In the city of Lindsay rests a moveable piece of history. A 1914 American LaFrance fire truck gleams red and gold behind glass doors for residents to behold 24 hours a day. Within the machine, waiting to be unlocked, are memories spanning over 100 years of California’s past.
In 1914 San Francisco was in the planning stages of the 1915 World’s Expo. The city had been devastated less than 10 years prior by the 1906 earthquake and the subsequent fires that followed. Wanting to showcase the progress the city had made they called upon, American LaFrance the premier fire apparatus manufacturer. The city requested the company construct an engine specifically for the event. Born from that request was, top of the line machines that successfully showed the state of the art in fire fighting prowess for the company. The pump truck could move 750 gpm of water and the trucks were painted in deep red with gold leaf trim.
After the Exposition was over the fire trucks were sold off to different vendors. Two engines were purchased by the city of Lindsay and used for various functions, one was used as a working truck and the other for Dixie Land parades. Eventually the trucks were sold and with them went a large portion of Lindsay’s history. It wasn’t until 2003 that a group of Lindsay residents began the hunt to retrieve their lost past.
After tracing the buyer history the team found two trucks were sitting inside of a bard in Auburn, Calif. In 2003, Gary Meling, the man who spearheads the Fire Truck Restoration, said the Lindsay Community Arts Council (LCAC) took No. 542, the fully restored and functioning model, to a prison in Tehachapi with a work program that would disassemble the fire truck, painted all of the parts in near original colors, and then reassembled the fire truck for shipment back to Lindsay. Unfortunately, the program was shut down several years ago. After the parts were painted but before it was reassembled.
Meling and mechanic Buddy Elvert reassembled the fire truck without any manuals, a little intuition and lots of time. For the last 12 years a dedicated team has fundraised and worked tirelessly on the restoration. “Most of what has been accomplished was in house,” said Meling. The fire truck is in amazing condition, especially after being repainted earlier this year a rustic red. Upon closer examination, you can see the simplicity of things made before the era of computers. A hand-pulled clutch, wooden spoke wheels, a hand-crank siren, all steel running boards and step-sides and a gravity-driven fuel tank, the driver’s seat is even on the right side of the vehicle.
Six months ago the team was invited to participate in the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Fair. “It gave us a deadline and we finished just in time.” Days before the parade the team put the final touches on the $50,000 project, which included painting the gold trim around the engine. In February the team hulled the engine up Northern California to San Francisco. Once again the truck drove down the streets of the Golden City proving further the superiority of the original engineering. “They were so pleased with us that we got the absolute best spot in the parade,” said Meling.
Currently the team is beginning restoration on the second engine. Where as the fully restored engine was used for parades in Lindsay between 1950 and 1970. The engine being restored now was a working fire truck in Lindsay from 1930-1960. It was even used to extinguish one of Lindsay’s worst fires in history. When LoBue Packing House went up in flames in the 1960s the truck pumped water for two days straight, saving the lives of Lindsay residents. The engine was then retired and eventually sold to the Tulare County Museum. Where it went from there is spotty at best. But eventually years later the engine would return to its home town along with it’s companion, an identical American LaFrance 1914. “I remember riding on the engine when I was younger. It’s part of my history and very exciting to be able to share with the community,” revealed Meling. Fundraising for restoration will begin soon as the engine has no fenders, pump or hose bed. “We have a lot of work ahead of us,” laughed Meling.
Lindsay residents got their opportunity to see the fully restored American La France during the Orange Blossom Festival parade on April 25.
For more information on how you can support the Lindsay Fire Museum, call Gary Meling at 559-280-8393. The Fire Museum is located at 156 N. Mirage Ave. in Lindsay.