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Monday, August 4, 2014

Work is underway to restore 1938 fire truck

Jim Bailey remembers the first time driving the ’38.

“It went through my mind, thinking back who the guys were that drove this back in the day,” he said standing beside the carefully restored 1938 International Maxim fire truck, the first piece of new equipment the town of Merrimack ever purchased. ...

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Jim Bailey remembers the first time driving the ’38.

“It went through my mind, thinking back who the guys were that drove this back in the day,” he said standing beside the carefully restored 1938 International Maxim fire truck, the first piece of new equipment the town of Merrimack ever purchased.

“I can just envision them on their way to a fire, and to see the glow in the sky of someone’s house fully involved, and you’re miles away from it...” he trails off.

“Knowing that there’s people desperately needing your help, and this thing is to the floor boards, with all the
horsepower it had. I just feel bad for the guys that wanted to get there as soon as they could, seeing that glow in the sky, doing their best,.” he said.

“You had two guys in the cab and the rest of the crew would stand on the back tailboard of the truck,” said Chris Wyman, a call firefighter in town and a New Hampshire fire investigator. “If it was 10 degrees out and the truck was doing 40 miles an hour, you figure out the wind chill factor.”

The truck has been in a constant state of renovation since 2006. It’s home is the Reed’s Ferry firehouse on the Daniel Webster Highway.

“It served from 1938 until sometime in 1980. Although it still needs some TLC,” said Wyman, “she’s still a fully functioning fire truck, believe it or not.”

After the truck was taken out of service, it was turned over to Merrimack Firefighters Association.

“Physically it was in tough shape,” said Wyman.

The association’s goal, he said, is to make the rig look nicer and more presentable.

“We really like to use the truck as a PR thing for the department.”

Wyman said he believes the last time the truck was used was at a fire on Jebb Road. State Fire Marshall Bill Degnan was a town firefighter at the time and took the truck on its last building fire.

“We’ve been raising funds since we started the restoration,” said Wyman. Those fundraisers included boot drives outside of Tractor Supply and rides at a car show for donation.

At a recent Homestead Restaurant fundraiser, when patrons gave an association’s brochure to their server when paying their tab, 50 percent of the food portion was donated to the association. Efforts over the last month brought in an estimated $1,500, he said.

The truck’s water tank has been removed, but the rest of it has been brought back to as close to original condition as possible. Nozzles, spanner wrenches and toolbox have all been placed on board. The truck’s three original intake hoses and wooden ladder are firmly attached. A rotating beacon, not original but dating from the 1950s, adorns the top and adds flair to its public appearances.

The pump, capable of moving 500 gallons of water a minute, has been taken apart and fully rebuilt. Its seals are leather, original as built. A solid coat of traditional red paint covers the entire truck.

Bailey, who runs Bailey’s Towing and Auto Body in Merrimack and estimates he has 300 hours into the restoration project.

“The guys from the association would go down to Jim’s shop and help Jim out. Nights, weekends, whenever we had the time to meet up with Jim,” said Wyman.

“It was definitely a restorable piece,” said Bailey. “It was a labor of love.”

With much of the cosmetic work done, the ongoing issue is maintenance and general upkeep - brakes, radiator work and water pump. The dashboard needs restoring and the group is looking to put in an original, or close to it, headliner in the ceiling of the cab.

Last year the rear brakes were replaced. It took over 6 months to find parts.

Bailey and Wyman agree the work is rewarding in many ways. Beyond being a powerful public relations tool, it’s an important piece of fire department and town history, says Wyman.

Association president Tim Dutton said, “you stop at a red light and they all want you to hit the siren,” he said. “It turns heads.”

“Everyone loves the ‘38,” said Wyman.

People interested in donating to the ongoing restoration of Merrimack’s 1938 fire engine can send an email to Tim Dutton at Duttont@comcast.net

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or DHimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).