Seagrave Fire Apparatus Origin Mystery Solved

By Ron Heal

When it comes to being around a collection of vintage fire apparatus, one of the best places to be is at a summer SPAAMFAA-sponsored muster. This organization is dedicated to the preservation and admiration of vintage fire apparatus. It is part of their name! For more than 50 years, this group has held local and national musters of vintage firefighting apparatus. There are regional events throughout the country, and in late July or early August, the organization has its national conference and muster. Every third year, the national is held in the Syracuse, New York, area, where SPAAMFAA had its beginnings. The other two years finds the summer event moving around to various locations as bid by the SPAAMFAA chapters. A Midwest favorite location is Frankenmuth, Michigan. The Great Lakes International Antique Fire Apparatus Association (GLIAFAA) is the SPAAMFAA Michigan. Although it holds a regional muster in Frankenmuth every year, GLIAFAA has hosted a couple of national musters this past decade. Frankenmuth is an ideal location. The small city is picturesque and very tourist-friendly. There are quality accommodations and restaurants and a city park with a small river that is ideal as a muster site and drafting. No wonder Frankenmuth is so popular every year for a gathering of fire trucks. It is also Christmas in Frankenmuth all year long, and the chicken dinners are outstanding! More than 150 pieces of fire apparatus are on hand for the national muster. The number of rigs that turn out the other two years is not all that much smaller.

Two years ago while I was at the national muster in Frankenmuth, I was surprised to see a big 1930 Seagrave TDA that had served Syracuse, New York, as Truck 7. The dark maroon aerial has been a main attraction at many SPAAMFAA events going back to the early years of the group. What was more surprising was to learn that this piece of firefighting history has quietly slipped over the border between the United States and Canada and is now owned by Francis Glenn. Glenn lives near the community of Blenheim, in southwestern Ontario, approximately and hour and a half from the border between Windsor and Detroit, Michigan. It was very interesting to learn how the big rig now lives in Canada. The difference between United States and Canadian dollars and possible duties to be paid out certainly add to old rigs coming across the border.

Glenn is president of Glenn Seed Ltd., a family owned foundation seed company. His company is involved in researching, breeding and developing parent corn inbred lines for use by seed companies that produce hybrid corn for sale to farmers. Glenn is dedicated to developing silage-specific corn hybrids for dairy farmers worldwide. His successful operation over many years has allowed him the opportunity to acquire some very large “toys.”

It turns out that Glenn was once a member of a small volunteer fire department in southwest Ontario. He also has a neighbor, Wes Thompson, who is interested in collecting a few old fire trucks. Thompson probably got Glenn thinking about having some vintage fire apparatus when he would recruit him to drive one of Thompson’s rigs in a local parade or drive a second rig.

The Syracuse apparatus is the third in Glenn’s collection. It came in 2006, having been found on eBay. It turns out that eBay has been used several times over the years. Glenn’s collection now numbers 12 Seagrave or Bickle/Seagrave units. IThat Seagrave built fire apparatus in Walkerville and Woodstock, Ontario, for many years was not a factor in building his collection. It just happened that way. Glenn just plain enjoys Seagrave rigs!

Glenn recounts that he started his collection in 2004 when he purchased a 1975 Seagrave pumper that served Eagle River, Wisconsin, on eBay. That pumper has been at the Frankenmuth event several times. It turns out there are several Ontario resident members in the Michigan SPAAMFAA chapter, and some of them own apparatus that they enjoy bringing to Frankenmuth. GLIAFAA does live up to its Great Lakes International name.

Space considerations would not allow full coverage Glenn’s entire fleet. The 2006 purchase of the big Syracuse TDA required building a shop and storage building to house the 63-foot-long rig. Glenn says that he actually has brush painted that rig, being careful not to disturb the beautiful graphics on the truck. Hauling the rig to shows is a challenge. He backs the rig onto a trailer, and slightly raises the ladder to be positioned over the cab of the transport. Little did I realize when I visited with Glenn two years ago at Frankenmuth and asked for his business card that he held the key to unlock a mystery I have been trying to solve for many years.

A 2011 trip to the Cleveland, Ohio, area gave Glenn the opportunity to purchase a 1915 Seagrave pumper that was owned by John Zangerly. This pumper had undergone a restoration and included decoration by Ken Soderbeck. The truck is a beauty and is fully operational. The amazing thing for me about this rig is that it first served in Champaign, Illinois—not that far from where I live.

Years ago, members of the Champaign (IL) Fire Department talked about their early Seagrave pumper, probably the first piece of motorized apparatus in the city. Nobody knew what happened to the 750-gpm pumper. It turns out the rig served a small department near Cincinnati, Ohio, then was sold to a collector, and eventually became a part of Zangerly’s collection. There came a time when Zangerly was ready to downsize his quality collection. When Glenn saw the rig and how good its condition was, he was pleased to bring the rig to Ontario. For me and for the Champaign Fire Department, the mystery is solved.

Looking at the calendar, we are weeks away from the Champaign rig being 100 years old! Glenn plans to show the rig at events and musters in 2015. Wouldn’t it be great to get the rig back to Champaign to be seen and enjoyed in its 100th year? Champaign has a new fire chief just now coming on the job. It would be good if Glenn and the chief could work something to bring the rig back home.

Glenn was generous with his time to bring me up to speed on his collection. We are fortunate there are collectors willing to share their rigs with enthusiasts. GLIAFAA will hold its regional muster on July 25, 2015 in Frankenmuth, while the national SPAAMFAA muster will be Syracuse on August 1, 2015. My bet is that Glenn will be on hand at both events. He tells me he has yet another mystery of his own. He purchased a second 1915 Seagrave pumper in the northeast. The rig has had many owners and has had several restorations. Somewhere along the way, any hope of finding a serial number has been lost. Francis feels there is a strong possibility the rig actually served in the southwest because Seagrave was a very popular delivery to that area back in 1915. So, now Francis has his mystery rig. I sure wish I could help him out.

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

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