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.