July 5th, 2011

Restored fire engine on parade

In the news these days is a beautifully restored 1924 American LaFrance fire engine owned by the City of Anacortes (pictured above at 2011 Fourth of July parade). The following is an article I wrote in 1997 about the beginning of the restoration process:

By Steve Berentson

One of the star attractions at the 1924 World’s Fair found a home in Anacortes 76 years ago. Now you are invited to assist an enthusiastic group of admirers eager to restore her beauty.

The star in question is an open cab American LaFrance fire engine, purchased directly from the display floor at the World’s Fair in San Francisco. Her specs include 1,000-gallon water capacity, 6-cyclinder motor, triple combination pumping, chemical and hose car.

Because the truck was on display for the world to see, it boasted just a couple of weeks ago guests at the Anacortes Fire Department’s annual open house discovered several restored classic fire trucks including the 1921 LaFrance pictured on this issue’s front page. That truck was purchased and restored by a group of Mount Vernon firemen. They also saw pieces of the 1924 Anacortes LaFrance, currently disassembled for restoration work.

When long-time Anacortes resident and classic car buff Loren Knutsen heard Tidrington was seriously pursuing the Anacortes restoration project, he offered his assistance, including a trip to the mayor’s office to seek “seed money” for the project.

“My thought was, Chuck’s knocking on doors … he’s going to need some help,” said Knutsen. “This fire truck is an asset to the city. It’s a way to preserve history and it’s a great way to get kids interested in the fire department and the job they do.”

Tidrington, who discovered the truck in the cinderblock fire hall addition known by firemen as the “museum,” quickly accomplished his initial goal of getting the truck running. It has since attracted admiring eyes once again in local parades and at the Vintage Car Show held in conjunction with the Anacortes Arts Festival.

Even though it was running, however, the fire engine was in dire need of renovation. Over the years rust has done damage to the body. Several coats of paint were applied over the top of intricate gold leaf detail work. Upholstery was torn, parts and accessories were ravaged by the elements.

“I started talking to people about renovation,” noted Tidrington, “and the responses I got were good.”

Mayor Maxwell and the City Council agreed to provide $5,000 seed money to get the project rolling. Skilled restoration volunteers lined up, including Knutsen, Bill Blix, John Greenwald, Jack Richardson, Clay Leming and Bill Cox.

Local businesses offering materials, equipment and expertise to date include Stewart’s Auto Body, Piston Service, Anacortes Auto and Grace Towing (to pull the engine from the chassis and replace it when it’s been restored).

“Professionals,” noted Knutsen, “will be utilized to do specialized work like upholstery, gold leafing and chrome plating. It will be authentic when it’ done.”

Tidrington notes that the fire department still has the original owner’s manual for the truck, a hardbound book complete with driving instructions and schematics. There is also an original parts list that will be invaluable when it comes down to details like matching the original red paint.

Full restoration involves painstaking work from the chassis on up. Those who visited the fire hall open house saw the 1924 American LaFrance chassis “separated” temporarily from the body that is being sanded and painted.

“This truck is the property of the citizens of Anacortes,” noted Tidrington. “It is the only (1924 LaFrance) fire truck I know of that was done to this level of detail. The city has agreed to partially fund the restoration, and many businesses and individuals have also stepped forward, but we need more financial help to do the job right.”

“This is a neat project,” said Knutsen. “But at the same time, restoration of the degree we’re talking about is expensive. We’re going to need some help.”

Donations can be made to the Anacortes Antique Fire Truck Fund through City Hall or the Fire Department. Call Tidrington if you have any questions.

Published October 29, 1997

Fidalgo Magazine

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About Photographer Steve Berentson

A fourth generation Skagit County native who was moved kicking and screaming from this island community in 1960. I finally reclaimed an Anacortes address in 1980, and I have been in constant celebration of my return since that time. Many of us who call Anacortes home love Fidalgo Island for its natural assets: among them are rugged beaches, pristine lakes, thousands of acres of forestland and some awesome views of the Skagit Valley and surrounding islands. Another element of my love affair with this community is its people, both natives and immigrants. They will “star” in many of my journal entries.

Photos are available for use as prints and online use. Please contact me for pricing.

$12 for 5 X 7 inch archival print, mailing included.

All Photos are © Steve Berentson. All rights reserved.

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