History’s Corner – January 2020

Looking back over the last fifty or so years that I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in the fire service, lots of changes have taken place. One of the major modifications has been the evolution of fire apparatus.

The first rig I remember riding on as a kid was a 1942 GMC/Central that is still in use today as a parade and PR piece in the O’Fallon Fire Protection District. It was purchased around the time my Dad was the fire chief there. 

O’Fallon Fire Protection District 1942 GMC/Central

I viewed a Facebook photo recently that showed it in a fire apparatus parade at the 26th annual JEFFCO Apparatus Muster. The box on the running board with the angled top was built by my Dad. It held several army surplus type parka coats with hoods for winter use by volunteers who would normally run out of their places of business on Main Street without their coats when the town fire siren sounded.

O’Fallon is also the proud owners of a 1927 Chevy front mount pumper purchased around the time my Grandfather was the fire chief. 

O’Fallon FPD 1927 Chevrolet Pumper

Branson has retained ownership of a 1937 beauty and uses it in the many parades and other community functions that occur in the community. Since Branson is definitely a tourist destination, they love parades! There is a huge Christmas season parade and one of the largest Veteran’s Day parades in the state.

It looks like the Dodge dealer did well in South Missouri with three rigs on Dodge trucks. 

The photo below shows the three apparatus that were in our collection at one time. We are now down to one rig, the 1939 Chevrolet/Central shown on the far right in this photo.

The 1948 American LaFrance was originally an engine from the Stillwater Oklahoma Fire Department and was in the Campus Fire Station when I was in school at OSU. I rode the tail-board of that rig several times, as well as driving it as a reserve engineer. It was my intention to restore it to its original “white” color but sold it to a local insurance agent before I accomplished it.

Stillwater Oklahoma Engine 37 in all its glory in service at the Campus Fire Station, Oklahoma State University.

The Chevrolet in the middle was purchased from Joe Jackson and is a 1948 one ton. Elaine and I donated that rig to “Kids Across America” for their camp in Branson.

The 1939 engine has been in our family for over forty years, 42 to be exact, with a purchase date of August 28, 1978, and has see parade duty in Columbia, Missouri and Stillwater, Oklahoma and now Branson. It has been featured in dozens of weddings, including daughters and grand daughters as well as lots of kids and big kids birthday’s. It is also unique that the rig and I share the same birth year. 

1939 Chevrolet/Central – Westhoff Collection

My first view of it was when I was teaching a class for MU at the Montgomery City, Missouri Fire Department sometime in the mid to late 1970’s. At the time I expressed interest in the truck but it was in use as a reserve unit. A year or two later the city clerk sent me a request to bid and we were the successful bidders and as the story goes, the rest is history.

When we purchased it, the truck was painted red. Several months after I took it home, I was speaking at a fire station dedication at Marthasville and had lunch with Jack Manning. At the time he was the chief mechanic for the St. Louis Fire Department. Earlier in life, he was a sales representative for Central Fire Truck Corporation in St. Louis.

I told him I had purchased the truck and his response was “it was one of the first white fire trucks he had seen built by Central.” When I told him it was red his response was, “I’ll have you know that I delivered that G.D. truck. We shot water over the court house and the son of a #%$& was painted white.” Shortly thereafter it was painted white and remains that color. 

There was still another more recent addition to the family collection that didn’t last near as long as the 39’. A couple of years after we moved to Branson I learned there was an annual huge antique car and truck auction there each year. 

To make this story as short as possible, and as painless, I will just say I went there and purchased the rig in the picture. Then went home to get the checkbook to pay for the truck and face the music with Elaine about the purchase. The most important part of this story is that I had failed to tell her I was even going to the auction! 

A couple of years later a dentist in Kansas City became the proud owner of this classic for about half of the original purchase price. That incident brought about the demise of my fire truck collecting days.

1966 Ford/Ozark Firemaster 750 front mount

Since this article got long quickly and was fun, I think we will repeat this subject for our next article. The most important reason is that there are really serious collectors in the state that have done truly epic jobs of finding and restoring some of their department’s apparatus. The next article will feature their efforts in detail and most of these efforts have taken place in one of the most outstanding department in the state. Care to guess where?