by Candace Brown
Little goes unnoticed in the small town of Black Diamond, Washington, in the foothills of the Cascade Range. One day in 2012, a girl named Ashley Armstrong was riding in the car with her grandmother when she saw a flatbed truck from a wrecking yard hauling a piece of local history—a 1947 Ford fire engine she had seen in photos at the Black Diamond Museum.
Soon her great-grandfather, former mayor Gomer Evans, heard about her sighting. He contacted his friend, Joe Androsko, who became the ramrod of an amazing restoration. It was Androsko who not only did a great deal of work on the project, but also motivated many good-hearted people to donate money, labor, and materials.
On the day Vintage Fire Truck & Equipment visited, the restored fire engine stood outside the old train depot that now houses the museum run by the Black Diamond Historical Society. Inside, several local retirees, including 79-year-old Androsko, shared stories about the former company-owned mining town and its historic fire engine.
“It was headed to the smasher to get smashed for scrap!” Androsko said. “I knew the guy who was towing it, so Gomer and I went down there so I could talk to him. It’s got the original lights on it, on the cab. That’s the original siren, and it works like a million bucks.”
Ninety-year-old Joe Zumek still remembers the engine’s early days. He and his brothers, Tom and Frank, all served as volunteer firemen, and Tom was the first fire chief.
“It was something to see, I’ll tell you,” Zumek recalled. “Riding a fire engine was big time. We were very fortunate to get a piece of equipment like that. Before that, we had no fire protection to speak of.”
“I think the biggest fire we had was the night the church burned down,” said Don Malgarini, another former volunteer fireman, recalling a dramatic day in January of 1959. “We had temperatures well below freezing, and the east wind was blowing hard—like 35–40 miles an hour. That church took off, and we thought we were going to lose the whole town.”
The Black Diamond Coal Mining Co. of Nortonville, California, moved north and established Black Diamond, Washington, in the early 1880s, bringing not only mining equipment, but also miners and their families. Eventually, the mines would employ thousands of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Together, they built a community that remains close-knit, decades after the mines closed.
Fire apparatus amounted to hand carts in the beginning, followed by an early open-cab engine. After several devastating infernos, Black Diamond’s citizens rejoiced in 1943 at the formation of the all-volunteer King County Fire Protection District No. 17. Three years after that, the department bought a new 1946 Ford fire engine. A decade later this issue’s featured 1947 Ford joined the department as a used piece of equipment. The body had been built on a 1-1/2-ton Ford chassis by the Howard-Cooper Corp., which started in Portland, Oregon, in 1912 and lasted until 1957.
Former Fire Chief Keith Timm, more than 90 years old when interviewed before his death in 2015, joined at the age of 24 after returning from military service in World War II. He remembered the 1947 Ford still in the station when he left in 1976.
“It served us well for a lot of years, that old truck,” he said. “We never had any problems with it. When we could, we’d pump out of Lake Sawyer.”
The retired Ford was stored at the home of the late Evan Morris, (whose family later graciously donated the $2,500, 12-foot replica ladder). When Morris could no longer keep the engine, someone else did. Eventually, it ended up parked on forested property near the Green River Gorge, four miles east of town, out of sight and out of mind for about 17 years, where it rotted.
With Androsko came hope for the Ford’s survival, partly because of his gregarious nature. His lifelong friendships, connections, and ability to persuade would prove invaluable, except when he tried to talk the wrecking yard owner out of the old fire engine. It was horribly rusted; how could it be worth much? A six-inch-thick layer of moss covered the water tank, and in the middle of that, a young cedar tree had grown to about four feet in height. Regardless of the engine’s condition, the wrecking yard owner wanted plenty for it when Androsko and Evans caught up with him at his home.
“I tried to get it for nothing,” Androsko said, “and he wouldn’t budge.”
Androsko phoned the historical society for approval before writing a personal check for the asking price of $2,500 (for which he was repaid). He stipulated that the truck be hauled to his own property, where it remained throughout the restoration. After it arrived, he and his friends stood and stared at it, trying to decide what to do next.
“I’m a big-mouth,” Androsko admitted, “So I said, ‘Well, you can use my shop, and I’ll use my labor.’ And I had some friends who are up in age who would help.”
It took an air hammer to break loose the 30 to 40 solidly rusted bolts on each running board, and there were more on the back bumper. Androsko cut out half of the bottom of the rotted 500-gallon water tank and inserted a donated 150-gallon stainless steel tank, just so they could pump water for demonstrations. He skillfully used a sand blaster, loaned to him by Steve Pausheck, to strip down every part of the truck. With Evans handling the compressor and pouring sand in the hopper—about 70 bags worth—it took a week. Androsko also completely replaced the brakes, front and rear, but these were not the major challenges.
“The cab was no good,” he said. “It was rotted out. We couldn’t fix it. Fred’s Towing in Enumclaw had a much better cab just like it and gave it to us.”
A volunteer named Glenn Carrier, with 35 years of professional bodywork experience, cut it in two at the windshield and floorboard so he could incorporate it into the fire truck. He also did the painting, with paint donated by NAPA Auto Parts in nearby Covington. Duane and Linda Cameron paid for $1,800 worth of chrome work.
“I worked on it for about a year and a half,” Carrier said. “I welded the thing together; then it was just grind, sand, pound, and paint.”
“We started putting it together,” Androsko said. “We had the cab on, so we put the engine in and started it up without the radiator or the front end on, to see how it would run. It ran just like a sewing machine.”
Credit for the perfectly running engine goes to Barney Carnino, who had his own automotive shop in Black Diamond for 33 years. Still busy, he was 94 when he painstakingly rebuilt the 100hp Ford 59A flathead and the 4-speed transmission, all at no charge.
“That guy is spry,” said Keith Watson, president of the Black Diamond Historical Society. “He can get underneath that truck with no problem. They just wanted to get down and do it, just get it done. It’s perfection plus.”
With the truck in Androsko’s own shop, he put in many hours of work when no one else was around, maintaining the project’s momentum. Back at the museum, everyone agreed that the restoration would never have happened without him.
“If it weren’t for that guy, we couldn’t have afforded it,” Malgarini said, pointing to Androsko. “If we had to pay for all the engine work and the paint, it would have taken a lot more time. But with all these donations Joe got, we got it done in under three years.”
“It was Joe,” Evans agreed in a phone interview. “You can’t believe what he got for free. I couldn’t have done it, and I don’t know anybody else who could have done it. We just contributed the little bit we could contribute. He was the guy who pushed it through.”
Over lunch at Black Diamond Pizza & Deli, located in the former confectionary where Androsko bought candy as a kid, we asked what he likes best about his town’s restored fire truck.
“I like the way the engine runs—how it sounds,” he said. “I like the paint and the way all the bodywork turned out. It just shocks me to see this truck now, compared to when we started.”
People who know Androsko are not shocked at all.
The Black Diamond Museum is located at 32627 Railroad Ave., Black Diamond, WA 98010. Phone 360-886-2142 or visit www.blackdiamondmuseum.org. Special thanks to Black Diamond Historical Society President Keith Watson for his help and to Benjamin Gingrich for the use of his property for the photo shoot.