It was 1926 and, at an annual fire chiefs convention in Louisville, Kentucky, there sat the fire truck you see on these pages, except it was painted blue then. The current owner believes Seagrave Motor Fire Apparatus Co. of Columbus, Ohio, painted this 1925 Seagrave Standard (model 6WT, serial no. 41840) blue to commemorate its debut in the Bluegrass State. The Tampa (Florida) Fire Dept. purchased the 6WT and shipped it to its new home after the convention.
This was one of three Seagraves Tampa purchased that year. Tampa Fire Rescue would purchase its final two Seagraves in 1990, ending a 65-year relationship with the company.
The 1925 truck came equipped with a 6-cylinder, twin-camshaft, dual-ignition, “T-head” engine that displaced 1,012 cubic inches and produced 130 horsepower. By today’s standards, the 6-cylinder did not have a high output, but it would outwork any truck of its day. The truck came equipped with a single-stage, centrifugal, 750gpm pump with three 2-1/2-inch discharges. It was originally classified as a triple-combination pumper with a chemical tank; however, the chemical tank was replaced with a modest 90-gallon water tank. The truck also carried 1,200 feet of hose, a 24-foot wood extension ladder, a 10-foot roof ladder, pike poles, axes, extinguishers, booster hose with a nozzle, and a full complement of fire nozzles and other vital hand tools.
When it arrived at Station 4, the blue Seagrave was immediately placed into service. In 1935, firefighter Vernon Blunt painted it fire engine red, pinstriped it, and added 24-karat gold leaf. It took several weeks for Blunt to complete the work, but there was a sigh of relief from the crews that manned the truck. Blue just was not the traditional color of a fire truck back in the day, and the firefighters of Tampa were thrilled to see their 6WT sporting its new colors.
This 1925 has very special meaning to its current owner, Michael “Mike” Morris, a retired fire captain. The Seagrave and Captain Mike shared a lot at the start of his 29-year career with the Tampa Fire Dept. Morris became a firefighter in 1951 just as the Seagrave was retired. It went into reserve status, where it was used for training new recruits. This would be Morris’ first engine that he rode to his first fire as a recruit. In fact, the nozzle he used to fight that first fire sits proudly on the officer’s-side tail board. The Seagrave was also the first engine Morris drove to a fire in 1953.
In 1957, the city of Tampa offered the Seagrave for sale. Morris had his eye on the truck and vowed he would own it someday. Unfortunately, the Seagrave sold at auction while Morris and his wife, Volli “Ester” Morris, were on vacation. However, he found that a friend, retired United States Air Force Colonel Charles “Charlie” Hayes, had given the winning bid. Morris called Hayes and the two agreed that Morris would have the first chance at buying it.
The colonel passed away in 1968, and Hayes’ widow offered it to Morris for $150, under the condition that he would never sell it. The Seagrave was in rough shape, having spent the previous 11 years in a barn, exposed to the elements. Nonetheless, Morrison jumped at the chance to own it.
As Morris began his restoration, parts of the truck were scattered throughout Tampa. Morris completed most of the restoration himself over a three-year period, but that was 48 years ago! Parts wear out over time, and finding replacement parts and people to work on them is equally hard. In 2014, two people who were instrumental in completing the engine and pump maintenance were Andre Milot and Bob Green of Andre’s Auto & Truck Services in Tampa. Morris said their mechanical expertise was second to none, and their help has been instrumental in keeping the Seagrave alive and well.
Morris’ son John has grown up in and around the fire service. When John was in elementary school, one early spring morning he developed the sudden desire to see his father. Knowing that his dad was working at a fire house that morning, John decided to pull the fire alarm box, which he knew would bring his dad to school. It was not the case, though. As several fire engines arrived at the school, not one of them brought with it John’s dad. He was working on the other side of town that shift, but rest assured—the chief made it a point to let Captain Morris know that little Johnny missed his father. Morris was gently reminded of this story by the guys at the fire house for the remainder of his career.
The Morris family and the fire service have shared quite a bit of history. In 1884 Tampa’s first organized volunteer fire department began with nothing more than bucket brigades organized to serve the city. In 1895 the council members passed ordinance no. 307, creating Tampa’s first professional and paid fire department. TFD’s first chief was A.J. Harris, Morris’ uncle. In July of 1914, the horse-drawn engines were replaced with the first motorized engines. On the west side of Tampa, the West Tampa Fire Dept. was established in 1929. That department’s first fire chief was Morris’ father, George Morris.
As Morris was working on the Seagrave’s restoration, he was assigned to a fire boat as its captain. Tampa was buying a new fire boat and sent Morris to New Orleans to bring it home. While at the New Orleans Fire Dept.’s logistics warehouse, Morris talked to a supply officer about the Seagrave. The supply officer asked Morris if there was anything he needed that might help him finish his project.
Morris recalled answering, “Yeah, there are a few things I could use.”
With that, the doors to the warehouse were opened. Pike poles, nozzles, and axes were just a few of the things he saw and needed. The question was how to get them back to Tampa. Morris found the answer when he arrived at the new fire boat and readied it for a voyage to Tampa. He stepped below and there—stacked with extreme care—sat several items that he had seen at the warehouse.
Captain Morris retired from the department in 1979, and the truck now sits in Morris’ garage at home. I asked how long it took to restore the Seagrave. He looked at me for a minute, gathering his thoughts.
The answer I received was not one I was expecting.
“Well, Mark,” he said. “I can’t answer that because, to be honest, I’m not quite done yet. There will always be a part or two that I want and just can’t seem to find.”