The McPherson Fire Department took a new vehicle to the All Schools Day parade this year. The rusty 1928 American LaFrance 112 PWT fire truck does not run, but plans are in place to have the piece of McPherson history fully restored.
McPherson Fire Department Lt. William Lulloff heard about the fire truck from a firefighter in St. Louis, Missouri. That man had been contacted by the sons of the truck's recently deceased owner.
After researching an American LaFrance record book, it was determined that the fire truck had been built for McPherson.
"It had the VIN number and it showed McPherson was the community that bought it," Lulloff said. "It showed the model and the delivery date, which was Oct. 23, 1928. ...Everyone was excited and said we had to do whatever it takes to get this done."
The 1928 fire truck was one of the first motorized vehicles used by the department. In fact, the only other vehicle known to be used after horse-drawn carts was a 1920 ladder truck.
Lulloff put together a scrapbook of records about the fire truck, which includes several black-and-white photographs posed in front of a school with students standing in the back of the vehicle.
"We'd love to find the kids of the kids who are in that picture so they can identify them," said McPherson Fire Chief T.J. Wyssmann.
Other records about the fire truck have yet to be found — including when it was taken out of service and sold.
"We want to know where it went from us and then where it went from them and track it all," Lulloff said. "We want to go full circle and find its way back to us."
The latest photograph in the scrapbook is labeled "circa 1942." Lulloff thinks the fire truck may have been sold between 1948 and 1950.
"We've kept trucks for 20 years — that's been the standard," Lulloff said.
The fire truck's most recent owner had had it for about 20 years — leaving around 50 years of history a complete mystery.
The first step in bringing the fire truck back to McPherson and its former glory was buying it, a purchase made possible by a $8,000 donation from Terry Hedlund, president of Hedlund Electric.
Lulloff was one of those who went to pick up the fire truck and he admitted he was a little giddy when he first saw it.
"I was excited," Lulloff said. "I mean, how are you supposed to act when you put your hands on a 1928 truck?"
The antique vehicle has several interesting features — and a few unique modifications.
The fire truck came with wooden-spoked wheels, but has no rear axle.
"One of the neat things about it is it's a chain-drive truck," Lulloff explained.
The vehicle was also equipped with a six-cylinder engine.
"Modern six-cylinder engines are maybe 200 cubic inches; this six-cylinder is a 904-cubic inch," Lulloff said. "It is a monster of a motor."
The steering wheel on the fire truck and the pump controls are on the right side of the vehicle, something that Wyssmann pointed out was intended to keep those who were driving it safe.
"When we go to a fire ... they wanted you to stay over (to the right) so you could bring all the traffic by," Wyssmann said.
Firefighters could pump 750 gallons of water per minute from the fire truck's tank.
"It originally came with a 135-gallon water tank; that wasn't enough for McPherson," Lulloff said.
With some creative welding, the tank capacity was increased to 235 gallons.
While the fire truck came with a siren, which still works, it did not come with a windshield. The McPherson Fire Department removed the spotlight mounted on top of the square frame in front of the driver, added a windshield to protect those in the front seats and installed an oscillating red light on the front of the hood.
"You catch people's attention with it," Lulloff said. "It was basically the start of the flashing lights."
Catching attention is just what the McPherson Fire Department hopes to accomplish with the antique fire truck.
"Since they used to take it to the schools and do fire safety with it, we want to do a full-on restoration, make everything work like it did when McPherson originally owned it, and we're going to do parades, public service and fire safety with the kids," Lulloff said. "We'll drive this truck and we'll drive our new truck and we'll let them see the difference between the '20s and the 2000s."
Restoring the fire truck will take time — and approximately $150,000.
"That's a lot of money we need to raise," Lulloff said. "...We're trying to do this with no tax dollars, strictly with donations."
Wyssmann said the fire department will try to keep the 1928 fire truck in the public's eye as much as possible throughout its restoration process.
"It's a piece of history," Wyssmann said. "It belongs to the city and it belongs to the citizens."
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.