I purchased the 1919 Model TT Ford/American LaFrance chemical and hose fire engine in 2009 from Bob Taylor, the retired Healdsburg, California, fire chief. He had purchased the fire engine from the city and reassembled the vehicle.
While the fire engine had all of the parts necessary to restore the chemical tank system, much of the other fire equipment on the vehicle had disappeared over the years.
I first attempted to restore the wood body and frame. But it was too far deteriorated for a decent restoration so I replicated each part in my wood shop, which consumed much of my first year of restoring the vehicle.
All of the metal supporting brackets that supported the tanks, the hose basket and other structural parts of the vehicle had been riveted to the wood, and it was a major task to replace the rivets without damaging the new wood.
The fire engine has an aftermarket Moore auxiliary transmission that gives the truck two additional lower speeds. Unfortunately, Moore transmissions are notorious for jumping out of gear. Since the Moore is mounted in the driveline, that issue became a serious safety concern. So we had to design a shift lever that would prevent the gears in the Moore from disengaging (leaving the vehicle without driving brakes).
I also added Rocky Mountain brakes to ensure that the vehicle could be stopped if the transmission ever did jump out of gear.
Fire departments preferred solid rubber tires on all four wheels so there would be no flat tires. Restoring the rear solid rubber tires and getting new hickory spokes and felloes installed professionally became another challenge.
I found a company in Portland that normally restores solid rubber fork lift wheels and after a lot of talking, they vulcanized new rubber on the original rear wheel rims before I sent the wheels to Michigan for new hickory spokes and felloes. The solid rubber front tires on the fire engine are original TT, now approaching 95 years of age.
From the Healdsburg Museum, I was able to obtain a very grainy original photo from the local newspaper of the fire engine on the day it was delivered.
I also located five other 1919 ALF Type C and Type E fire engines in the U.S. that still had their original factory paint, striping, lettering and much of their fire equipment. I was able to obtain detailed photos of each of these vehicles and we used those photos to replicate the original configuration of this fire engine as it would have been when it was new.
The restoration was completed in March. For me, this project, along with the other two Model T/TT fire engines that I have already restored, is a labor of love.
I served as a volunteer firefighter/EMT in six different fire departments as I moved around during my professional career outside the fire service. I was a volunteer fire chief for five years.
The history of the evolution of firefighting equipment is very interesting and an important part of our nation’s heritage.
Wes Melo of Winchester worked in the forestry and forest products industries for about 30 years and then for Ingram Books for 16 years before retiring four years ago at age 67. His father was a volunteer fire chief for 52 years. Wes Melo grew up responding to fire alarms with his father, igniting the son’s interest in fire engines and equipment.