SOHS Volunteers Restore 1946 Fire Engine

This blog documents the progress of the rehabilitation and preservation of a 1946 Ford Fire Engine once owned by the Ashland Oregon Fire Department. The Fire Engine was donated to the Southern Oregon Historical Society in May 2017. This project is supported in part by the Oregon Cultural Trust.
History of the Amphibious Fire Engine
Jan 12 2022 - 5:49am

A few months ago, organizers at Jacksonville e-mailed to ask if the Amphibious Fire Engine could perform as Santa Claus' sleigh in their Christmas parade. This makes two years in a row. It could become a tradition.

            The Jacksonville Christmas parade kicks off the shopping season each first Saturday in December, and it's the easiest event we do. On most events we like to have a follow vehicle in case anything goes wrong, but since Jacksonville is less than two miles from Hanley Farm, one person can feel fairly confident driving to town, doing the parade and taking her home. Happily, Mike Trump offered to follow in his car. Most of the other volunteers were unavailable because they're members of the Model A club and busy driving their Fords in the parade.

            Mike and I did the usual routine the day before the parade, checking the engine fluids and battery and waking the old girl up to make sure she'll start after a few months asleep. As usual, she started right up.

            In October we'd had a little work party to remove the oak seat from the bed of the fire engine. Jim Martin, Bill Mendels, Mike Trump and I stored it in a farm outbuilding far from the dust and rodents in the barn. If the world returns to normal we can put it back, but right now scheduling people to ride in events is a problem. This is complicated by our insurance carrier's decision that everyone on the vehicle has to be strapped down while traveling two miles an hour in a parade. People riding on other organizations' parade floats while sitting on folding chairs seem to survive the experience, but it's apparently a risk we can't take.

            While moving the seat we learned that storing things on a fire engine in a barn is not a good idea, unless you're a rodent. Anything under the seat that could be chewed up to make a warm nest had been chewed. Happily, we'd stored our engine manuals and parts books in plastic tubs, so everything irreplaceable was spared.

            But back to the parade. Determining that unlike last year I would be warm while driving in an open cab on a frosty December morning, I decided to wear my 1920s raccoon coat. (This makes the second consecutive blog entry with a raccoon reference.) And I was toasty.

            After the parade we parked on Third Street opposite the Beekman Bank to drop Santa off and let kids climb on the fire engine and work the horn and siren. This time I think one of the kids used the turn signal unit to pull herself into the cab. It broke off in her hand, and she held it up with a "What do I do with this?" expression. Good question. It seems all brands of turn signal switches are made with a pot-metal case that's vulnerable to abuse. Mike has an idea of how to attach it more securely, but we may just have to replace it and consider them expendable.


Jan 12 2022 - 5:44am

Out of the blue a few weeks ago I received a phone call from Kirk Gerbracht, one of the organizers of the Gathering at the Oaks car show. He invited us to bring the SOHS Amphibious Fire Engine to his third annual event on September 12. The show takes place on the lawn at the Rogue Valley Country Club.

            It seemed a slightly odd invitation--our 73-year-old paint job isn't exactly show quality, especially on the hood, where generations of raccoons raised their broods--but it was a rare opportunity to get the fire engine and the historical society before the public during a pandemic.

            Showing the fire engine isn't uncomplicated. It's a good idea to wake her up the day before, start the engine, make sure the battery is still charged, and hose off the barn dust. Reliable Mike Trump helped and got the turn signals working once again. We did replace all the wiring a couple of years ago, but we're still discovering how the rebuilt, resurrected and aftermarket parts we used don't like working together.

            Assembling and positioning dozens of valuable cars on a golf course takes several hours and some fairly involved logistics. We were scheduled among the first to arrive, early in the morning--early enough that I watched the sun rise over the Cascades through the windshield while driving the seven miles from Hanley Farm, where the fire engine lives, to the country club.

            Medford streets are deserted early on a Sunday, but that doesn't mean the trip was uneventful. There are hills on East Main that are barely noticeable in a car, but become a concern when driving a 75-year-old fire engine. It is now clear that we can't put off replacing our failing head gasket much longer. The old lady can drag her weight through the streets when they're level, but not so much when those streets go up hills. (Downshifting for hills isn't an option with our worn gearbox. We have to double-clutch to upshift; downshifting means coming to a complete stop and starting from first gear again.)

            So far there's no actual plan on how to get that engine work done. When we resurrected the fire engine our team was still assembled, and luckily Scott Henselman was able to donate a year's use of a garage big enough to accommodate a 21-foot fire engine. We could pay a professional to do it, I suppose, if we had the money.

            Despite the anxious moments we did arrive at the country club without embarrassing ourselves and positioned the fire engine on the lawn, where we tried to amuse ourselves for the next eight hours. Volunteers Bill Mendels and Jim Martin helped watch the vehicle so we could wander the grounds to pass the time.

            The Amphibious Fire Engine didn't win any awards, but attendees appreciated her, and we got a nice mention in an automotive journalist's blog. You can read it here:


Aug 31 2021 - 5:45am

The Southern Oregon Historical Society is pleased to announce that our 1946 “amphibious fire engine” has been chosen to participate in the Rogue Valley Country Club’s 3rd Annual “Gathering at the Oaks” concours d’elegance on Sunday, September 12.  Entries are by invitation only and are limited to 100 unique and significant vehicles.  

Apr 15 2019 - 7:56am

Thanks to SOHS's intrepid, persistent volunteers, the Amphibious Fire Engine was in the Pear Blossom Parade in 2019. Here is their story, as told by Ben Truwe (photos provided by Doug McGeary):

Our grand plan for participation in this year's parade was to meet at Hanley farm around 9:00 Saturday morning. Simple. But when we tried it we all found our way blocked by police and hundreds of Pear Blossom Run participants.

(Note to self: Pick up the fire engine at dawn next year.)

My attempts to get through or even to find a decision maker to get us through would be boring to relate. Every policeman I talked to said I wouldn't be able to get through until 11:00, the same time the parade would begin. I drove to our spot in the lineup, where I found the Elegant Bustles and Bows people waiting patiently. I told them I would try to make a miracle happen, but not to count on having a fire engine to ride.

Ten o'clock found me resigned and back at home, where I got a phone call from Cyndi Noyes--the hero of this story--who while I was wrangling with the state trooper at Bybee Corner was doing the same at Hanley and Rossanley.

What Cyndi did differently was not to give up. If you ask her I'm sure she'd be happy to relate the tale of her ever-so-polite (yeah, right) conversation with the trooper on her end, who refused to let drivers through even though the runners were gone.

So Cyndi was still at the intersection when he decided to let people through at 10:00. She called me, and I raced to the farm and picked up the fire engine. It must have been the last entrant to arrive at the parade lineup, where I found Bustles and Bows still waiting.

Doug McGeary was there too, and I shanghaied John Miehle from the Holly Theatre float to help Doug carry our banner. John is a founder of the Medford Food Coop and a Holly volunteer.

The combination of the fire engine and costumed riders and walkers was a success. People were happy to see us. The engine started fine, and the vehicle ran like a champ all day.

After the parade Doug and I parked the fire engine by the Lithia tower and let kids climb on it and take it apart. Everything that could be taken apart by hand was disassembled and put together again, some of them repeatedly. We had as many as a dozen kids on it at a time.

At 4:00 the crowds began to thin, so Doug and I stowed our artifacts and gear and got ready to go. Doug was ready to direct me as I reversed. 

Started it up, put it in reverse, let out the clutch, and--nothing. 

First gear, nothing. Second, third, fourth--nothing.

How could I have burned out the clutch without being aware? I had run it in the parade in the "granny gear"--compound low--so it wasn't like I was feathering the clutch all the way.

It seemed like forever, but we finally noticed that the power takeoff lever was in neutral. Now we had yanked on that lever for a year while we were getting the fire engine back on the road, and it wouldn't budge--but it couldn't stand up to a couple hundred kids.

And thus endeth my story. I stowed the fire engine back in the barn, drove home, had a hard cider and took a nap. The end.


Sep 11 2018 - 9:27am

The SOHS Amphibious Fire Engine will be at the Wood House Harvest Festival on October 6th and 7th, from 9am to 4pm. Come on out! 

Jul 6 2018 - 10:57am

Ashland Parade 2018 First PlaceSOHS's fire engine won First Price for Vehicles in the Ashland Parade! The fire engine's first appearance in Ashland in forty years marks the end of yet another phase in its life and the beginning of a new one. Thanks to Alice Mullaly and Doug McGeary for carrying SOHS's banner to assure that people understand SOHS is responsible for saving this piece of history and making it operational again.

The parade was a success. Thousands of people were exposed to the fact that SOHS still exists, and that SOHS is aware that Ashland exists. Now we need to reiterate that message in every other community in Jackson County, and continue to do so.

Children (especially four-to-twelve-year-olds) reacted with great enthusiasm to the engine when it was parked on the Plaza after the parade. At times we must have had a dozen at a time climbing on it, trying on the helmets and constantly working the siren, horn and bells. (And occasionally the starter.) Maybe it was all the noisemaking opportunities it offers; maybe it was because there wasn't much else for kids to do after the parade.

The challenge before SOHS now, with the withdrawal of the rehabilitation team, is whether a new group will materialize to make the decisions and do the scheduling, maintenance and driving necessary to KEEP the fire engine--and SOHS--before the public. Contact me.

We had a donation jar inconspicuously displayed, and we received $47.51 in gas money from appreciative parents.

The children diassembled several things, but did no permanent damage. I was a bit concerned about all the electricity consumed by the constant honking and siren-ing, since the generator was still not working and I'd driven to Ashland on the battery. Fortunately, I'd thought to charge our spare battery, which I had to install by the side of the road on the way home.

Ben Truwe


Jun 29 2018 - 10:23am

Fire EngineAfter thousands of volunteer hours--and thousands of dollars of community donations--Ashland's Amphibious Fire Engine is whole again.

Before recounting the gory details of the last few days, a few acknowledgments are in order. Actually, many, many acknowledgments are in order. Many more people have contributed to this effort, in equally indispensable ways both great and small, than I can recognize here. You have not been forgotten. We are grateful.

This effort would not have been possible without the labor and leadership of our dear departed Rick Black, who spearheaded this effort for the last fourteen months. He will be missed, even though he isn't dead, just moved halfway across the country.

Jim Martin from Ashland and retired Medford firefighter Phil Kessler are the second and third heroes of this effort, donating hundreds of hours of their expertise, time, labor and skinned knuckles and good humor.

Major cash and in-kind donations came from TP Trucking, the Gold Diggers, Nancy Morgan and James Black. Many, many more people made smaller contributions. Now that the fire engine rehabilitation is essentially completed, a display board will be prepared recognizing all the donors--at least all the donors we wrote down.

The last two weeks have been ones of dread and anticipation as we watched the days tick away while we begged and browbeat parts suppliers to pull parts off their shelves and our nuts out of the fire.

The much-anticipated steering parts, located by Joe Davis of Aries Muffler in Medford through multiple sources across the West, finally arrived yesterday, June 27. I won't trouble you with the details, but it was only a matter of a couple of hours for Jim Martin and me to sort through the parts available and assemble and adjust a functional steering box, almost as good as a new one.

Equally anticipated was the instrument cluster, promised several months ago for shipping June 21st. The owner took pity on me and worked all last weekend on it, and shipped only a day later than he said he would. It also arrived yesterday--and is gorgeous. I doubt new ones were as pretty.

Phil Kessler joined us at the garage and the three of us reinstalled the steering box, which involves jacking a ton of 70-year-old metal two feet higher in the air than it should ever hover, then threading the steering column and gears into place--from the bottom.

Replacing the gauges is also an acrobatic exercise, necessitating entirely too many headstands under the dash. We referred to the wiring diagram and scrupulously matched the appropriate wires to the appropriate terminals.

By this time it was 6:00, but how could we delay starting it up and taking just a little drive around the block? We turned the key, switched the ignition on, pressed the starter button, and it cranked beautifully. But didn't start. Not only didn't start, but none of the lights that Mike Trump had finished working on last week--turn signals, head and taillights, spotlights--worked either.

Probably wisely, we decided not to fool with it any more yesterday evening and to attack it again the next day (today). So we went home to ponder the problem and to let the fire engine think about just what it had done.

This morning we pulled the instrument cluster out again (more headstands) and checked the wiring. We had wired it correctly. But Jim Martin had an inspiration, switched two wires, and everything works again. None of us really understand why, not even Jim, but we're trying not to question it.

Everything works now except the speedometer, and, frankly, at this moment I'm content to drive it without one. This is not much of a concern when it has a top speed of 45 miles per hour.

I wish I could say the rest of today was spent skylarking, just driving around and enjoying what we'd accomplished, but instead we spent the rest of the day trying to find a garage that would bleed and adjust our brakes in time for the Fourth. (And then there was the hour we blew after we ran out of gas and tried to figure out why it didn't run anymore.)

We did find such a place, and with luck we'll have the vehicle back on Monday at the latest. There's still some more work to be done--it'd be nice to have a tailpipe--but by Monday it'll be safe and reliable enough for parade work. Mostly.

It's a hoot to drive. I've driven a lot of weird old vehicles, but never one as reluctant to be driven as this one. The only thing that isn't stiff and unresponsive and funky is the turn signals, but since it's too noisy to hear the signal flasher clicking and there's no indicator light, even the turn signals are a problem of their own.

After about an hour of experience driving it in town the truck finally decided that resistance is futile and let me shift gears without crashing, but it will NOT be downshifted, thank you very much. You certainly can't say that it doesn't have a personality of its own.

If you want to drive it yourself, stop by the SOHS Research Library and fill out a volunteer form. Now that the work of the rehabilitation committee is mostly in the past, we need a new committee maintain it, schedule it, fill the seats and drive it to events and in parades. The SOHS Amphibious Fire Engine needs YOU!


Jun 23 2018 - 12:08pm

Our regular Tuesday work session saw us not at the usual garage but at Joe Davis' shop scratching our heads over the steering gear. Joe manufactures mufflers for Model A Fords right here in Medford, on West Jackson.

The steering gear parts had arrived, but Joe and Jim Martin figured out that the root problem--that destroyed our steering gears forty years ago--concerned a part that we couldn't find: The bearings on the sector gear had self-destructed, causing the sector to seize and create excessive wear on the worm gear. What to do?

Fortunately, Joe has a friend Dave who rebuilds steering gearboxes. We overnighted the sector to him, and Joe just now relayed that Dave has already replaced our shattered bearings with a steel bushing, and will have the sector gear in our hot little hands on Monday. And when Joe explained the project to Dave, he decided not to even charge us!

Joe Davis and Dave Delmue of Morgan Hill, California are the heroes of the week. Thank you both.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, our instrument cluster languishes. When we sent the gauges six months ago they promised to ship them back June 21. When I called three weeks ago they said they were on track to ship them June 21. When I called on June 21 they said they aren't done. (Personnel problems, apparently.) The owner promised to work all weekend to get them done and shipped to us on Monday. Somehow I'm skeptical.

Still, once the steering is fixed next week the gauges will start to look like a very small issue. We can always temporarily wire in some aftermarket gauges.

Ben Truwe

Jun 11 2018 - 9:10am

fire engine with its new ladderUsing nothing more than some donated lumber, 100-year-old hardware and about fifty hours of his time, SOHS Board Member Greg Applen fabricated an authentic reproduction extension ladder.  It isn't only a beautiful piece of work, it really dresses up the right side of the vehicle.

Thanks, Greg!

Jun 8 2018 - 10:09am

Work on the fire engine is slowing down as there's less and less to do on it.

Tuesday of this week Mike Trump noticed the headlights weren't working anymore, so he rerouted the wiring so the wires won't pull off the switches again. He also wired up the back spotlight, wiring in a red indicator light on the panel so we'll know when it's on.

While Mike was doing that, I spent the day getting in his way installing the seat belts--which was a lot more involved than it probably sounds. Do you know why fire trucks have red seat belts? It's so you don't go flying through the windshield if you stop suddenly.

I called the company in Arkansas that's rebuilding our instrument cluster. They're painting the gauges now and swear they'll be ready to ship the 21st or so. That should be in plenty of time to install them by parade time July 4, but it's cutting it close and isn't doing my nerves any good.

Even more nerve-wracking is the steering box situation. The fire engine is running and otherwise just about ready to go, but we've pulled the steering box so it's currently undriveable.

The truck wasn't really driveable before we pulled it--you had to turn the steering wheel about 120 degrees either way before the tires started to turn. Not terribly safe, and even less safe for a parade.

A parts company in California has been telling me every day for a week that they're moments away from locating all the steering gears, seals, gaskets and bearings we'll need, but so far nothing definite, no parts on the way. If they do get any parts in our hands in the next couple of weeks (assuming they're the correct parts) we'll reassemble the box with whatever parts fit.

I don't relish the idea of reassembling the steering box without any new parts at all, but it could be done. The idea of herding a firetruck down the middle of Main Street in Ashland isn't a pleasant one, but that's the fallback. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

We have paid our $50 entry fee for the Ashland Fourth of July parade, so we've committed to being there. We've been promised a place on the Plaza to park it after the parade, so people can climb on it while we talk historical society at them.

If you haven't visited the fire engine yet, we work on it every Tuesday at least 11-1:00 (and sporadically and unpredictably on other days, when parts come in). You can find us at 3263 Biddle Road, Medford, in the back.

Ben Truwe