Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Little Bit of Anonymous Fame

I dabble as an editor on Wikipedia sometimes.

Yeah, I know it can't be trusted any farther than it can be thrown, but I enjoy contributing when I can.

I noticed that the Wikipedia entry regarding American LaFrance, while making light of the easily recognizable appearance of these ALFs beginning with the Type 700 on up through the Century 2000, did not actually have any photos of these rigs.

I'm changing that. Engine 17 is now the relatively anonymous model for the Type 900, with no links back to here of any kind. Got examples of the 700 (obtained permission) and Century 2000 (my photo) in there so far as well.

Waiting for permission from a guy at the ALF Owners to use a great picture of his mid-70's Century to fill the last big hole. Also missing a Type 1000, but they are so close to the 900s that I doubt it matters.

See it for yourself.... the pictures are on the right side, after scrolling down:

So... just who is that guy in the Century 2000 pic, anyway???

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Some Tacoma Apparatus from Engine 17's Era

That is, the 1970 era and forward a bit.

Since I still do not have early pictures of 17, I'll have to paint it for you using other photos. I'll probably go off on a lot of silly tangents. I apologize for that in advance.

This Mack is the sort of piece that was front line when Fire Station #17 was opened in 1955. This is one of a handful of apparatus that the Tacoma Fire Department has quietly held on to. They also kept one of Engine 17's sisters, though I don't know yet which one it was. My Engine 17, the dalmation-painted engine in Florida, and the one Tacoma still has, accounts for three of the eight sisters, leaving five unaccounted for. I suspect that at least one was stripped for parts while still with Tacoma, but I am not sure. Anyway...see, I digress! So... about this Mack, I can't see which unit this is marked as, but I am going to use this era's door markings to go forward. The circle reads TACOMA on top and FIRE DEPT on the bottom, and has the unit number in the middle. I think it might say No. 5 but I am not sure. Not that it matters for this ramble.

Moving forward about fifteen years, here is one of the famous (in my mind) eight 1970 American LaFrance Type 900 sisters, one of which is my Engine 17. Times were different then... note the firefighter standing in the jumpseat well behind the cab, looking over the roof. This sister was marked as Engine 6 when the photo was taken, and shows the door lettering that would be used on all new deliveries at least through 1980. Note also the hand-painted unit number on the nose, and between the windows on the side.

The next two photos are from the 1974 Daffodil parade. When Tacoma obtained the eight sisters, they also took delivery of two Snorkel truck companies and a tiller-drawn aerial (TDA) ladder truck. Actually, two TDAs were ordered, but one of them was damaged when the train it was being shipped on derailed. American LaFrance offered to repair it, but Tacoma opted to wait and get a new one (which was eventually delivered in 1972), while the damaged aerial was repaired and sold to another fire department. Anyway, these two photos show one of each of these types of units in their original livery.

Right around 1983 or 1984, Tacoma decided that the old-style lettering was not visible enough at distances. The solution was to fit each unit with large, reflective company numbers. You saw an example of this a couple of posts ago in the old photo I found of Engine 5 (shown as assigned in later years to Engine 8). What you can't see in this photo is that the side numbers on the cab between the windows were allowed to stay, and the large reflective number was placed on the bottom rear compartment doors on each side. At least the original door paint remained.

The rig below was originally Truck 3. When it got its huge reflective numbers, the hand painted stuff was allowed to stay for the time being. The Snorkel boom on the identical Truck 4 was later damaged and removed, and Truck 4 took the identical rig from Truck 3 when Truck 3 got a new and much shorter rig better suited for north Tacoma in 1980. Oops... another tangent... so anyway, when old Truck 3 got assigned as Truck 4 later, the hand-painted "3" between the cab windows was replaced with a smaller version of the reflective decal concept at the same time that the rear big decal was swapped from a "3" to a "4". The hand painted door lettering was also removed, and replaced with Tacoma's new standard maltese cross door insignia - a design still in use today, over 20 years later. When the fad of huge reflective numbers wore off, Tacoma moved forward again and adopted the concept of interchangeable placards, a system in use all over the country today. This was actually a good change. Now, swapping units was easy when crews had to exchange units when relieving each other after long incidents, and especially when using a reserve rig. It was no trouble at all to slap your company ID on whatever unit you were going to use. So ... anyway, here is Truck 3 during its later time as Truck 4, all hand lettering is gone, the reflective number decals are still there, but made redundant by the new placards.

That's progress. It ain't all bad, I guess, but for the work I hope to get done on Engine 17, I want that original hand-painted look. I will throw crucifixes and garlic at large reflective decals and placards.

Here's your parting shot though: Today's Tacoma Engine 17 in all her glory:

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Historical Fire Station 17

(If you stumbled over here from Facebook, the Engine 17 'become a Fan' Facebook button is over there on the right.)

I am trying to obtain photos of Engine 17 during her service life with Tacoma, at any time of her career as E17, E9 and E10. They exist, but can I get access to them? We'll see how it goes. The request is out there.

In the meantime, I have been scraping together photos loosely related to 'my' Engine 17 to entertain you. Today, some history on Fire Station 17.

Construction of Fire Station #17 began in 1954, just east of the intersection of South 35th Street and Union Avenue. When completed and opened in early 1955, Tacoma established Engine Company #17 for the first time.

Some boring commentary on the operational size of Tacoma Fire since then.....

The 1955 opening of Fire Station #17 expanded the fire department to 18 stations (counting the fireboat station). Station 17 was also intended to house the not-yet-established Truck Company #5, but it never happened and Tacoma still operates to this day with only four ladder companies.

Many other changes have taken place, but the net change over the past 54 years amounts to:

  • Disbanding of Engine 5 (Engines 3 and 12 were also disbanded for quite a while, but both returned, E3 around 1983 and E12 roughly 1998)
  • Rescue 1 (technical rescue) evolving over the decades into five Medic units
  • Establishment of a new fireboat at a new Station 5 and then the relatively recent disbanding of both fireboat crews (one fireboat remains staffed by an engine crew when they are available)
  • The addition of a handful of other unstaffed specialty units.

Overall, the department lost one fire company, one fireboat company, and one rescue company, while gaining five ambulances, amounting to essentially no change in the department's staffing since 1955.

Take the 1955 staffing levels, and then apply the enormous increase in call volume since then due to the assumption of EMS calls (which usually make up about 80% of a fire department's call volume). Then apply the growth of Tacoma from around 137,000 people to over 203,000 in those 54 years, an increase of over 32%. And then apply the assumption of fire protection for the Cities of Fife and Fircrest (combined 2009 population 14,000 pushing the covered total population to over 217,000), and you have the Tacoma Fire Department handling exponentially more calls, covering a population increase of nearly 40%, and doing so with the same number of personnel and apparatus available in 1955. Wow!

Anyway.... back to the interesting Engine 17 stuff.

This architectural drawing of Fire Station #17 is pretty close to how it came out.

Here are some pictures of Station 17 shortly after it was completed. You can see the reference to the hoped-for but never realized Truck Company #5 over one of the bay doors.

Tacoma's Engine 17 was relocated to Fircrest when Tacoma assumed their fire protection by contract in 1995, thus the station formerly used by the Fircrest Fire Department became the new Tacoma Station 17.

The old Station 17 on 35th Street, having served its intended duty for only a short 40 years, was remodeled into administrative space and is now the home of the fire prevention division. You can see what it looks like today via Google Street View by clicking the link below. The building's footprint has been expanded into the original covered outside area, the hose tower has been removed, and there is a wall with small windows and a door where the large glass truck bay doors used to be. Driving by, you'd never guess what it used to be except for the curb ramp inexplicably leading up to the wall where Engine 17 used to pull out.

Old Fire Station 17 Google Street View

When we come back.... pictures of older Tacoma fire apparatus similar and related to Engine 17.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Engine 17 sold out and is on Facebook

You hear it everywhere.

"We're on Facebook!"

"Look us up on Facebook."

"Be our fan on Facebook."

Yep, I admit to having followed the crowd. So... yeah, as you can see by the new widget button over on the right there, now you can be a fan of Engine 17 on Facebook, if you are so inclined:

But just to keep this post interesting, here is a picture of the lovely Mrs., who drove Engine 17 for the first time this weekend. She's never driven anything larger than a full size van before. She was a natural, took it right out on the open road and navigated with ease.

Back when I picked up Engine 17.... the Mrs. was very forgiving when she heard I wanted to drop a chunk of change to buy an old fire engine ....(well, I greased the skids by buying her the grand piano she'd been asking for). We'll be paying both of these off for a while, but it was worth it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Engine 8, circa 1984

Found this today while going through a bin of photographs. This is 17's sister, Engine 8, in front of Fire Station 8, just a few doors down from where I grew up.

The station in that old picture might look familiar, as I snapped a quick photo of 17 in front of the now-closed old Station 8 when I picked her up this summer.

When the 1970 rigs were new, they had hand-painted unit numbers above the 'American LaFrance' nameplate on the nose. It was just before that old picture was taken that the front numbers were buffed off (argh!) and replaced with those huge reflective numbers. It was a fad. A few years later the department switched over to the interchangable placards now commonly used all over the country.

Anyway, it is that beautiful red finish and hand-painted door decals and numbering that I hope to get back on 17. When I compare these pics... sigh. Big job.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Lakewood 4

A little bit of closure, on something that will never fully heal, came yesterday as the memorial service for the four fallen Lakewood police officers was held in Tacoma, at the Tacoma Dome.

(If you live a sheltered life and are not aware of the event prompting this service and this blog post, reference

I really wanted to attend, but my work schedule interfered and I could not arrange coverage. I was very unhappy about that.

Had I been able to attend, Engine 17 would have gone along to participate in the group of fire apparatus in the procession.

You see, Engine 17 is familiar with that area. If you've read the blog all along, you know that 17 was later reassigned to Engine 9 and finally to Engine 10 before leaving Tacoma. Station 10 is Tacoma's southernmost station, just north of Parkland and northeast of Lakewood. 17 spent nine years in south Tacoma as Engine 10, occasionally running into Parkland and Lakewood on mutual aid. In fact, Tacoma Station 10 is less than four miles from the site of the shooting. If not assigned on the first alarm there out of 10's, 17 was close enough to be on the 2nd.

This was 17's last neighborhood in Tacoma, and a casual afternoon bike ride away from where I grew up.

While sorry I missed the memorial, I am praying that there isn't a next time to make up for not being there.

Brothers in blue, thanks for what you do.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Engine 17 Gets Hosed

So Dad is perusing Craigslist, looking for stuff, because, you know, there's stuff out there.

Lo and behold he stumbles on a listing for old fire hose, and he has contacted the offering party for more information and then lets me in on what he's up to.

It is my intention to outfit Engine 17 with equipment appropriate to the period when she was new, so I ask him a little more about it. I would prefer old style cotton-jacketed hose, or at least I'd like to avoid the new plastic stuff that we use today, but seriously, can I afford to be all that picky right now?

Really, I am not even looking for equipment for the most part unless - like this - it falls into my lap. Paint and mechanicals are more important to me, overall.

As it turns out, it is the Northshore Fire Department that is unburdening itself of old hose no longer fit for duty. It can carry water, sure, but for various reasons is no longer fit for use on the rig when lives are on the line. And what is available? Lots of 5" LDH.

So, Dad picks up 400' of LDH. Does that make his Buick wagon a "Hose wagon" while he's carrying it? Yes, of course it does.

So, while Engine 17 did not carry this stuff in 1970, she most certainly did by the time she was retired from Tacoma front-line duty in 1987. So, OK, I can work with that. And.... there is that word.... FREE.

So, thanks NSFD and BC Jones, for the donation to old Engine 17, which is very appreciated. And I promise if for some goofy reason we actually deploy and charge a supply line at a SPAAMFA muster and one of these things lets go, it won't be your fault. If your name is still on the hose (I haven't seen it in person yet), I will be sure to remove it and protect you!

And now, a new 'want' to go with this stuff: A Storz-compatible steamer intake gate.

There's always something, isn't there?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Some Random Pics and Comments

Engine 17 is now probably pretty much parked for the season. It's going to be a long dry spell on the blog. Perhaps I can fill it with pictures and comments about not much. I mean, really it provides no special value or progress on the project, but allows you to get a little closer to the rig than otherwise.

So, here she is, parked under cover. So far the precipitation is staying more or less off the left side, but I am watching things to see how that goes. I may install a hanging tarp or something on that side if necessary. Heated and sealed storage would be best of course, but not really an option right now.

I remember looking at this panel as a kid (on Engine 8, but same thing) and just not being able to make sense of it. Water goes in somewhere and out somewhere, and I see the valve controls, but other than that...??? As I look at it now, it is not a mystery any more, although some of the components are of course old school by today's standards. I guess that's what almost 17 years of fire service experience does for you. It is clear there will be hours spent cleaning and tidying this panel up.
Driver's front fender kick plate. I'm not sure if this can be re-chromed or not. The officer's side plate is pretty much pristine, though. Although there are plenty of locations on Engine 17 which suggest rust and age, it is amazing to me how little there really is when you think about the kind of life a fire engine leads and that she is about 40 years old.
More later, I suppose. If there is any part of the engine you'd like to see much more close up, let me know.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Engine 17 Takes in a Service Call

Another beautiful day, perfect for taking 17 out, time permitting.

However, time was not on my side, lots of projects to do today.

One of the projects: Restarting the dead '99 Suburban Diesel that has been languishing at the back of the driveway for months. We'd like to get its brakes fixed and its 4WD working again before the snows come. Seeing as how we live at the 1000' level at the foothills of some southwestern Washington mountains, snow and slippery inclines are a part of winter life.

Suburban was dead. Really, really dead. Someone in the family below the age of 6 - not naming names - is likely responsible for the dome lights being turned on at some point in the past.

Hooked up the charger, and set to full boost. Fifteen minutes later, could barely get it to turn over. If you've never had to deal with it before, just know that dead Diesels are HARD to start.

Time is short.

Calling Engine 17.

She's got two big battery banks, you know.

Pulled her on over, hooked her up, and ran the throttle control to bring up the RPMs on the faithful Detroit Diesel plant.

It still took about 20 minutes of that to get the 'Burb to start! With a cloud of smoke and protest it came to life. Got the 'Burb down to the shop, hopefully with a good charge on its batteries in the process.

Thanks, 17!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Harleys and Fire Engine Envy

Winter approacheth, and taking Engine 17 out will necessarily be curtailed somewhat during the lousiest parts, but today was a good day to take her out. One of the worst things for this rig would be for it to sit too much. Gotta take her out and run around sometimes, let the engine warm up and see some fresh air.

Since the weather was so nice, it was a good time to do the weekly check on the 'real' fire truck at my house (Squad 6), so I brought Engine 17 up to the main driveway to idle while I finished the full rig check on 6. Even with 6's diesel engine and 2-cycle pump engine both running, the unmistakable sound of the Detroit was rumbling over it all.... wrap that up and let's go already!

So, with Squad 6 checked out and the typical minor deviations found on such a check summarily corrected, it was time for a country drive with the American LaFrance.

Stopped at the corner store a few miles up the road and left her idling in the corner of the lot.

There, on a bench in front of the shop, were a couple of hardcore Harley riders in full leather and appropriate regalia, graying ponytails nearly to their waists, taking a break next to their shiny big bikes.

"Hey man, what kind of fire truck is that?" one asked.

"American LaFrance, 1970 Type 900," I replied.

And so it started. A bunch of questions and a great conversation. We were several minutes in before it hit them.

"So... wait... so that's not an 'official' fire engine, is it?"

"No sir, that rig is not in service, it is privately-owned."

The look in his eyes was neat, a nice kind of acknowledgment between men who have their big boy toys along with them to share.

I eventually went into the store to get some junk food, and despite their cool customer demeanor, sure enough... they walked over to check her out.

Fire Engine Envy. Even Harley riders aren't immune.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Latest Toy Has Arrived

Much of the project will be slow going, but as Commander 5000's are so rare, so hard to come by, I couldn't pass up the chance to get it. It arrived yesterday, and it looks nearly new... I am very pleased with this purchase.

Part of me would love to install it right away... but the common sense side of me knows to wait until the paint job is completed, which might mean a significant delay in getting this on Engine 17.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Beginning - As Told by Sister

If you were at all amused at the narrative of how I came about obtaining Engine 17, you might want to read the first several posts of my sister's blog, which is a thorough review of her point of view of the same events.

I just finished re-reading it, and was again amused. It is much easier to be nuts when you can freely admit it.

Click here to start.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Whelen Commander 5000 Found!

That was quick!

Now, to get it home.

I put out a few very long-shot emails along with yesterday's post, and got exactly one hit. The person who wrote back had purchased the unit about a year for purposes I knew not... for resale (already gone) or for his own project (not for sale)... who knew?

But the long shot paid off, and I have agreed to meet his asking price.

Attached are some pictures. More to come of course when it arrives in a few weeks. Installing this light will probably be the first significant task on E17 since removing the markings. Mechanical issues are more important, but this symbolic job will mean a lot.

For sale: One mid-80's vintage two-lamp rotating red warning light. Can be seen on E17 in pictures attached to some previous posts. :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Looking for a what? Good luck with that!

The rotating warning light currently on Engine 17 is not original equipment. These rigs were delivered to Tacoma with domed strobe lights. Even though they may have been state-of-the-art in 1970, even as a kid I thought they weren't very effective. One blink per second or so, sometimes a double blink. Not very bright. Useless as a warning device by day, and of marginal value at night. In today's brightly-lit nights, fighting against HID headlights and LED traffic lights, they would be useless.

Usefulness is not important, though. I'm going for a proper restoration, not trying to run calls and bust intersections. It came with a useless strobe, and I want a correct useless strobe again.

What is this useless light? Well, I had no idea. After a modicum of research (going to the ALF owners group with a picture and pitifully saying "help"), I was informed that what I need to obtain is a red-domed Whelen Commander 5000 strobe.

Web searches are not promising. Nothing on eBay at the moment. A few whackers who have discussed this model are on a site called '', and although I swallowed my pride and signed up to see if anyone would sell me one there, they never approved my registration request. Not whacker enough, I guess.

So.... if you have a line on one of these or know someone who does, you know I would be eternally grateful for the heads up.

Below are two pictures. The dalmation-painted engine is one of Engine 17's seven identical sisters, purchased directly from Tacoma by a sub sandwich shop in Florida. In fact, this rig's Serial Number is the sequence before mine, they apparently 'rolled off the line' back-to-back. It still has its Commander 5000 strobe. The black & white picture was provided by a member of the ALF owners, and the two ALFs on the left are sporting Commander 5000's.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Welcome to the New Visitors

This blog got an unexpected and pleasant surprise when the Happy Medic briefly shined his spotlight on us here. The visitor stats went through the roof, of course, because his blog has become a hotspot in the Fire/EMS world over the past year.

I don't have anything useful to add as far as updates on Engine 17 go, but wanted to thank you all for coming in and taking a look at this small little drama playing out at my place. Having this old engine is really special, and I am glad to share the story.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Identity Corrected and Confirmed Again, For Real This Time

Well, I feel silly about this, but.... well, last word I got about my engine's original identity was incorrect. I shouldn't have jumped the gun until it was "confirmed"-confirmed... I was working with an indirect, unofficial notification. My bad.

Turns out, my engine did not start out as Tacoma Engine 2 before becoming Engine 10.

TFD historian Ralph Decker has confirmed that my engine joined Tacoma's fleet as Engine 17 in 1970. When Engine 17 was replaced with an American LaFrance Century Series in 1976, my engine was reassigned as Engine 9. When Engine 9 received one of the 1980 Mack CF pumpers, my engine was then assigned to Engine 10 for the rest of its Tacoma front line career, being moved to reserve status in 1987 and sold in 1989.

Sadly, the building in service as Station 17 in 1970 is no longer a fire station, so I will be unable to get meaningful pictures of my rig in front of that location. The Tacoma Fire Department moved Station 17 to the City of Fircrest in 1995, and remodeled the old station into administrative office space.

So once again the blog name has been updated and is now under a new address. This should be the last time! What else can go wrong?!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More Pictures

We had a back-to-school party for many of our friends today, had a lot of folks over. I don't need much of an excuse to bring out Engine 2. Lots of fire engine rides today. Here's Engine 2 parked as the teenagers were playing some improv games.

While the camera was out, though, I documented the evidence of The First Krang. Still angry with myself for this..... the pedestal behind the bumper is where the Q2B siren used to be... and will be again eventually.

Here is the first front picture of Engine 2 since I removed the '1312' from the front and sides... though you can see where it was. Oddly enough, while testing equipment to see what still works, I found that the officer's side spotlight is on the same circuit as the 'wag-wag' (high beam flasher). Dude... that is just strange. Only one of the air horns is making noise. Lots of projects await.

The sealed holes on either side of the red light indicate that at some point after leaving Tacoma, Engine 2 had a full-size lightbar installed, and then removed. If I had to guess, I'd say GCFD5 put the bar on, and then removed it when it was sold to GCFD13. But that's just a guess. In any case, those and the other holes should be prettied up a bit when Engine 2 gets red again.

An unpleasant rusty square and a plumbing cap remains where the Stang water cannon used to be mounted. Could be tricky to replace that. I am not sure why so little of the booster hose remains, either. There isn't enough to be useful.... but there is still a dinky nozzle on it.

Officer's side panel... missing caps.

The hose bed's oak tray, used to hold the hose up and allow air circulation, is long gone, but you can see where its base rails used to lay.

Compartment interiors are in great condition for a 40-year-old engine.

Pump panel, more missing caps. Several of the gauges are not original, but it is the main pressure gauge with the white background that is most obvious. There's a few more things missing that aren't obvious from this far away. Projects... lots of them. The oak trays in those crosslays on the upper left are still there, though.

Ah yes.... the original red color is obvious inside the cab.

More later when there is more to talk about.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Original Identity Confirmed

Unofficial (but reliable) word has reached me that according to the premier and longtime Historian of the Tacoma Fire Department, Ralph Decker, my engine's original home was with Tacoma Station 2, as Engine Co. #2, from the time of its delivery in 1970 until it was replaced in 1980 with a new Mack CF pumper. It then spent the next seven years at Station 10 until it was again replaced with a new pumper, this time a 1987 Thibault. My engine then moved to reserve status for a few years before Tacoma sold it to Grant County Fire District #5.

Ironically, if you have been reading along so far, you'll note that Station 2 was the only other fire station other than Station 10 that we stopped at when passing through Tacoma on the pick-up trip. Well, I guess we did a photo-op drive-by at the old Station 8, but it is now closed and we didn't hover for long... doesn't quite count.

I seem to have apparently had an inkling on this, though.... when I first hedged on the blog name, on just the 2nd post of this blog, I used Engine 2 as an example alternative. Ding ding ding! Where's my prize? Oh wait, I already own it. Yeah!

So.... this is the first new post on the blog after moving it to its new location (formerly this was the "Engine 10 Project").


I missed the Woodland WA Pump-In arranged by SPAAMFAA this past Saturday, but had a pre-arranged father-and-son camping trip on that weekend with my 9-year-old. The fire engine will need love for a while, but my children only grow up once. Skipping the trip with my kid was therefore never even on the radar. I hope to take Engine 2 to some of these future events when conflicts are not a problem, and sponge up the knowledge that other participants are sure to offer. I need all the help I can get.

Due to Summer winding slowly down, and other financial obligations screaming for attention, it is unlikely that there will be any major amount of regular activity on Engine 2 in the near term. However, of course, when there is, it will be noted here. The only significant thing done in the past 24 hours was the removal of the decals from the cab marking it as GCFD13's Engine "1312" and the removal of the "13" from the doors. The actual lettering, "GRANT COUNTY FIRE DISTRICT" was painted onto the doors by previous owner GCFD5 and will need to be buffed off.

Sorry for the boring update.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Paint, Identity, and Pictures

Here she is, on the day I picked her up, original red paint visible on the inside of the door. More pictures farther down.....

I was doing some fishing around to get an idea what it will run me to make this rig red again, and am still recovering from the shock.

The general estimate: 10 Gs. $10,000. Five figures. Ouch.

So do I wait, perhaps for many years, and get it done 'right', or do I shortcut it a bit, forgo comprehensive sandblasting and just get a half decent paint job on par for a working vehicle? I don't mind if it looks a little rough along the lines of what working fire apparatus often look like, but I want to avoid 'cheap' and end up with it looking like lipstick on a pig.

One solution I am considering is to approach some paint and body shops nearby and barter work in exchange for advertising. That is, to show their name and number on the rig at parades and musters, for a fixed number of major appearances, in order to offset the cost. Still, at $10G, that is a lot of appearances. If I were a shop owner, I don't know if I would go for that... I am wondering how many shows I would pay $10G to put a fire truck in for advertising. And then, one of the helpful guys at ALFowners pointed out that the collector car insurance carriers as a general rule prohibit commercial use. That would mean that coverage would probably be null and void when advertising is displayed.


I am in over my head, but I knew that going in. I doubt that feeling will ever go away. I have existing debt, added more to get this rig, and of course there is the family to take care of. Necessarily, this project is not real super high up the priority list.

Still, I am glad I did not pass this opportunity by.


I have determined beyond all doubt that my engine was not Engine 10 for its entire life with Tacoma. Engine 10 was not one of the original recipients of the eight sisters. I have narrowed it down, and (assuming I remember correctly) have refined the possibilities to it originally being E1, E2, E6 or E17. We shall see. The blog name will be changing when I find out.


Finally, pictures:

This is Tacoma's Truck Co. #3, from the same batch of American LaFrance Type 900's that my engine came from, which represents both the color and markings that I hope to eventually put back on my engine. (Photo from Ralph Decker collection per

A picture I took right after installing the new Collector Vehicle license plate, which also clearly shows the '10' peeking through a thin coat of silver paint on the center rear compartment door:

From the trip home: In front of Tacoma Station #10 (it's last full-time gig with Tacoma), and then also in front of former Tacoma Station #8 (next to where I grew up).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I just love those guys...

The ALF Owners board is just awesome.

I was feeling OK about the insurance quote mentioned in the previous post, but thought it prudent to run it by the ALF Owners to see what they get.

Hah... I was relatively happy with the ~$32 month quote until I discovered that they generally pay less than $100 per year. And have better coverage. This thanks to companies that specialize in insuring collector vehicles instead of using a normal auto insurance firm to bring a fire engine into the fold.

So, good news.... I just saved a bundle on my fire engine insurance.


On an unrelated note, I just lost my 96 year old grandmother yesterday, sadly while I was out of town and too far away to return in time. Please call your parents/grandparents/children/granchildren today and tell them again how much you love them, and make sure your priorities are straight. I'm feeling kind of low, so apologies for the short post today.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Getting Legal

Unsurprisingly, I do not have a great deal of experience in owning a fire engine. Like, obviously, none.

Thank the powers on high that there are others who have traveled this path before.

Wouldn't you know it, there is an entire community of American LaFrance apparatus owners. Not just a group of fire truck owners in general (that group also exists), but a specific group just for American LaFrances, populated with guys who have seen, fixed, answered and done it all, and are willing to help others. Can you hear that angel song in the background? They've already helped me start to solve a minor air leak and track some other parts down.

I went to the DMV with the title to square things away. The clerk had never seen a fire engine title before. Now, these clerks have pretty much seen it all, dealt with the dumbest people and handled the craziest of requests, so her reaction to titling a fire engine title was telling - clearly this doesn't happen very often. She was fun and pleasant. We both wondered about why the title has a bunch of zeroes down under the Weight Rating field, but it let her update the records without fixing that (as if either of us knew what to put there anyway). This mattered because of the next topic....

Title: DONE

So the State of Washington has a very easy-to-understand flowchart on their web site about when a CDL is required. A 1970 American LaFrance passes all of these questions without needing a CDL, except the weight rating question which went unanswered at the time of titling. It remains unclear what the weight rating is. I haven't yet found a nameplate on the truck with this info, and am wondering if it got removed at some point. So, the question got posed at the ALF Owners forum. It still isn't crystal clear, but it seems that while it is very likely that a CDL is technically required to drive it, that most law enforcement types won't bother about it as long as there are no other glaring issues, especially once it is determined that I have been exempted from CDL status through fire department requirements that provide equivalent training for a long time, hence I am competent and allegedly know what I am doing.

I failed to mention on the Krang post, by the way, that in my 16 years on da job that I have (knock on wood) never kranged a rig - nary a scratch. I put one in a snowy ditch once (Minnesota, give me a break), but no damage done. I waited until I bought my own, and then did it in the first week. Nice.

License to Drive: DONE (kind of)

So I called my insurance agent, a nice lady, and kind of played her. Hi, this is Frank, and I need to add a vehicle to my insurance. Sure Frank, can I have the VIN number? Yes, its serial number is 1412045.

If you don't know VIN numbers, let's just say that what I provided was several characters short of a standard VIN.

It was quiet for a moment and then she said she missed some of it and could I repeat it. I spilled the beans and said it was a fire engine, and that was its full serial number, which stands in for a VIN on the title in these cases.

What ensued was a fun conversation. She didn't even know where to begin, but eventually decided that it would fall under the same umbrella as collector vehicles, and required a call to some of their underwriters to find someone willing to do a policy. Long story short, we got it squared away within a few hours, full coverage (liability-only for some reason not offered on collector vehicles) for about $32 a month. Not too bad.

Insurance: DONE

Yesterday, the Collector Vehicle license plate arrived in the mail and was promptly installed.

This is clearly going to be an ongoing interesting ride. I wonder what it might be like, years down the road, when I am helping another lost newbie with a new toy fire engine figure all this out, and realize that although to the new kid I look like I know what I am doing and that guys like me induce angel song for him in the background, internally I will continue to be aware that I am as clueless as ever. It is all about perspective, I guess.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The First Krang

It sure didn't take long.

The Saturday night that I brought Engine 10 to the area of its new home, I actually left it at the main fire station of the district I now work for, because the annual open house was the next day. Having an old rig or two for people to poke and prod during the day works well. I was assigned a different detail on the open house day, so left instructions on starting and operating the engine in case it had to be moved.

They moved it while setting things up early the next morning. No problem.

When I finally got back to pick it up on Monday night, it was parked adjacent to the truck bays, on the outside pull-around loop. I approached from the rear, walked up the officer's side to the front, and then started my walk-around, around the back tailboard and up the driver's side, with nothing open or sitting loose. It was tight by the building, and I had to take care to not bang the door into the building. Started her up, checked the wheel alignment as straight ahead, and goosed the throttle to pull away.

*krang!* Engine 10 lurches to the right.

Oh expletive, what the expletive was that??? That was right outside my door window, front left corner. I poke my head out and look down.

She had been nosed up so close to the building that the steel/concrete bollard that guards the building's corner was slightly in front of the front left corner of the bumper, and completely invisible from the cab. My walkaround from the officer's door around the back to the driver's door missed it. Argh!!

When I pulled forward into the bollard, the awesomeness that is the huge front bumper was not impressed, and nudged the entire pumper to the right while peeling paint from the bollard. However, when the bumper cleared the bollard, Engine 10 settled slightly back to the left and kranged the diamond plate side step under the driver's door into the bollard. There was no damage at all to the bumper. However, the amber clearance light was neatly peeled off the step, which itself had been pushed in a couple inches and buckled slightly upwards.

More bad language followed. Sorry.

Cranked the wheel to the left and backed slowly up to pull sideways away from the bollard, then pulled away to survey further and pick up pieces of clearance light.

I was very unhappy. I am Engine 10's new caretaker, and I let her down awfully early.

It actually won't be that big of a deal to repair, although the original equipment clearance light might be tricky to find (cast iron housing). Mainly I am very lucky that the bumper survived with nothing more than bollard paint on it, and that the bollard did not get to the fender and cause further harm.

A close call, and I knew better... walkarounds are 360, not 320. All the way around.

That was the first krang. Hopefully the last.

Pickup Day - Part II

Sister is realllly wanting in the engine with me, so first things first. Go to her south end house so she can drop the burden of having her own vehicle along, and we have a few places we want to go. We pull up, neighbors giving us undisguised and puzzled stares, and I give a couple of blasts on the out-of-tune Grover 1510's (they have lost their 'firetruck' stuttertone sound and bring to mind instead a UPS truck... another project).

The brother in law was just heading out the door to pick up the nephew in the north end. Sister parks the Explorer and in a flash she has an evil plan.

Soon she and I are on our way to pick up her kid and his girlfriend from an afternoon party. In the engine, of course. All the way across town to another neighborhood, more stares, more honks, more fun. It was unclear if nephew would be mortified or thrilled. He claimed the latter, and he and his girlfriend took the jumpseats before we pulled away with more weak UPS truck honks.

First stop: Tacoma Fire Station 2, where rumor has it one of the other 1970 ALF sisters is in storage in the basement (Station 2's basement has a rear ground-level entry and used to be the Fire Garage a long, long time ago). TFD has a handful of old apparatus quietly retained for eventual museum purposes, it is hoped, and in future years it will be realized just how valuable and cool this is. As luck would have it, a Battalion Chief was just returning from another errand and met us at the back. Alas, the sister is not here, but in another facility not easily accessed without prior arrangements. Amusingly, this BC also vaguely remembers me as the whacker kid fire buff from 8's of many years ago. I think he is pleased to see that I turned out sane and allegedly a productive member of the service. But wait, I just drove up in a privately-owned fire engine.... OK never mind the appearance of sanity. I think he was just being polite.

Next stop: Old Tacoma Fire Station 8. It is a private residence now, so we don't want to intrude. I park the engine in the street in front of the apron, jump out and grab a couple of pictures, and we're out of there. We amuse ourselves ever so slightly by running the engine back down 43rd Street towards 'M' Street as we recall Engine 8 doing endless times from our childhoods.

The nephew and girlfriend have had about enough now (it is a super-hot day even without sitting next to the hot cowl over the raging Detroit Diesel), so we drop them off at home. Still, they were all grins waving back at people giving them the usual puzzled stares and happy waves from the children.

Next stop: Tacoma Fire Station 10, this engine's apparent last full-time house when assigned in Tacoma. Luckily, the current iteration of Tacoma Engine 10 is in the house. 10's is one of the busiest companies in Tacoma now (~3,000 runs per year), so this is a stroke of good luck. We park across the street at first to stay out of the way, and knock on the door. Listening to just the duty crew, it was something like "Can we help you? You have a what? Really? Oh, it's here??" So we have FF Brent and FF Karen humoring us and our surprise drop-in, but you know it is cool for them to get a first-hand contact with the past of their house, something they are too young to have ridden when it was still with Tacoma. The LT didn't come out. Maybe he knew who I was, heh. Anyway, soon they insist that we back the engine right onto the apron for pictures. FF Karen even presented me with a parting gift when it was time for us to move on and let them get back to their day, which was extremely nice of her, and above and beyond... as for me it was gift enough to see old Engine 10 in front of her old house.

I'd post pictures - I have them - but the Blogspot posting interface doesn't work 100% on the computer I am using at the moment, but pictures will be forthcoming at some point.

Next stop: Mom's house. Living by old Station 8 was a significant part of her life, too, though she moved away from there several years before old Station 8 closed. Sister and I stop and switch places before we pull up, and Mom's husband is shocked to see sister behind the wheel as we pull up... "Wait.... you're driving??" This tickles him and Mom to no end. It is a short visit because time is tight. Mom really and truly thought I was nuts to buy this engine and made sure to tell me as much in advance, but I arrange for silence before starting up the big engine again, and she cannot contain her emotional reaction. She clenches a fist in victory, looks up and says "Yessssss!" You see, she's not nuts, but if it invoked this response in her anyway, then you get what it does for my sister and I. Well, just say you do and we'll move on anyway.

The last two appearances of the day were at house parties. One was a party that sister was involved in, and all of the grownups came out and walked around and climbed on and poked in and opened every door and compartment on that engine. Like young kids always wanted to do, but I gave them the green light to explore to their hearts content, and they all dropped 20 years for the next fifteen minutes.

Finally to a housewarming party that I had been invited to that day, and I parked the engine right on the front lawn. I'll tell ya... that sure brought out the neighbors for a meet and greet at the housewarming! There were lots of actual children this time, and again they got the green light to have fun. If I ever get this engine a new paint job, access will be restricted, but right now it is a 'working' piece, and a few more scuffs are of no importance. We stayed close to keep them from falling off or getting hurt, but I am here to tell you those kids had a blast. Literally. Lots of them. Lots and lots. So much so, in fact, that I swear they would have emptied the air tanks completely out with all that air horn blasting action except that I was sure we were heading towards a disturbing the peace complaint and finally put the kabosh on air horn usage.

It was a long and lonely dark drive home after that.

It was about as grand of a pickup day as one could hope for.

I don't know when this engine will get back to her hometown again, but the one grand day in town was sort of epic considering how long she had waited for it. And sometimes home isn't about place as much as it is about being cared for. I have a wife and six children who are my first priority, and other obligations that come after, but I intend to provide old Engine 10 a good place.

Welcome home, baby.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pickup Day - Part I

I rode up from the Portland area to Tacoma by train, and crashed out at the in-laws (they're the best.. it just kicks all to have great in-laws). Bright and early Saturday morning, my sister picks me up, and northward we go, through Seattle up to Mukilteo to catch the ferry to Whidbey Island, where my pumper awaits. It is a great drive up, filled with anticipation for both of us. My sister is every bit as nuts about this as I am.

We arrive at our destination, and I see the rig parked at the end of the field. Wow, I am actually buying a fire engine. I am nuts... yeah yeah, we've been over that. Sister feels the same way... wow, he's really buying a fire engine.... he's nuts... we both are.

The gentleman selling her walks us around the rig. I've been holding a slight hope that it was my 'home' rig, Engine 8, but we quickly spot the '10' on the back. That's cool, it is still one of the eight sisters, and 10 is a busy house adjacent to 8's first-due that shares nearly all its fires with 8, as 8 often did with 10. She was missing her Q siren and all of her original warning lights, only a slightly modernized roof warning beacon remained. She was missing several of her intake and discharge caps as well as her Stang water cannon. A couple of rolls of hose were all she had for equipment, hosebed and ladder rack bare bones empty. But that can all be fixed later.... this is one of the eight sisters.

Then, he started her up.

Oh.... that SOUND! I remember it well, and a lot of memories came right back. Hearing that old familiar Detroit Diesel roar to life was.... well... amazing. Inside I am all... 'Yessss!'

We took her out for a quick test drive, and she ran beautifully.

I drove two other American LaFrance engines often on the job before this day. One was a 1984 refurbed 'Type 1000 Century Series', and the other a 1990 'Century 2000'... and while I loved them for being ALF rigs, they did not have the same sound as old Engine 10 and her sisters. What was markedly different this time, was that the sound was a constant for us in the cab as we drove, not a coming or going. Interesting.

We returned, exchanged funds and paperwork, and headed out.

First stop, the hardware store. She still bore the markings of the last agency she worked for, Grant County Fire District #13. We purchased some white contact paper and cut it to size to cover the door markings, the unit ID markings under the jumpseat windows, and the unit ID marking on the nose. On the doors and nose we use a permanent marker to clearly mark this engine as NOT IN SERVICE, and also to cover the warning light on the roof and the now-invalid Washington State "Aid Car License" on the windshield.

You see, I had no interest whatsoever in being waved down by someone in distress. I anticipated having no equipment, and although it turned out to have a little bit of hose aboard, a pneumatic actuator was not functioning and she would not go into pump gear, nor was a nozzle to be had. I admit I did bring my turnout gear and a very nice first-aid/trauma jump kit, but I hoped to not need it. I deliberately avoided wearing anything that would made me look even remotely like a firefighter on or off duty.

It started quickly... I think we talked to five people in the parking lot of this small hardware store on Whidbey island who stopped to look at her, realizing it was a privately-owned toy. Mostly older guys. Yeah, they had boats and stuff... but you could tell they suddenly (if only temporarily) had Fire Engine Envy. This continued all day.

Driving her onto the ferry was a treat. Sister had the roughest time... she wanted to be in the fire engine, not following. Darn all the luck, I swear she would have sold that Ford Explorer to the first person that offered $100 just so she could ride back in the engine, but no one came forward in time.

The ride back to Tacoma was uneventful, except for the part where I spoke inside the cab while approaching the Tacoma Dome on I-5 as if old Engine 10 could hear me.

"Welcome home, baby. Welcome home".

Nuts? Yeah, I am. But I accepted that many years ago.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hedging on the Blog name...

How do I know it was Engine 10?

Well, the black and yellow "10" on the center rear compartment, still visible under a thin coat of silver paint, is a pretty good clue, I think. Neither of the districts that had this rig after Tacoma use a numbering system that includes any apparatus identified with a simple "10".

But was it Engine 10 during its entire run with Tacoma? Now that I boldly started the blog with this name, I am not so sure.

By the time I immersed myself in being a goofball underage fire buff in Tacoma, it was after 1980. At that time, the eight 1970 American LaFrance pumpers were assigned to E3, E4 (at that time referred to as 'Support 4'), E7, E8, E10, E14, E15 and E16.

There were six newer pumpers in the fleet by 1980. The two '76 Telesqrt ALFs referred to in the first post (E6 and E17), and four '80 Mack CF pumpers (E1 and E2 as normal pumpers, and E9 and E11 with Telesqrts).

If you take away those six newer pumpers, it almost certainly changes how those eight ALFs were assigned when they arrived in 1970, making up to six of them possible hand-me-downs from elsewhere. So who (if anyone) got the hand-me-downs? That is before my time, so to speak.

I've been waiting to hear back from the Tacoma Fire Garage on this. They've been very helpful to the extent that they can, answering questions about a rig out of their inventory for almost 20 years. The data is somewhere, and it will be found.

If I ever am successful in the restoration of this engine, I intend to use 1970-vintage livery and identify it according to its very first TFD assignment, and I acknowledge it might not always have been Engine 10.

Now really, do you really care about this? Probably not. This is just an early end run to explain myself in advance if the blog name suddenly changes to The Engine 2 Project, etc.

Thanks for humoring me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Beginning

I grew up in Tacoma, Washington, just a few doors down from Fire Station 8 at South 43rd and "L" Streets. Although my sister had the 'bug' first, by the time I was out of elementary school, I knew that I wanted to be a firefighter when I grew up.

I started hanging around Station 8 all the time. I mean, ALL the time. I was an over-the-top Fire Buff... someone who just loves being around firefighters and firefighting. Without going into too much detail (because this blog isn't really supposed to be about me), let's just say that it is a miracle that I didn't get myself killed, the way I chased after calls in South Tacoma on my bicycle and often got a bit too close to the action.

I owe much to the patience of the firefighters of that time who kept me alive despite myself. Mel Smith, Milt Nelson, Joe Stiles, Brian Trunk, Kenny Faulkner, Mike Newhouse, Davey Jones, Don Hoffman, Jeff Hokensen, Ben Baltazar, Cornelius Winesberry, Lonnie Hampton ... these are a few of the names that come right to mind, but there were many others. Some patient, others not so much - but understandably so. Yeah you guys, I was pretty much hopeless, all enthusiasm and no common sense, but you all kicked me in the teeth and busted my balls enough that I eventually became useful as a firefighter later on.


Back in the day, Engine 8 was a 1970 American LaFrance 'Type 900' pumper, and being the first engine I became very familiar with, it is established in my mind as the embodiment of the romanticised ideal fire engine. Tacoma had eight of these engines, as well as three ALF truck companies (two 80' (?) Snorkels and a tiller-driven aerial), from 1970. Tacoma already had some 1964 Type 900's before this, and also eventually ran another ALF TDA (1972) and a couple of ALF Century Series pumpers with 50' Telesqrt booms (1976) before moving to other manufacturers in subsequent years.

Fast forward.

I have been a firefighter since 1993. There is a small set of firefighters and other fire buffs who own old fire apparatus, not unlike all of the many car collectors out there. It's just that fire engines require a bigger storage space. I had long wanted to pick up an old pumper, but had no specific schedule to do so.

A month or so ago, an old engine showed up on a used car lot near me. I stopped in to see it, a 1966 Mack Model 'C'. It was nice enough, had issues to be expected on a 45 year old truck, but nothing show-stopping. I was hemming and hawing about it. Money I could arrange. Storage I had already. But was this 'the one'?

While discussing it with my sister, she asked about the old '70 ALF Engine 8, which had been replaced in 1987 with a lime-yellow Spartan/Thibault pumper that lacked character (and a Q2B siren). She didn't remember what year it was, or quite how it looked.

When crafting my reply, I did a web search to find pictures of a 1970 ALF pumper for reference.

The 3rd result: A CraigsList ad posted only the day prior, offering one of Tacoma's eight 1970 American LaFrance pumpers for sale.

No. Way.

It would have been grand to get my hands on any late 60's or early 70's ALF, that would have been close enough. Really cool to get a '70 ALF, the 'right' year. But one of the eight 1970 Tacoma ALFs? Are you kidding? I have heard so many times from people who talked about rare or once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to buy the fill-in-the-blank, didn't jump on it, and forever regretted it. The implausibility of how this played out only encouraged my feeling that it was 'meant to be'. So, I followed the advice given, contacted the seller immediately, and picked it up a few days later.

As it turned out, this pumper was Tacoma Engine 10 in its last full-time assignment with Tacoma, from the district located just to the south of Engine 8's district. When Tacoma eventually sold it from their reserve fleet, it was picked up by Grant County Fire District #5, who owned it for the next thirteen years. Grant 5 painted it white over lime yellow (travesty!!), and it was serving as Grant 5's Engine 561 upon its second retirement. Old Engine 10 found its third career with Grant County Fire District #13, where it was serving as Engine 1312 when retired for the final time three years ago.

At least two private owners later, I now own her.

And that's the story of how this all got started.