By Ron Heal
For nearly 25 years, a 1936 REO-Seagrave pumper served the community of Cayce, South Carolina, a small city near the state capitol of Columbia. While the pumper was used as a firefighting machine, responding to every type of fire call the city received, the pumper was also a part in parades, festivals, and historical reunions. That all changed in 1960 when the first piece of motorized fire apparatus was replaced with a new fire engine. The REO-Seagrave was sold to the Sally Fire Department in Aiken County, South Carolina. After several years of service at Sally, the pumper was declared surplus and abandoned and was parked outside.
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Cayce firemen and others with an enthusiasm for history knew the fate of the old pumper over at the Sally Fire Department. In December 2002, the Cayce Historical Museum purchased the truck for $3,800 and towed the rig back to Cayce. The truck was in rough shape after sitting out for several years. The engine was cracked, parts were missing, and three accidents had damaged the grille and left front of the truck. The City of Cayce Maintenance Shop took on some of the major repairs. They installed a Chevrolet 8-cylinder gas engine and added a rear end off a surplus dump truck. After all that work, it was discovered that the brakes did not work. At this point, the truck sat out back for another decade.
In 2015, the Cayce Historical Museum wanted to create an exhibit on the history of the City of Cayce’s Public Safety Department. The 1936 REO-Seagrave pumper would be the jewel in the exhibit. With the faith that the pumper would one day be restored, a metal building was built to house and display the pumper. In 2017, Jerry Kirkland was brought on staff. Jerry had experience working on car engines and restoring vintage vehicles. Museum Director Leo Redmond introduced Jerry to his first big project: the 1936 REO-Seagrave. Jerry fell in love with the project from the start. First up was a rebuild of the Chevrolet engine, a victim of sitting out for too many years. A new carburetor, new starter, and new hoses and belts got the motor running again. The next step was getting the truck to stop. The brakes did not work. That issue took five different master cylinders to find the correct cylinder to work with the heavy-duty rear end. Next the entire body was removed from the frame. Bent pieces were repaired and straightened and sandblasted to get ready for painting—one piece at a time. Local painter Randy Slice did the painting. There were many missing parts that had to be fabricated. The original fire pump had to be removed for fear that the pump could lock up. A new drive shaft was made.
When Leo Redmond retired in 2018, Jerry became a one-man show. Work on the REO-Seagrave paused while Jerry looked after many other duties to keep the museum going. Later that year, the museum was able to bring Andy Thomas onboard, allowing Jerry more time to devote to the REO. Some of the work that remained to be done to complete the rig included lettering and striping, rewiring the gauges, new lights for parade activity, seat recovering, and carpet placed down in the hosebed. The damaged grille had to be sent out to Atlanta, Georgia, to be refinished in a chrome shop. Local shop owner Al Hill worked on the lettering and striping. Museum Commissioner Dale Gaskins and contractor Robbie Amick helped in the final push to finish the restoration.
Finally, the REO-Seagrave pumper was ready to show and parade. It ran! It had working brakes, and it gleamed prettier than ever. Those were Jerry’s words. December 14, 2019 was the West Columbia-Cayce Christmas Parade of Lights. The REO-Seagrave pumper was ready to parade. For sure, the pumper was a big hit with all in attendance. A great deal of time, money, and work have gone into having an 84-year-old fire engine restored for future generations to see and enjoy.
The 1936 REO-Seagrave will be the crown jewel in the Cayce Historical Museum’s Public Safety exhibit that will be finished sometime in late 2020 or early 2021. Jerry Kirkland invites you to stop by and check out the old fire engine. It has stories to tell!
Thanks to Jerry Kirkland and Andy Thomas for their help with pictures and details to present this feature. Both men are dedicated to the Cayce Historical Museum and to the restoration of the 1936 REO-Seagrave pumper. If you or your fire department have a vintage piece of fire apparatus that has a story to tell, please share your information. Ron Heal can be reached at [email protected].