By Ron Heal
The July 4, 2015, Petunia Festival Parade in Dixon, Illinois, featured the return of an old fire engine friend. Just a few weeks before the parade, members of the Dixon (IL) Rural Fire Protection District had negotiated the purchase of a 1928 Dodge Bros.-Boyer fire truck. It was the district’s first piece of fire apparatus when it formed in 1948.
Dixon is a community of 15,000 located on the Rock River in north-central Illinois. It may be best known as the boyhood home of President Ronald Wilson Reagan. The city of Dixon has a paid fire department. The surrounding area is protected by the rural fire district. The two fire services often work together with the rural district handling all vehicle extrication responses and the city department also responding to vehicle incidents in the district to provide fire suppression. This spirit of cooperation may have been around since shortly after the rural fire district was formed. One of the first pieces of fire apparatus used by the rural group was a 1928 Dodge Bros.-Boyer 300-gpm pumper. It appears the rig first saw service with the city of Dixon. In Roger Burchfield’s “Boyer Fire Equipment Company” book, he lists the delivery of the pumper going to the city in 1930. Just what transpired to bring the rig into service with the rural district is not clear, but it looks like the newly formed district began with an older piece of fire apparatus. That was often the case in Illinois back in the late 1940’s as fire districts were just being formed following state legislation. The Boyer pumper would remain in service with the rural fire department until 1964 when it became surplus and was sold.
Over time the pumper would be sold to other collectors but never went too far away from the Dixon area. For many years, up until 2003, the rig was owned by Bob Bauscher, a florist in nearby Freeport, Illinois. He kept the rig at his Arcade Avenue greenhouse location, and occasionally would take the rig out for a Sunday ride. Bob’s passing lead to the sale of the vintage pumper along with several other vintage vehicles. When Vern Ellis of rural Forreston, Illinois, just south of Freeport, heard that the rig was on its way out west to Wyoming to become a yard ornament, he quickly stepped in and bought the rig with the intent to keep the truck in the area. When Ellis brought the pumper to his rural home, the odometer registered 637 miles. Ellis is a collector of Hudson automobiles and spends much of his spare time in the world of Hudson motor cars. For the time that he owned the Dixon Rural rig, he did not get the fire engine running. There just was not the time to make a living, collect Hudson automobiles, and get the fire truck running. Over the years Ellis contacted the Dixon Rural Fire Protection District more than once to see if there was any interest in the pumper going back to the department. Early attempts were not successful. Then about four years ago there was a new interest at the rural department.
Two years ago Sid Aurand became the fire chief, and some of the members asked if they could form a fireman’s association. That idea met with approval. Matt Schumacher and Matt Hey were two of the members who were eager to get going on the possibility of bringing the vintage fire truck home. Ellis very much wanted to see the Dixon group have the truck and promised that the group would always have first chance on the purchase. It would take some time and a combination of money-raising events to come up with the purchase price, but the Dixon Rural group got the job done!
In June, 2015, a group headed over to Forreston to trailer the rig home. It still did not run, but soon the skills of the Dixon group came to the forefront. Sam Wells and John Foxley were two veteran members of the rural fire district who had actually worked on the fire engine when it was still on the job. Both men are mechanics, and getting to work on the 1928 Dodge was like old times. They quickly volunteered to join the restoration crew. Repairs were made to the water pump. New plug wires were installed, and a new set of points added. Next came a new set of tires, a new windshield, a new brake system master cylinder, and wheel cylinders. The radiator and gas tank were flushed and cleaned. A new fuel line and a tuneup completed the repairs in quick order. July 4, 2015 was a beautiful day for a parade in Dixon, and the 1928 Dodge-Boyer pumper was all cleaned up and ready to be welcomed back to Dixon.
We all hear about the car owned by the little old lady that only drove to church on sunny Sundays. Sometimes that is true of old fire trucks. This rig must take the prize for low mileage on a vintage rig. Ellis shares that when he sold the rig in June the mileage was 640 miles! Even though Ellis did not get the rig running, he would periodically pull the rig slowly down his long rural lane in gear to prevent the motor from seizing. Three miles in 12 years must be some kind of a record. Currently the pumper is undergoing a few additional upgrades, but it looks like everything should be in good order by early fall. The main fire station for the Dixon Rural Fire Protection District is located on the west edge of the city. The apparatus floor is filled with front-line apparatus. The district does have two outlying fire stations. One of those stations is located just a few miles away in the community of Grand Detour, and there is space in the station to bring the vintage rig to that location. With Foxley living just down the road from the Grand Detour fire station, the fire engine will be in good hands.
There is always an interesting story to be shared on all vintage fire apparatus. It is almost as if they have a life of their own. The Dixon rig is no exception. As the story continues, one of the major considerations is whether the rig stay in an “as is” condition or should the association consider a full restoration. There are arguments both ways. It is amazing, for all the years the rig has been around, just how good its overall appearance is still today. On the other hand, the talent and ability of the members of the fireman’s association would make a frame-off restoration an easy task.
As I talked with Ellis, he reminded me that in all the years he had the rig it did not run. He hopes to drive over to Dixon or Grand Detour in his Hudson and take a spin on the Boyer tat before the pumper is put away for the season! Members of the Dixon Rural Fire Protection District are ready to make that happen.