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!

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