John Feather was 19 when he first drove Boyle County Engine 3 to a fire. Now, more than 50 years later, the truck has been retired and restored and Feather is still driving it.
The story of man and truck goes back to 1964 when Feather was only 7, living in Parksville.
Members of the fire department in Parksville were showing the newly obtained Ford F-850 fire truck to the community when young Feather and his mom were on their way home from the post office.
Something about being a firefighter stuck with him. Many of Feather’s family members were on the fire department, as were the dads of his friends. So, he and his friends emulated that, wanting to someday be firefighters themselves.
When they were old enough, they became junior firefighters. While he couldn’t do much besides roll hoses as a junior firefighter, it didn’t lessen Feather’s interest. In 1974, he officially joined as a firefighter.
When he was 19, a fire call went out and no one was able to drive the truck to the scene. The policy was a driver had to be 21, but Feather and one other man, who couldn’t drive, were the only ones at the station. Feather, who worked at his dad’s store in Parksville at the time, was given permission to drive it to the scene. After that, they gave him permission to drive it always, despite his age.
It’s not just Feather’s story that weaves through the fire department and the community of Parksville, but his wife’s too. The two were about 5 years old when they were paired to be crown bearers in a fall festival in Parksville. They knew each other, but it wasn’t until he had graduated from high school, the fall of 1975, that they started dating. Jenny was a senior at the time.
Her family was invested in the station in Parksville, too. Her grandfather, Council Belcher, was the captain of the department for many years, and several of her uncles and cousins were on the department.
The truck served the county and the community of Parksville for 30 years, and in 1994 it was retired and sold — to Feather.
He and a friend, Bob Ferguson, had started collecting newspaper clippings about the department, along with firefighter memorabilia. Feather became sort of a historian for the county department, collecting references to the department in the newspaper. Independently, he was able to get the clippings from 1978 to now, but Feather worked with Tony Gaier, who was cataloging some of the history of the Danville Fire Department, to get the county department’s history from 1954-1977.
It was in Fort Knox when Feather started trying to get the truck back. Unbeknownst to him, his wife also was talking to the man about getting the truck.
When Feather turned 50, Jenny presented him the truck as a surprise. That was almost eight years ago, and the two have put a lot of work in on it since.
“This has been a lot of birthday gifts, a lot of Christmas gifts,” he said with a smile. “My kids would ask, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ You know how most dads get shoes or shirts — ‘I want this bracket’ or ‘these knobs.’”
At one point, Feather said he had more than 800 kinds of memorabilia, but some of those were sold off to help pay for the truck restoration.
As much of the truck as possible is original, but some parts had to be obtained from other trucks or be replicated. In trying to restore the truck, Feather has met many people and visited many junk yards.
The parts were shipped from across the country — the seat cover was from a company in Oregon, the chrome work completed in Knoxville. Some of the parts were found on scrapped trucks.
“We’ve had a lot of fun with it, with just finding things,” he said.
The gauge panel came off a sister truck that went to the county station near Junction City and turned into a tow truck after it was retired. The lights were ones Feather had to make.
He’s now trying to locate the original Boyle County Tanker 1.
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