Big Bertha was collecting dust in a firehouse in Bendersville when Ivan Bretzman made an offer that was more than he had bargained.
“I told the guys, ‘If you are not going to take care of it, why not sell it to me?'” recalled Bretzman, an Adams County native now living in Mount Holly Springs. “It was the only fire engine I intended to buy.”
There were a lot of memories riding on the 1931 Seagrave pumper with a feminine name. It was the first apparatus to carry Bretzman to a fire scene. It was the first engine he ever drove as a volunteer firefighter.
Now 76, Bretzman first got involved in the fire service in 1957 when he joined the fire company in Bendersville, his hometown. A year later, he became a member of Citizens Fire Co. No. 1 in Mount Holly Springs.
In 1983, Bretzman was one of several men selected to check on the progress of a used fire truck Citizens had acquired from a company in New York City. Bendersville was a stopover for the inspection team on the trip back from Waynesboro where the vehicle was being restored and made ready for service.
The membership had voted the night before to sell Big Bertha rather than invest the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars needed to restore the vintage pumper. The president had asked if the offer made in 1983 was still good. It was, so Bretzman purchased the engine with no intention of starting a side business. Big Bertha had other plans.
“My boy and I did the restoration in the evenings after I closed the garage up,” said Bretzman, a local mechanic. “We worked on it for months.”
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