked. For those of you who drive cars and know nothing about tractor trailers, never get in their blind spot on the right side, and never, ever come up on their right-hand side when they take a wide swing in an intersection to make a right-hand turn. You'll get the locomotive horns right in your ears.

It was a nice day, with lots of cheap home made food courtesy of the church's ladies auxiliary (highly recommend the hot german bacon-potato salad and the pulled-pork barbeq sandwiches!!!) Came home with the first-place trophy for "Heavy Truck."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sunday, May 17, 2010

Took the FWD to the first official outing of 2010, to the Lowes in Quakertown for one of their semi-annual summer car shows. I took it there last year, in October I think, can't remember. The show rand from 2 to 6pm, so I spent the morning going over the mechanicals of the truck, which had not been done in a while. Oil, tires, belts, hoses, coolant, the whole nine yards. Then I cut the grass, and then jumped in the shower while the wife ran down to the supermarket (while I was still home with the men.)

I left the house about 12:45, and got there early; was about the 5th or 6th vehicle there. Had the pick of parking spots. Couldn't really find anything in any decent kind of shade, which was ok as it was jusssst on this side of cool; so the sunlight helped. The stiff breeze blowing cooled everything down, and also prevented the application of the tire shine which I usually do prior to every event. So instead I concentrated my efforts on wiping down all the sheet metal with a towel and some Meguires "Armor Plate", a wipe-on liquid wax specially made to occasionally "beef up" the Meguires paste wax which I apply about once every 2 years or so. I did everything except up high, my legs, knees and ankles just were not in the mood to climb after having cut the grass.

I have to say I was not especially impressed with the turnout of this show. There were about 50 to 60 other vehicles in my estimation, and most of the people who were walking around were other car owners. As always, I got the standard questions/comments-

"Do YOU own this or is it fire company owned?"
"Wow you came a long way from Bryn Athyn!"
"Wow you must have a big garage" or "Where do you keep it, you must have a huge garage!"
"What kind of mileage does it get?"
"Does everything still work?"
"It's gas? Really? Not Diesel?"

The crowd started thinning out around 4:30, and by 5 most had started packing up and leaving, so that's when I departed. Not a bad first outing, but not the best either.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Continuing with the history lesson............

When we last left Msrs. Besserdich and Zachow they were producing heavy-duty all wheel drive truck chassis, as well as completely finished vehicles for all kinds of inclement-weather environments that needed the all-wheel drive capabilities that their product had. Firetrucks, Utility Trucks, Snowplows and snowblowers......The durability and ruggedness of the vehicles that they produced during WWI and WWII pushed the demand for their products far beyond their wildest imaginations. The F.W.D. corporation grew by leaps and bounds, and in 1963, the F.W.D. corporation acquired the mighty SEAGRAVE fire apparatus corporation, of Columbus, Ohio. As the years progressed, the mighty F.W.D. corporation fell victim to the economic downfalls experienced by many other manufacturers of the times; however F.W.D. survived, and they still survive to this day, still owners of Seagrave Fire Apparatus, arguably one of the "Big Three" of modern fire apparatus. F.W.D. to this day still produces some of the finest snow-removal machinery for airports in the industry. Pictured above is a 1981 F.W.D. tow truck (tow body and boom by another manufacturer, I am assuming CENTURY) owned and operated by the City of Milwaukee, Wis. The photo is from the John Hagen collection, and was taken in August of 2005. And therein closes our history lesson.

And, when we last left the 1958 F.W.D., it was owned and operated by the Harrisonville, NJ. Fire Company. The truck served them extremely well through the years, but like any other kind of machinery, when pushed hard, it will show it's age, and in the late 1980's, an in-house refurbishment of the truck was performed. All of the steel in the compartments had rotted out by this time, and it was cut out and new steel was welded in place. The truck was re-wired front to back, and other much-needed work was performed to extend the life, including (much to my dismay, but that's another story for another time)a paint job, from the original red to a darker "American Lafrance"-type maroon color. In the year 2001, the company decided that the truck no longer suited their needs, and was deemed excess, and it was decided that it would be sold off. And this is where the story of "The Possession" really and truly begins.......

NOTE: The following was written by myself a few years ago, so some of you may have seen it before. For the newer members of our studio audience however, rather than type it over again, here it is in it's entirety.

The young man was slightly depressed. He was an avid antique fire truck buff, and had wanted more than anything to be able to purchase his own antique to take to parades, musters and truck shows. He was in a position to be able to purchase one that he was interested in from a friend, however it was going to run him more than he currently had in his savings account. He attempted to obtain a loan from his bank, but not surprisingly they declined the loan. To know the young man, one would know that he would have to have a rare, hard-to-find kind of an antique, because that’s the way that he was. Many people out there had Mack’s, Hahn’s, Ford’s, GMC’s or Chevy rigs. This young man had to have something that not many people owned, “common” was not a word in his vocabulary. The particular truck that he wanted to purchase was pretty rare, not completely so, but rare enough (and in good enough condition) that he would not insult his friend by asking him to take a lesser amount than the asking price.

“Ok, thanks for the info, I appreciate it.” He thumbed the kill call button on his cell phone, and sat back in the chair for a moment. The young man was in the kitchen of his career firehouse, and had just received a phone call from the same gentleman that owned the rare truck that he had previously attempted to purchase. The gentleman, who had his finger “on the pulse of the antique fire truck world of southern New Jersey”, had called him to tell him that a truck that he may be interested in was for sale.

In addition to being a career firefighter, the young man was also an avid volunteer at a fire company in Montgomery County, Pa. This was the same company that his Father was a member of, having joined in 1957 when his father was 17. The young man, at the insistence of his father (hardly an ounce of “insistence” was needed) became a member the day of his 16th birthday.

The truck that was for sale by a Fire Company in Gloucester County, NJ, was delivered brand new to his volunteer company on March 17, 1959. She was a beautiful truck, manufactured by the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company, of Clintonville, Wisconsin. The Model F-725 pumper truck had a 750 gallon-per-minute pump, which was fed by a 500 gallon water tank when the truck was not connected to a fire hydrant. The massive hood contained a 544 cubic inch Waukesha gasoline engine, which was mated to a 5 speed Clark transmission. As the name of the manufacturer suggests, she was four wheel drive (full time, non-selectable) and she was BIG. The top of the hood alone was over 6 feet tall!

This was the very truck that the young man’s father had trained on to drive, and operate fire department water pumps. And, in the summer of 1976, when the young man was three and a half years old, Dad took him to his first parade aboard the very same truck. She had served the community well, but as she aged, the community had grown larger, and their fire protection needs changed. As a result, in July of 1978, she was sold to a very small farming community in Gloucester County NJ, for the sum of $3500 bucks.

With the phone call that he had just finished, the young man learned that the very first fire truck that he had ever ridden on was now for sale. The truck had to be in poor shape- almost 50 years old (at that time), small farm town Fire Department with small operating budget; it had to be a basket case. But one of the things that the young man did for his Company was to maintain a history of the fire apparatus that had served the company. So his interest in the FWD was piqued, and he dialed the telephone number that his friend had given him.

He was calling the Fire Chief of the small town that had the truck. He introduced himself, telling the Chief that he was a member of the Company that had previously owned the FWD. The Chief instantly warmed up to him, and spoke well of the truck; but that it was time to remove it from their roster. They already owned an antique (that was much older and extremely rare) that they wanted to direct their attention to, and they felt that the FWD was no longer useful to them as an active truck. It had served them just as well as it had served the young man’s company, and they were happy with it for the 25 years that they owned it. The young man explained that it was his desire to come down to their community, and take photographs of the truck before it departed to destinations unknown. The Chief was happy to accommodate him, and they set an appointment for the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend of 2001.

The young man then called his father. Their telephone conversations were always short and to the point. His father answered the phone with his usual, gruff “Hullo?”

“What are you doing Sunday?”

“Oh, hell, I don’t know, probably not much of anything.”

“Good”, the young man answered. “I’ll pick you up around 11. Don’t ask questions, we’re going for a ride.”

Now, when the young man told his father “Don’t ask questions”, that usually indicated that whatever was to about to transpire (in this case, the ride down to South Jersey) would be well worth his time. The young man had a habit of getting Dad and himself into all sorts of mischief, which usually involved large gasoline, diesel, or even steam engines of some sort.

The young man picked up Dad as promised that Sunday. It was a beautiful sunny May afternoon, and as they rode south on I295, the young man advised his Dad of the purpose of his kidnapping. Dad immediately went into memory retrieval mode, and carefully told every tale involving the 1958 FWD that he could think of. Dad was pretty sure that he was the last member of the company to drive her to a fire call, and also to be the last person to have pumper her at a working fire. He also told the young man of her condition when she left their fire company. It was not a happy time for the (then) 20-year old truck. Much of the steel in all of the compartments was well on its way to being rusted out (in fact Dad remembered that you could poke your finger through the rot holes in some of the compartments.) The clutch was well worn, she needed re-wiring, and the tires were all shot. Dad also remembered that the paint (1957 Chrysler “Tango Red”) was faded out. Not even liberal coats of wax would bring it out to a shine.

Surely the truck had to be a basket case. They arrived in the small town, and quickly found the “new” fire hall. The Chief and a few other members were waiting for them, and they took the young man and his dad down to the “old” fire hall where the truck (and their other antique) were stored. They parked out front, and the Chief went inside to raise the bay door. The door slowly rode upward, revealing the enormously tall hood of what appeared to be a monster truck. But it was not, it was the FWD herself, in all her glory. The Fire Department had invested a lot of time, love, and some money into a desperately needed “refurbishment” during the early to mid 1990’s. She was a much deeper red, almost an “American LaFrance” maroon, painted to match their 1963 Hahn pumper. She sported new tires all the way around (tube-type RADIALS!) was completely re-wired front to back, top to bottom, and the best thing of all- every compartment had new steel welded in, along with a newly constructed steel water tank. In short, she was gorgeous. The young man noted the admiring looks that Dad was giving the truck he had driven so long ago, and his own curiosity piqued.

The truck’s batteries, which were several years old, would not get her started, but the guys from the fire company knew just how to get her running. After a few minutes charging with a heavy charger, the chief jumped in, set the choke, and hit the starter. The 544 cubic inches of gasoline-powered Waukesha power came to life with a thunderous belch, and this is precisely when the young man knew he was in love with the truck. She idled roughly at first, popping and wheezing as old gas engines did when they were cold.
As it warmed up, he admiringly walked a lap around her, noting that the radiator cap was higher than his own eyes. He poked his head down under the front bumper, to take a look at the “pumpkin” on the front axle- each and every part of this truck screamed “heavy duty” at you.

When she was warmed up, they pulled her out of the old firehouse and up the short street to the front of the new firehouse. They parked her in the sun, and left her running to help charge the batteries. She was warmed up now, and purring like a kitten. The young man began to take pictures from every angle, admiring her lines. As he shot pictures, he made small talk with the fire chief. Dad came over, and pointed out a spot on one of the compartments. It was a line in the metal, not the paint. Something had damaged the steel of the compartment door, and no one had been able to repair it. Dad told the story of how he, and the young man’s uncle (for whom he was named, but the Uncle had passed away before the young man was born) were at a brush fire. The uncle had tried to drive the truck between two trees, but was obviously unsuccessful- the compartment door was pinched against a tree, and Dad had worked through the night after the accident, in an effort to fix the door before their fire chief found out. They were successful in hiding it, and the Chief never knew about the incident until several years later.

The young man listened as Dad and one of the old timers of the company “chewed the fat” about the truck. It was obvious that this old gentleman was upset about the truck leaving. He himself had been the Chief of the company when they bought it from the young man’s company; and in fact had come to their community to look it over, and then a week later to pick her up. Finally the young man spoke up when the current chief approached. “Hey, just out of curiosity, how much are you guys looking to get for her?”

Expecting an answer of anywhere from $5000 to $8000 bucks, the Chief contemplated for a second. Perhaps he was debating telling the young man something that you really shouldn’t tell people when you want as much as you can get for something….But perhaps he was also contemplating something that many fire companies contemplate when they sell an old truck that they are fond of- “Where will it go? What will they do with it? Will it get the love that it deserves?” The Chief spoke. “Well, we had an offer a few weeks ago from a guy for $3500, but we haven’t heard from him. She belonged to you guys originally, you should have her.” And with that, he winked at the young man.

The ride back north on I295 was a quiet one. Dad was lost in happy memories of the truck, and the gears in the young man’s head were spinning furiously. He wanted that truck. Not only was it rare (so rare in fact, that he only knew of one other like it in the tri-state area) but the sentimental value exceeded the monetary value by….well…..As the commercial says “priceless!”

The young man finally interrupted the silence. He would have to approach this one with care. He knew that Dad was in a state of mind where he could squeeze the right answer out of him if he squeezed just right. The young man had just gone through a costly divorce, and when he could not purchase the first fire truck that he wanted, he used those funds to pay off some of the divorce debt. He had some money in savings now, but he suspected not enough. Perhaps Dad would be interested in going “halfsies” on the truck. He didn’t beat around the bush, he just blurted out “You wanna go halfsies?”

Dad immediately got that look on his face that he gets when he is analyzing something inside his head. His forehead scrunched up (something that his first grandson does to this day when he thinks hard) and he put his hand to his chin. “Mmmmmmm….No. I don’t think so. You and I are too hard-headed with one another. I don’t think it would be a good idea…….”

“Shit”, the young man thought- that came out too quick, obviously he was thinking about it already……” Dad continued and interrupted the young man’s thought “but……I’m going to give you some money. YOU GET THAT TRUCK.”

And so. The young man worked his 24 hour shift at his career department on Memorial Day Monday. Upon finishing his shift that Tuesday, he immediately drove to his parent’s house. Mom gave him a check, which he immediately deposited into his account. He then drew a check for 10% of the figure that he wanted to offer the company. He went home, and got the fire chief on the line. He asked if he could bring down a written bid, and a 10% good-faith deposit. The Fire Chief agreed, and that afternoon the young man drove the check and bid back down to South Jersey. The Fire Chief advised him that their company meeting was the following Monday, that the company had to vote on the proposal. Because their meetings usually extended into the late hours, he promised to call the young man first thing in the morning Tuesday a week from then.

And the following Monday, late in the evening, the young man’s cell phone rang, with a strange number from South Jersey. His heart skipped a beat as he answered the phone. The Fire Chief congratulated him, and said “It’s all yours. The Company happily accepted your bid due to the fact that you are from the original company that owned her, and we want to see her go back.”

And so, for the sum of $3750 bucks, he was now the proud, third owner of a 1958 F.W.D. Model F-725, 750GPM pumper. The very pumper that he took his first fire truck ride on when he was three and a half. The very pumper that his father trained to drive on, and the very pumper that had a dented door, caused by his family nemesis. The second owners even made $250 bucks on the deal!

Not bad!

Friday, May 7, 2010

In the beginning........

Ok enough of my fellow antique owners (most especially Frank Billington in Tacoma, Wa.) have started these blogs, and I guess I am falling prey to some sort of subliminal peer pressure. Some strange force in my head has been whispering lately "blog about the about the truck...." So, here we are. I am no stranger to blogging, many of you know that I post items of interest or write occasionally to my "notes" in Facebook. But I suppose that this will be a bit more formal. I hope everyone enjoys the antics, stories, ravings, delusions, and tirades of one antique firetruck owner.

The Four Wheel Drive Auto Company was the partnership of two German immigrants (Zachow and Besserdich) who immigrated to Clintonville, Wisconsin in the early 1900's. They used their German engineering backgrounds to develop a powered steering axle (a very early descendant of the modern-day constant velocity joint) which they installed on their automobile chassis. Being in the middle of the snow belt, the all wheel drive automobile quickly proved it's worthiness in both the winter snow and the spring mud.

Eventually, the F.W.D. Auto Company was formed and incorporated. The manufacture of automobiles was abandoned in favor of larger truck chassis, which were in great demand by the United States Army as well as Great Britain, in anticipation of World War I. Post-War, the F.W.D. Corporation built many different kinds of specialized all-wheel-drive truck chassis. They were in great demand by customers who needed them to operate in inclement weather and whatever remained after the inclement weather. They were also sought by customers not especially interested in the all wheel drive capabilities, but for the quality and durability the trucks also became known for, especially fire apparatus. Many different kinds of fire apparatus were manufactured by F.W.D. starting in the late 1920's up until the mid to late 1970's. Pumpers, Tankers, Aerials, ARFF trucks, Brush rigs, Etc. You name it, they probably built it.

F.W.D. Model F-725, Serial Number F80438 was ordered in December of 1958, by the Bryn Athyn Fire Company, of Bryn Athyn, Pa. It was delivered by the salesman on March 19, 1959. It had a 140GZ Waukeshau gasoline engine, producing 228 horsepower, which powered the all wheel drive chassis through a Clark 5-speed transmission. The fire pump was a 750 GPM Waterous pump, and the truck had a 500 gallon tank. She served the Bryn Athyn Fire Company extremely well throughout the years. My father learned to drive firetrucks and operate fire pumps on this very truck. It is also the very first firetruck I ever rode on. Dad took me to a parade in Bridgeport, Pa. in August of 1976.

The truck eventually grew tired, and a new 1978 Hahn pumper was ordered to replace it. The F.W.D. was sold in July of 1978 to the Harrisonville, NJ (Gloucester County) Fire Company. It served out the rest of it's useful firefighting life in this small farming community in southern NJ up until the year 2001, when it was placed up for sale.

And this is where it all begins......More later. (Photo above of the truck when it was fairly new, probably summer of 1959 or so....)