National WW2 Museum renovating 1943 home front fire truck
The National World War II Museum is taking apart a fire engine. It was made for the military home front in 1943. It expects to have it rolling and ready for display in two or three years.
The fire truck is 25 feet long. It is a Ford-American LaFrance. When it was new, it would have carried four firefighters. Two of them would stand on the rear running board.
Steve Owen is from Pell City, Alabama. He donated it in 2009. "I can't tell you how happy I am to know they're restoring it," he said Wednesday.
It's currently a weathered red. It has bits of earlier paint jobs showing through. It will be repainted olive drab. That's the color all U.S. military fire trucks were painted after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, said Tom Czekanski. He is the museum's restoration manager.
He said that color change was ordered because the red fire trucks were bombed first. Honolulu's civilian firefighters responded.
The truck was made in 1943. The museum hasn't been able to learn where its truck served during World War II. It was certainly military because that was the only reason for which vehicles could be made during the war, Czekanski said. He believes it was used at an Army base in Alabama.
Owen's father was a firefighter. Owen spotted the truck sitting in front of the Dallas-Selfville Volunteer Fire Department. It is in Trafford, Alabama. That was in 1984 or 1985. It had a "for sale" sign on it.
"I turned around and I bought it on the spot," he said.
He can't recall the cost. "It wasn't a terrible big amount or I wouldn't have bought it," he said.
"I sure enjoyed it. It had the sound and the smell of the fire trucks that I remember riding in when I was a little kid. You weren't supposed to ride around on the truck. But I'd sit on top of the fire hoses and they'd cover me up with a tarp, because I loved to ride in those things," Owen recalled.
"I kept it running for several years and I would take kids around on it," he said. "Then I let it set up too long in the yard and it got run down."
Owen said he'd been thinking about donating it when Pell City mailed him a notice. They said he had to get the truck running or get it out of his yard.
"That was the kick in the pants I needed," Owen said.
A flatbed hauled the truck to a warehouse. It was a few blocks from the museum. That is its current restoration headquarters.
Work began in January. Nearly every piece will be unbolted. They will be inspected. And they will be repaired if necessary. Then every piece will be cleaned. They will be repainted. And they will be put in working order. The seats lean against the front of an aircraft tractor. Their vinyl covers are in great shape. But the springs are partly filled with what probably were mouse nests.
Large parts are shelved or piled on the warehouse floor. These include the fenders and pieces of the hood. Smaller pieces are in labeled Zip-Loc bags. The engine is still on the chassis. It was replaced at some point with a model other than the original. The museum is looking for the right model. It's a lot of work. But it’s worth it.
"We were intrigued," Czekanski said, "at the idea of a vehicle used on the home front during World War II."