The world of vintage firefighting apparatus is so full of amazing, purpose-built machinery that it takes a lot to catch our jaded eye. When Marc Minarik sent us pictures of his unusual “Bushwacker,” we immediately wanted to know more about it.
VFT&E Marc, what is this thing? It looks like a real beast.
MM It’s my 1956 Ford C-500 COE, open-cab, King-Seagrave with Marmon-Herrington all-wheel drive. It is powered by a 272ci Y-block V-8 and has a synchronized transmission and 12-volt electrical system. It was built to serve as a Canadian artillery range tender. These 1956 Fords might look odd, with the short wheelbase, tall body, and stubby hood, but they were purpose-built to copy a vehicle the Canadians built during World War II! I actually own two of them.
VFT&E Tell us briefly about the WWII vehicle on which your Bushwacker is based.
MM Canada built more than a half-million Canadian Military Pattern class (CMP) trucks for the war effort from 1940 to 1945—209,000 of which were 4-wheel-drive, 3-ton units. To give you an idea of how much the CMP class impacted the war, realize that Canada built more CMP trucks alone than all of Nazi Germany’s truck lines combined! One thing that influenced the CMP’s strong, rectangular shape so much was a British Army specification that the finished vehicles be stackable so they could be transported by ship. The specs also required the CMP trucks to have right-hand drive. Chevrolet and Ford of Canada collaborated in the CMP’s conception, development, and production.
CMPs built by Chevrolet had 6-cylinder engines; the Fords had 239ci, 95hp V-8s, and the unit’s name tells you who built it (“F” for Ford, “C” for Chevy), its weight class (“60” designates a 3-ton chassis), and wheelbase (“S” for short, and “L” for long). In Ford’s case, the short wheelbase measured 115 inches; the longer Ford wheelbase was 158.25 inches. The CMP had a short, cab-over layout that created a distinctive, flat-face look, and the British Commonwealth allies used the trucks for all kinds of purposes. Fire-suppression rigs built on the F60S would become the template for the run of 1956 Ford/King-Seagrave range tenders. A key feature on the F60S fire vehicle was pump-and-roll ability, which is why Ford and Chevrolet incorporated a Wajax-style, pull-start pump into the trucks.
VFT&E Tell us about the 1956 version.
MM The Canadian government ordered a batch of open-cab rigs for the Army Fire Service in 1956. They were purpose-built to travel out onto the artillery range in the warmer months and put out bomb fires. I say “warmer months” because there is snow on the artillery ranges in Canada in winter, which means there are no fires. The open cabs are quite nice up there in the spring and summer, I hear.
The government sent out the specs it wanted the new bomb range tenders to meet—it was the same list as the CMP fire-suppression trucks from WWII. It asked fire companies to bid on 11 identical trucks to be built on 1956 chassis. King-Seagrave was awarded the contract at $8,800 per unit—that’s nearly $78,000 in today’s money.
VFT&E At that point in its history, King-Seagrave was a “new” Canadian company built after the closure of Bickle-Seagrave. So, these range tenders were Canadian trucks?
MM Hold on. Before you put away your stars-and-stripes and reach for the maple leaf, it turns out these bomb range tenders were about two-thirds American and one-third Canadian.
VFT&E How do you figure?
MM A few things. First, Ford built the C-500 cowls and chassis in the United States. Second, all chassis were shipped to Marmon-Herrington in the U.S. for the conversion to all-wheel-drive. Those are the two-thirds of U.S. DNA. In Canada, King-Seagrave built the fire apparatus. The Canadian government ordered their construction, but I feel a footnote about the U.S. side of things is appropriate.
The short-wheelbase Ford C-500 cowl and chassis and all-wheel-drive conversion were easy to order in 1956, but everything past that had to be fabricated or located. For example, those crazy windshields look similar to what jeeps had, and the brass components look like they were sourced from a boat manufacturer. I’m thinking specifically of stuff I’ve seen on Chris Craft boats. It seems like King-Seagrave was really trying to match that original CMP design.
Another example: look at the front sprayer system on the 1956 Ford, in the old, black-and-white photos, that is controlled from the cab. It is almost identical to the CMP military unit from WWII.
VFT&E It sounds like you have spent a lot of time studying this.
MM Oh yeah, here is another fun factoid. All of these range tenders are 1956 Fords that, get this, are titled as 1958 models. Why, you ask? Because King-Seagrave took two years to complete the order. Ouch! It gets worse. In the original contract—of which I have a copy—it states several times the vehicles will be delivered eight weeks after receiving the chassis at the rate of two per week. Well, they missed that one by a country mile. I have in my collection some “progress” photos that were sent from King-Seagrave to the Canadian government. One shows a door hinge opening being leaded in and ground smooth on the doorjamb. It’s like they were saying, “See, we really are working on your trucks. Honest!”
After close examination of original delivery photos, post-delivery photos, and several images of rigs right after they were spun out of military service and off to fire houses in Canada, it appears that King-Seagrave was plagued with material supply problems during this 11-vehicle build. I believe this, based on the build variations from rig to rig. Of the two 1956 range tenders I own, all the shortages seem to show themselves on one rig.
VFT&E Such as?
MM First, it seems the company that supplied the unique square diamond plate ran short during production, requiring King-Seagrave’s fabricators to delete certain areas of square diamond plate in several of the rigs. Most obvious of these is the kick plate by the doorjamb on the cowl side. Other rigs have this area completely covered with a clean, fitted piece of square diamond plate. One of my range tenders has the diamond plate, and one does not.
Second, some of the hose reels are solid-sided, and some are spoke-sided, which suggests to me that there was a shortage. The dimensions and capacities of the hose reels are the same, however. One of my range tenders has a solid reel, and the other truck has a spoked reel.
Finally, getting a full order of fender-mounted sirens apparently plagued King-Seagrave. Some rigs were sent out with only one siren mounted on the driver-side fender, instead of a siren on each side. There are template holes drilled on both fenders of the vehicles. If a siren was attached, an additional hole was drilled for a lens-retaining ring bolt. Single-siren rigs do NOT have this extra hole in the passenger-side fender, suggesting the siren was planned but never arrived. One of my range tenders is drilled for both sirens, and one is drilled for only a driver-side unit.
VFT&E Do you know the fates of the 11 trucks?
MM Not all 11 C-500 range tenders made it out of military service intact. As of this interview, only four are known to have survived—two in the U.S. and two in Canada. I own the two that are in the U.S. When new, the trucks were delivered to Valcartier, Quebec; Kingston, Ontario; Picton, Ontario; Petawawa, Ontario; Shilo, Manitoba; Regina, Saskatchewan; Calgary, Alberta; and Wainwright, Alberta; and two range tenders went to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The trucks were not delivered in sequential order.
Serial numbers ran from 5715 to 5725, without interruption. We know that no. 5717 went to Picton, Ontario, for its original service. My Canadian friend has the Shilo rig. The Bushwacker, serial no. 5720, went to Halifax, and my other range tender is no. 5722 that went to Nova Scotia.
VFT&E Your Bushwacker truck does not look exactly like the vintage photos you showed us. Were there changes made along the way?
MM When no. 5720 was retired from military duty, the fire department in Anderdon, Ontario, received it, and the staff went about the business of making it a working rig that fit the fire company’s specific needs.
The hose reels were moved up top in the front Indian pack holder tray. The spare tire was deleted. Soft hose holders were created, using a lid and sides where reels once were.
During Bushwacker’s military career, there was a Wajax pump mounted behind the driver, with a fabricated baffle standing right in front of the pump to deflect the exhaust away from the user’s face. Four large brass spigots with drainouts cast into the design stuck out from a pipe across the back. There were multiple concealed fold-up steps in the rear, as well as a shovel-and-pickaxe assembly. There was a unique front spray system consisting of two nozzles mounted at a 45-degree turn left and right, just like what Canada specified for the CMP in WWII.
The Anderdon crew deleted the Wajax pump and replaced it with a Chelsea pto setup that ran two driveshafts to the rear of the chassis. This conversion was done so early in the truck’s life that it looks period correct. The front sprayer system was deleted, and the rear can fills were plugged. With a new paint job and a slightly reformulated look, it was ready for new signage. The Anderdon Fire Dept. Bushwacker was born!
VFT&E With such a short wheelbase and all that weight up high, how does it drive?
MM That is the most common question I get: “What’s it like to drive one of those?” Well, at only 15-1/2 feet long and nearly 10 feet tall, with its Y-block Ford V-8 and ample gearing, it’s like riding a massively overpowered bull elephant! It is one of the most memorable rides you will ever take on a fire rig. However, to be perfectly honest with your readers, I would not be surprised if many of the 11 rigs tipped over in off-camber situations while in military service and were sent to wrecking yards, where they were scrapped or parted out.
VFT&E OK, so why did the Anderdon folks name it “Bushwacker?”
MM I’ve looked it up, just because people ask. There are several definitions the department might have been thinking of. It literally means “one who beats the bushes” to make his way through a lot of natural obstructions. That fits. The Dutch had a term “bosch-wachter,” which translates to “forest-keeper,” so that’s appropriate. I like the definition from the Civil War that describes an “irregular who took to the woods;” in other words, a guerilla fighter.
VTT&E How did you wind up with not one, but two of these rare pieces of firefighting history?
MM After serving its time at Anderdon, Bushwacker was offered through sealed bidding. It then made its way to Michigan in the 1980s. The owner displayed it at a muster, and years later I saw a photo of it from that show. I contacted the person who put on the muster, and he put me in touch with the Bushwacker’s owner. I was making a deal to buy the truck when the owner mentioned knowing the whereabouts of the other U.S. C-500. I managed to buy that one, as well, and brought them both to Las Vegas.