by Justin Aldi
All the locals know me.
I’m that guy who drives through town with his kids in a big, bright, shiny red fire truck. I am constantly being asked, “Why? How? Where?” The story of this truck and me began decades ago, when I was about the same age as my kids are now.
As a little boy playing with Tonka trucks, I dreamed of owning a real fire truck. I would polish my toy trucks and envision myself vrooming a big, loud engine down the street. As an adult living in a traditional suburban neighborhood, the idea of owning a full-size truck was never practical, but the boyhood dream would not die. After years of desire and a bit of encouragement from my supportive girlfriend (now wife), I impulsively did a little research—though, admittedly, not enough long-term planning—and the hunt was on for a truck of my own.
I have always harbored a deep nostalgia for the America of the 1950s. It was a time of new hope, with a spirit of industry, prosperity, and a booming car culture. And so, I chose to focus my search for a truck on a model that symbolized the classic look and feel of the period. It had to have an open cab, since the truck would live in Southern California. I am from Burbank, California, and half the guys on my street were at the forefront of the hot rod explosion back in the day. I knew that bringing home an antique fire truck would be right up their alley for a project to work on. Plus, our location meant the services of restoration experts were close at hand.
After joining the Society for the Preservation & Appreciation of Antique Fire Motor Apparatus in America (SPAMFFA) and browsing the classified section for a few months, I was able to locate a truck that seemed to be a dream come true. I purchased a 1952 Seagrave Anniversary Series quad that originally hailed from Mason City, Iowa. Immediately, panic set in. Where was this 38-foot beast going to sleep? Where could I work on it during restoration? Two weeks later, a huge flatbed pulled up in front of our office building and unloaded this 50-year-old fire truck, holding up traffic in the middle of a major thoroughfare. What had I gotten myself into?!
I pushed away all of the practicalities plaguing my thoughts and gave my new toy a quick review. I decided it would get a proper restoration. The truck showed less than 7,000 road miles, and there was not a piece missing; but still, a complete overhaul was in order. I commandeered a backyard from a family member, erected a temporary structure, and work commenced. Fortunately, my neighbors and lifelong friends, Brian and Frank Pucio, took this project to heart. Together, we stripped the truck down to nothing more than the cab and engine.
The Seagrave Anniversary Series was everything I wanted in a fire truck: the classic American feel of the large front rolling fenders, the unique front end chrome work, the distinctive siren up front, and the sounds of the giant, 462ci V-12 rumbling up the street. She had a 5-speed tranny and a Mars 8 light mounted on the nose.
With limited miles on the clock, only minimal work had to be done on the drivetrain. After fresh brakes, exhaust, fluids, clutch, tires, and a little tuning, the truck ran wonderfully. Every single artifact on this Seagrave when it left the factory was still attached to the truck. Ladders, hard suction hoses, pike poles, axes, life net, and lights were all still in place with the original Seagrave logos and markings. In addition, a complete box of records accompanied the truck, ranging from the original bill of sale to Mason City for $19,737 to every oil change and pump test during its time in service.
During the restoration, the original complement of wooden Seagrave ladders was painstakingly restored one by one. Being a quad, the truck was factory-equipped with one 40-foot extension, one 35-foot extension, and one 30-foot, two 20-foot, and two side-mounted 16-foot ladders along with one six-foot stepladder. This meant a lot of rungs to sand by hand and varnish.
The oak hose bed that originally held 1,000 feet of 2.5-inch hose and 800 feet of 1.5-inch hose was redone along with the ladders. In addition to almost 2,000 feet of hose, the truck also has a booster reel with 250 feet of one-inch line. A 750gpm, two-stage pump supplied the lines, while a 200-gallon booster tank was on board.
Mason City loaded this truck to handle any emergency the little town could throw its way. The boxes and underside were loaded with two shovels, two pitchforks, various nozzles, two chemical fire extinguishers, flashlights, wall picks, six pike poles, six axes, two hydrant wrenches, a full-sized life net in the rear box, and four pompier belts. Most of this equipment still fills the boxes of the truck. Mason City thought it was necessary to load up this truck since it replaced an old aerial ladder truck that served the city for more than 20 years.
The city fathers were sold on the concept of a quad truck that, in theory, replaced several pieces of equipment with a limited crew. The concept of a truck that combines the functions of a ladder truck, hose wagon, pumper, and salvage rig appealed to the city founders from a financial and manpower savings theory. In reality, the quads really never caught on, and very few were every produced from any fire truck manufacturer. Quads were rapidly phased out with the introduction of improved mechanized ladder trucks. Mason City used this truck sparingly for many years until it went into reserve status and eventually retired.
The unloaded weight of the truck is in excess of 14,000 pounds, with a fuel capacity of 35 gallons plus 11 gallons of engine coolant, all sitting on 900×20 tires. Snow treads remain on the rear wheels, reminding us of her days slogging through Midwest winters. Quads never became the mainstay of any manufacturer’s line of trucks, and there were fewer than 15 Anniversary Series quads produced.
While the restoration progressed, Mason City officials were able to connect us with the retired local fire historian who vividly remembered this truck and was able to provide old photos of it in service, newspaper clippings, and more original paperwork on the rig. These archives provided a wealth of information, giving me insight into its fascinating place in the history of Mason City. The city had acquired this truck along with a sister pumper, and it had been considered a very large capital investment for such a small city. Tragically, the pumper was wrecked in an auto accident shortly after entering service and scrapped. The quad continued in faithful service until the 1970s, when it was finally retired. The limited miles are attributed to the truck being extremely underpowered for its size, making it difficult to drive in normal city traffic. It spent many years languishing in the back of the firehouse as a reserve unit until it was finally sold off to a well-respected local citizen in Iowa.
Restoration continued for about a year, during which time the truck was taken down to bare metal and resprayed in the proper red. Every ladder was hand restored by Frank Pucio, along with the enormous hose bed, truckloads of chrome, and gauges. When complete, it was as bright, shiny, and perfect as the day it arrived in Mason City a half-century earlier.
After the restoration, the Seagrave went on to serve in its second tour of duty as a parade truck, promoting our company as it ferried Girl Scout troops, Little League teams, and beauty queens through the streets of Burbank. It made appearances at local carnivals, birthday parties, and charity events.
We have retired from city life now, and so has our truck. It is now a family treasure, living in our barn in rural Carmel Valley, California. Our nine-year-old twins love to ride in it to the local burger joint or to pick up friends from school. The Seagrave continues to run beautifully.
I am blessed to have found a local, retired fireman/mechanical genius who loves to work on vintage trucks. Buzz Cole has been looking after the Seagrave for the past few years and keeping it in perfect running order. This Seagrave, originally my childhood dream, now inspires the dreams of my own children. I look forward to one day passing it on to them and watching the gleam in the eyes of their children as they ring the bell and sound the siren, turning heads as they ride down the street.
Just How Long was that Anniversary?
by Brad Bowling
If you know anyone who has celebrated his or her “39th birthday” more than once, fire truck manufacturer Seagrave’s long-running “70th Anniversary” line of apparatus will not come as a surprise. Frederic Seagrave’s company, founded in Detroit in 1881 before a move to Columbus, Ohio, enjoyed its 70th anniversary for 20 years.
As domestic vehicle manufacturers recovered from World War II and phased out designs dating back to the 1930s, every new model introduction became a special occasion. The 1951 debut of Seagrave Corp.’s new generation of equipment coincided with the end of its seventh decade in business, so the trucks were officially marketed as the “70th Anniversary” line. The new, streamlined style included a wide grille topped with a large Seagrave badge and automotive-style fenders. At the leading edge of the hood was perhaps the 70th Anniversary’s defining characteristic—a built-in siren.
Seagrave’s new model was a hit at the 1951 International Assoc. of Fire Chiefs Convention, and the first five 70th Anniversary trucks went into service in the Columbus area. Seagrave produced its popular siren-in-nose 70th Anniversary design through 1970.