Most of the present members of the Windsor (Ontario) Fire and Rescue Services do not recognize the diminutive nickname, but just mention “The Bug” to any longtime Windsor Fire Dept. retiree, and you will likely trigger a wry grin—and a slew of great stories. For more than 30 years, The Bug was the Windsor Fire Dept.’s elite flying-manpower squad, speeding to every box alarm in the city out of the old headquarters station on Pitt St. E. in the heart of downtown.
The Bug was not a rescue squad.
Its mission could be traced back to the dawn of the motor fire apparatus era, just as the self-propelled machinery began to replace horse-drawn rigs. At the turn of the century, as had been the case since paid, professional firefighters replaced volunteers in American and Canadian cities, firefighters worked on a single-platoon system. Most were on almost-continuous duty with only an occasional day off and two- or three-hour meal leaves on each 24-hour tour of duty. The number of men available to fight fires thus fluctuated during meal periods. When a “worker” (working fire) or extra-alarm fire was in, it was customary for company officers to hold their men in quarters until the under-control or “all-our” signal came through.
As the newfangled horseless carriage gained a reputation for speed and reliability in the early years of the 20th century, fire chiefs seriously studied the potential of the automobile for fire service. In September 1906, the Springfield (Massachusetts) Fire Dept. placed the nation’s first “Flying Manpower Squadron” into service. Auxiliary Squad “A” was assigned a Knox squad car built by the local Knox Automobile Co. A second identical Knox squad car went into service as Auxiliary Squad “B” six months later. The Knox squad cars carried eight firefighters and a battalion chief and soon proved their value in getting additional firefighters to the scene in a fraction of the time.
In 1908 the Detroit Fire Dept. also placed a Flying Manpower Squadron into service, equipped with a Packard squad car that is still around today. A second Packard Flying Squad was placed into service in 1910. The members of this elite unit were known as “squadmen” and were paid $80 a year more than engine crew and truckmen. During meal leaves of other fire companies and at night, the flying squads responded to all box alarms in the downtown district and also rolled on all extra alarms anywhere in the city. When breakfast and midday meals were over, the Flying Squadron was placed out of service for three hours while the squadmen ate.
It is not surprising that the Windsor Fire Dept.—just across the river from Detroit—was influenced by its American big-city neighbor and decided to organize its own flying squad. This long and colorful chapter in WFD history began in 1930, when Master Mechanic Arthur Flatray and his workshop crew converted a 1929 Dodge chief’s car, which had been heavily damaged in an accident, into a special services unit. Service Car No. 1 carried a supply of canvas tarpaulins which the squad men threw over furniture and merchandise to minimize water and smoke damage and insurance losses. Initially, the Service Car, which ran out of the headquarters hall, fulfilled the same role as the independent Fire Insurance Patrols found in large U.S. and Canadian cities, as well as bringing supplemental manpower to the fire. In addition to salvage covers, Service Car No. 1 also carried searchlights and an Eastman turret nozzle, as well as other tools.
After a decade of service, the well-worn Dodge was due for replacement. In late 1939, the Dodge Service Car was traded in on a new 1940 Ford two-ton truck chassis. The resourceful workshop staff designed and fabricated a compartmented steel body, which they mounted on the new chassis. Three big portable floodlights and a fixed turret pipe were mounted on the deck behind the cab. As the first closed-cab apparatus on the Windsor Fire Dept., the new Ford Service Car responded to all box alarms, structural alarms, and extra-alarms in the city.
The origin of its nickname has been lost to time, but that Ford Service Car was called The Bug by Windsor firefighters from the 1940s through the 1960s—perhaps because it was so fast and seemed to be everywhere. The skill and daring of its drivers was legendary. They still tell stories of The Bug going airborne on the old Peabody Bridge while heading east on Riverside Drive. Repainted in the early 1950s, it was renamed Salvage No. 1.
After 17 years of service, The Bug was wearing out. The fleet-footed ’40 Ford had already been through two Ford flathead V-8 engines, and parts were becoming harder to obtain, so plans were drawn up for a modern replacement vehicle. A thorough inspection of the salvage truck revealed that its original custom body was still in very good condition, so the decision was made to modernize the old body and remount it on a new chassis.
The department ordered a new Fargo FK-8 D-500 3-ton cab and chassis from a local Chrysler dealer in spring 1957. In mid-June, the ’40 Ford made its last run. The Ford’s salvage and rescue gear was removed and packed into the hose body of Hose No. 1—a 1942 GMC hose wagon, which would temporarily serve as The Bug while Salvage No. 1 was rebuilt.
The crew removed the body from the Ford chassis and welded a steel canopy with side windows into place above the body, which was then lowered onto the new Fargo chassis. They remounted the Eastman deck turret onto the right side of the body and mounted a shiny new bell on the right front fender and a big Sterling 30 Sirenlite on the other. As on its predecessor, the new truck was lettered “Salvage No. 1” on its cab doors, with “Windsor” painted on the sides of its rounded hood.
The Bug’s engine was a Chrysler 313ci, 192hp V-8—a new-for-1957 powerplant Fargo trucks shared with the Canadian Dodge Custom Royal sedans and hardtops. Including the chassis, the new truck cost the city just $4,039. After testing and driver training, the Fargo was placed into service at the headquarters station on Pitt Street on Sept. 30, 1957.
The new Fargo Bug’s manpower squad responded to alarms all over the city. Its crewmembers rode safely inside the tall rear canopy, where they were protected from the elements. This environment was a vast improvement over the original Bug’s wide-open, hang-on-for-dear-life rear deck with its leather windbreaker. The ’57 Fargo responded to every major fire and incident in the city for 13 years, including the Metropolitan department store disaster on Oct. 25, 1960, at which 10 persons were killed and more than 100 injured when a gas explosion demolished the building in the city’s downtown area on a busy weekday afternoon.
Following the annexation of three suburban communities in 1966, a second squad truck was placed into service at Station 4 in the city’s west end. Salvage No. 1 was relocated to Station 2 to cover the east side of the city. With the purchase of a new Fargo squad in 1970—also built by the WFD shops—the 1957 Fargo became a spare. Its nickname gradually faded into history. After a dozen years as a spare, filling in when Squad 1 or Squad 2 were in the shops for maintenance or repairs, the ’57 Fargo—now on its third Chrysler V-8 engine—was stored at various Windsor fire stations. Its retirement was made official with the delivery of a big lime-green (ugh!) Ford C-Series, tilt-cab, heavy rescue squad in 1984.
In July of that year, the 1957 Fargo salvage truck was sold to vintage vehicle collector Reg DeNure of Chatham—about 50 miles east of Windsor—who has owned it ever since. Repainted and lettered for his own private fire department, which now includes nearly a dozen rigs, the Fargo is a popular participant at parades and antique fire apparatus musters in Southwestern Ontario and neighboring Michigan.
In June 2015, Reg and his lovingly maintained ’57 Fargo were invited to participate in Chrysler Canada’s (now FCA Canada) 90th anniversary celebration in Windsor, which featured a special display of vehicles built in the company’s Windsor plants over the years.
Dodge’s Canadian Cousin
In the late 1920s, Walter P. Chrysler’s new, self-named car company vaulted to the position of third-largest competitor in the U.S. automobile industry, nipping at the heels of Ford and General Motors. A former head of Buick who successfully reorganized faltering Willys-Overland and Maxwell-Chalmers, the business giant introduced his Chrysler car brand in 1924.
In 1928, Chrysler astounded the automotive and financial worlds by purchasing the much-larger Dodge Brothers operation and in that same pivotal year introduced two additional passenger car lines—Plymouth and DeSoto. As well as cars, the company’s Dodge-DeSoto dealers also sold Dodge trucks. To make its two newest brands equally competitive, the company gave its Chrysler-Plymouth dealers their own truck line, under the Fargo name. Introduced in 1929, the Chrysler-Plymouth Division’s commercial vehicle offerings included the Fargo Packet and Clipper and heavier Fargo Freighter. But the deepening Great Depression had decimated the entire auto industry, and Fargo production was discontinued in late 1930.
In 1936, the Chrysler Corp. of Canada resurrected the Fargo name on a line of trucks for its Plymouth-DeSoto dealers. Generally identical to the trucks sold by the company’s Dodge dealers, the distinctive Fargo hood ornament and name badging featured a globe emblem. By coincidence, the five letters in the Fargo name matched the five letters on the hoods of Dodge trucks. Fargo offered its first V-8 engine in 1957. Over the years, the Canadian Fargo product line ranged from light-duty pickups and Power Wagons to medium- and heavy-duty trucks, including a Fargo version of the compact A-series vans and pickups in the 1960s.
The Fargo brand was a staple of the Chrysler Canada product family for 36 years. The last Fargo rolled off the line in the company’s truck assembly plant in Windsor, Ontario, in 1972. More than a few Fargo chassis were used for fire apparatus. All of Canada’s principal fire apparatus builders—LaFrance Fire Engine & Foamite (the Canadian subsidiary of American-LaFrance); Bickle-Seagrave and successor King-Seagrave; Quebec’s Pierre Thibault Ltd.; and Marsh Pumps (Canada), the Canadian branch of American Fire Apparatus—all built fire apparatus for Canadian fire departments on Fargo chassis.
As a footnote, Chrysler Corp. later used the Fargo (and even DeSoto) names on trucks exported to the middle east and other foreign markets.—Walt McCall