Aerials, Features, Heal, Pumpers

Two Guys and 37 Vintage Fire Apparatus

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By Ron Heal

A few years ago, I attended a national SPAAMFAA summer muster in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Every summer the Great Lakes Chapter of SPAAMFAA has a gathering or muster of vintage fire apparatus at that very popular tourist destination. Attending those musters is always worth the trip. Frankenmuth has also hosted several national SPAAMFAA summer meetings and musters, bringing in a selection of vintage fire apparatus from all over the USA and even a few Canadian rigs. While checking out the vintage apparatus line, I came across a well-known 1930 Seagrave tractor-drawn aerial (TDA) ladder truck that had served the Syracuse (NY) Fire Department as Truck 7. This truck was no stranger to musters in the east. It had been owned by some of the most well-known names in vintage fire apparatus circles—Richard Horstman, Ken Soderbeck, and Ryan DeVries had all been owners at one time. The 85-foot wooden aerial in a dark maroon color is very impressive. It was interesting to find out that the rig was now owned by Dr. Francis Glenn, a corn breeder and seed producer from Blenheim, Ontario. Glenn was on hand to talk about the rig he had trailered over from Blenheim. I was surprised to find such a storied rig that had served a U.S. city had made its way across the border to Canada. It turns out that the Seagrave was only the tip of a very large collection of vintage fire apparatus assembled along the shores of Lake Erie, just outside of the town of Blenheim. Glenn gave me his business card, and I am glad he did.

Over the years, I have stayed in touch with Glenn, and with each phone visit, I have learned more about his unique collection of vintage fire apparatus would you believe 18 pieces of fire apparatus? And they are all Seagrave-related. The best part of this feature is that there is even more!

Glenn is very accommodating and is generous to share information on his vintage apparatus collection. In 2015 when the Champaign (IL) Fire Department was getting ready to observe its 150th anniversary, we were able to make arrangements for Glenn to bring his 1915 Seagrave pumper that had served Champaign back to be a part of that big event. The 100-year old pumper was beautifully restored for previous owner John Zangerle by Ken Soderbeck. The pumper ran the parade route with ease. Glenn brought along his neighbor, Wes Thompson. It turns out that these two guys are not just neighbors, but they both are vintage fire apparatus collectors. By my count Thompson has 19 pieces of vintage fire apparatus. Two guys in rural Blenheim, Ontario, Canada, with 37 rigs between them!

In late June 2017, my travels took me back home to Ontario. Glenn and Thompson were kind enough to invite me to Blenheim to see their collections. On July 1, Canada was celebrating its 150th birthday, and there were all kinds of events and parades planned for that big event. I was sure that Glenn and Thompson would be getting rigs ready for some area parades. If they could find another 37 drivers, they could have their own parade. Keep in mind there are a couple of TDA rigs.

Jim Fitzgerald, retired London (Ontario) Fire Chief and his wife Betty joined me in Blenheim. Our first stop was to Glenn’s. His apparatus is on display in an almost museum-type setting. A former winery has been extensively refurbished to house most of his apparatus and other fire related items. Francis has hosted meetings and field trips for the Great Lakes Chapter of SPAAMFAA and also for the Ontario Fire Buffs. It is amazing to go through the setting and see nothing but Seagrave fire apparatus.

Seagrave had a Canadian connection going back to early motorized fire apparatus. Its early Canadian plant was in Walkerville, Ontario, a Windsor, Ontario suburb. Later, Seagrave moved to Woodstock, Ontario, where it was known as Bickle Seagrave and later as King Seagrave. Glenn’s first apparatus purchase was in 2003 when he headed to Eagle River, Wisconsin, to bring home a 1975 1,500-gpm Seagrave pumper that had served Glenview, Illinois, and later serving Eagle River. He drove the rig home.

Who was first to own a vintage fire truck? Thompson was first to own a vintage fire truck—a 1962 Ford C John Bean pumper that served Kilmarnock, Virginia. He purchased it in 1999. Thompson advised that his close friend Glenn was easily coerced into joining in the purchase of vintage fire apparatus. In this case, “close friend” is best described as having their two storage facilities within a half mile of each other along the shores of Lake Erie. The two men have had some interesting adventures traveling around the USA and Canada to bring home their trophy vintage fire apparatus.

So, how do you find 37 vintage fire trucks? One of the best resources has been the Internet. Another good source is to attend various SPAAMFAA or other fire-related musters held at various times all over the country. There is a solid network of information on fire apparatus that is for sale. Thompson shares that his hobby has evolved over time. While he finds old apparatus more appealing, an original truck is just as beautiful as a fully restored truck. He enjoys working on a truck as much, if not more, than using them in parades and musters. The friends and acquaintances made along the way are most important. How great that a couple of nights a week will find Thompson and Glenn in one of their neighboring buildings working on their vintage rigs or swapping good stories.

Glenn has had the good fortune to obtain several rigs that have been beautifully restored by their previous owners. Earlier we mentioned the 1915 Seagrave that served Champaign, Illinois. This rig had been restored by Ken Soderbeck in 1978 for John Zangerle. Dave Wheeler did a seven-year restoration on the 1950 Bickle Seagrave that had served Windsor, Ontario. A 1951 Seagrave sedan-style pumper that served Detroit, Michigan, is also a Ken Soderbeck restoration.

With some of the big summer musters wrapped up for this year, there still are two big musters coming up in Ontario. Saturday, September 2, 2017, is the date for the St. Thomas muster and parade. Chatham is the site for Firefest on September 22 and 23, 2017. It is a safe bet that Glenn and Thompson will be on hand with some of their vintage rigs.

Back to July 1 and the big Canada Day celebration. Glenn had his 1947 Seagrave pumper that served Atlantic, Iowa, all decked out for the parade. You guessed it—down came a downpour of rain. Some things never change.

My thanks to two good fire buff friends from the land of the Maple Leaf for their hospitality.

Here is a list of Dr. Glenn’s rigs.

  • 1915 Seagrave 750-gpm pumper. Serial number not found. Unknown where the rig served
  • 1915 Seagrave 750-gpm pumper with chemical tank, served Champaign, IL
  • 1925 Seagrave 750-gpm pumper with booster tank. Served Upper Darby, PA
  • 1924 Seagrave Suburbanite 400-gpm pumper. Served Conway, NH
  • 1928 Seagrave 750-gpm pumper. Served Rome, NY. First model with front brakes
  • 1930 Seagrave 85-foot tillered aerial. Served Syracuse, NY
  • 1936 Seagrave1,000-gpm pumper. Springfield body. Served Woonsocket, RI
  • 1936 Seagrave special 500-gpm pumper. Served Mt. Kisco, NY and Mackinac Island, MI
  • 1938 Seagrave 75-foot tillered aerial Served Rome, NY
  • 1942 Seagrave 750-gpm canopy cab. Served Newmarket, NH. Restored by Granite Hand Tub owner to red. Original was grey painted Navy engine
  • 1943 Seagrave 750-gpm pumper, open cab. Served Oshawa, Ontario. Keeping for parts
  • 1947 Seagrave 750-gpm pumper. Served Atlantic, IA
  • 1950 Bickle Seagrave 1250-gpm canopy cab pumper. Served Windsor, Ontario. Dave Wheeler 7-year restoration in 1997
  • 1951 Bickle Seagrave 750-gpm canopy cab pumper. Served Kitchener, Ontario. First 75th anniversary series made in Woodstock, Ontario
  • 1951 Seagrave sedan-style 1,000-gpm pumper. Served Detroit, MI. Ken Soderbeck restoration
  • 1952 Bickle Seagrave 75-foot steel hydraulic aerial ladder. Served Oshawa, Ontario
  • 1975 Seagrave 1,500-gpm pumper. Served Glenview, IL and later Eagle River, WI. First rig purchased by Francis in 2003.

Here is a list of Wes Thompson’s apparatus.

  • 1851 Hunneman hand tub.  Restoration almost completed
  • Circa 1850 Hunneman hose reel
  • 1915 International chemical truck
  • 1917 Bickle horse drawn gasoline engine driven fire pump. Served Ontario Department of Forests
  • 1921 International Bickle pumper. Served Dutton, Ontario
  • 1925 American LaFrance, Model 75 pumper. Served Massena, NY
  • 1925 American LaFrance, Type 31 tillered aerial. Served West New York, NJ
  • 1930 Maxim pumper
  • 1927 Studebaker Bickle pumper
  • 1930 Mack pumper. Served Liberty Boro, PA
  • 1936 American LaFrance Junior400 tillered city service ladder. Served Rockford, IL
  • 1947 Mack Type 95 pumper
  • 1948 Ford fire chief’s car
  • 1950 Crosley “Squad”. Served at an amusement park
  • 1951 Mack Type 75 quad. Served Fort Thomas, KY
  • 1962 Ford C600 Bean pumper. Served Kilmarnock, VA. Wes’ first truck
  • 1966 Seagrave tillered aerial. Served Strasbourg, VA. Ex Fairfax County, VA
  • 1970 Mack CF600 pumper. Served Elizabeth, PA

RON HEAL compiles the “Apparatus Showcase” and “Recent Orders” departments monthly in Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.