by Don Baer and John Dybus, photos by Mitchell Brown
On the north shore of Lake Erie, 30 miles west of Buffalo, lies the City of Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada. Home to 18,000 people, Port Colborne is divided down the middle by the St. Lawrence Seaway Canal. Oceangoing vessels from foreign countries carry goods and products to both the United States and Canadian ports on the Upper Great Lakes.
The history of the Port Colborne Fire Dept. dates back to 1898, when there were fire stations situated on each side of the Welland Canal. When the 1914 Frazer Street Fire Hall became outdated, a new station was built to replace it in 1947.
To ensure adequate fire protection for the east side’s huge International Nickel Co., which employed more than 2,000 people, a new top-of-the-line pumper was required. Upon recommendation from the fire marshal of Ontario, the city council purchased an open-cab Mack L85 pumper with a 750gpm, 2-stage Hale pump and a 707ci gasoline engine. This rig, considered the Rolls-Royce of fire trucks by many, cost $18,000. The 1948 Mack L chassis was built in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with the fire body, pump, and equipment being assembled at the Mack Fire Division in Long Island, New York.
In 1962 the fire department had the Mack updated with a closed roof, making the Canadian winter calls much more bearable. A body shop in nearby Dunnville was awarded the work, which involved using the roof and doors from a sleeper Mack truck cab and the unique side roof window panels of a Hudson car.
During its lifespan, the Mack saw much service, including the eight-million-dollar Maple Leaf Mills fire in October 1960, where it used 240 gallons of fuel in four days, pumping water from the canal. In 1974 the Mack traveled 700 miles to Davenport, Iowa, where it pumped water to Welland, Ontario’s aerial ladder truck, which was used as a water tower. It was also used at numerous ship fires in the St. Lawrence Seaway Canal.
The L85 Mack saw service from 1948 to 1992, when it was retired and given to the Port Colborne Volunteer Fire Fighters Assoc. to use as a parade truck. After taking in a large amount of money from different fundraising events, the association began refurbishing the Mack pumper, with a truck body shop in Beamsville doing the restoration. This involved disassembling, listing parts, sandblasting, replacing rusty body panels, replating chrome parts, and fabricating new aluminum running boards and rear step.
After learning from a local newspaper that the body shop went into receivership, at the time the truck was in primer, t
he association contacted the trustee in charge of the shop’s receivership to successfully get the truck back. This also involved picking up the rechromed parts from Cambridge Custom Chrome. A body shop in Wainfleet was selected to complete the painting process. After the fire truck returned, it took eight volunteers three months to complete the assembly. A graphic designer did all the decorative scrolls and pinstriping to complete the truck.
Since completion of the restoration, the Mack has appeared in many musters, car shows, parades, displays, and other city events. Each year the Mack appears in the city’s night-time Christmas parade, adorned with spectacular rope lighting and decorative Christmas lights, with the volunteer firefighters handing out 2,000 candy canes to the children lining the street. The Mack is also involved in the annual food drive, and it is used as a background for firefighters’ wedding and family photographs.
Our intention is to have the Mack—one of only three that came into Canada—participate in many local events and to promote the City of Port Colborne’s fire history for many years to come. The Mack currently resides in the fire hall it was originally purchased to service.