By Ron Heal
On the last Saturday of summer, a group of HOIFEC members headed out of central Illinois on a ‘Fox hunt. This was not the typical fox hunt with horses and hounds. The fox would prove to be Ahrens-Fox pumpers. With some good preplanning, the group determined that the St. Louis, Missouri, area was the best place to hunt for a ‘Fox.
From previous articles, you may recall that our Heart of Illinois Fire Enthusiasts and Collectors chapter of the national SPAAMFAA has partnered with the Wheels O’ Time Museum in Peoria, IL. Our two groups are restoring a 1931 N-S-4 Ahrens-Fox pumper that served the Peoria Fire Department for more than 25 years. We are now two years into the frame-off restoration project and things are moving right along as we start to reassemble the big 1,000-gpm piston pumper. An opportunity to see some examples of fully restored ‘Fox pumpers could be inspiring to our dedicated crew of volunteer workers.
Fire apparatus enthusiasts somehow manage to have a network of their own to know what is going on in the fire apparatus world. They know about new orders and recent deliveries. They also know where the gems of vintage apparatus may be found and appreciated. While many of those rigs are found in museums, there are many more of those rigs still with local fire departments or privately owned. When it comes to Ahrens-Fox, one of the most revered names in the history of the fire service, you can find these great machines in all the locations listed above.
So, why did our “hunters” pick the St. Louis area for their hunt? First, we are a comfortable three-hour drive to the greater St. Louis area. More important, we knew there was a good chance of seeing three ‘Foxes in one day! Just over a year ago I featured Doug Klink from Estes Park, Colorado. Doug was all set at that time to bring Collinsville’s 1925 J-S-4 pumper back to that Illinois city for its Italian Fest Parade. Thanks to severe flooding at Estes Park last September, Doug was unable to get out with the rig. A year later Doug advised that the trip was on for Italian Fest 2014. It turns out that Collinsville is just a few miles away from St. Louis. Thanks to one of our HOIFEC members selling his 1927 Reo-Boyer chemical-pumper combination unit to a St. Louis based classic car collector and dealer, we learned that Mark Hyman, owner of Hyman Ltd. Classic Cars, has a 1925 N-S-4 1,000-gpm pumper in his collection of classic vehicles. Hyman extended an invitation for our group to see his rig and possibly take the pumper for a spin around the area by his large showroom location.
It is not easy to begin to share how vast Mark’s collection of vintage vehicles is. The Ahrens-Fox was just one of what had to be over 100 classic vehicles representing 100 years of automobiles and trucks. They are all in show condition. All are for sale. You can find Hyman’s collection by going to his Web site at www.hymanltd.com.
When we arrived at Hyman’s facility the big red and white pumper that had served Nashua, New Hampshire, was waiting for us. The rig has a very interesting history. It has been professionally restored and is close to 100 percent original. The ’Fox runs and drives superbly, and the 1,000-gpm pump can pump towers of water. Our group of ‘Fox hunters quickly drew their “weapons” as cameras clicked away to capture some of the fine detail on the rig. Four members of our group took Mark up on the offer of a spin around the neighborhood. Already our hunt was a success.
Just as we were wrapping up our visit with Hyman, he offered that he had yet another Ahrens-Fox pumper. Off we went to a second building that housed a 1930 Ahrens-Fox Model V centrifugal 500-gpm pump that served the Falmouth (MA) Fire Department. This rig also has been beautifully restored. The pumper is fully equipped and will fit in an average garage. Hyman has been a “car nut” all his life. Although he averages the sale of a car a day, he really enjoys selling quality vintage fire apparatus. He is always interested if anyone has a quality unit to sell.
Now we were on a roll! Our next stop was only several minutes away to the southwest side of St. Louis to visit Greg Rhomberg’s Antique Warehouse. Rhomberg has gathered an outstanding collection of anything St. Louis. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of visiting his warehouse and experiencing Rhomberg’s gracious hospitality. It seems impossible that one person can acquire so much memorabilia and then have a facility that so nicely displays all the material. A part of Rhomberg’s collection includes six pieces of fire apparatus. Five of the rigs have been beautifully restored. Greg had his former Bristol, Connecticut, 1927 Ahrens-Fox M-X-4 triple combination pumping engine sitting out on the drive for our arrival. Once again, it was time for many pictures. The rig is in show condition, as were the other three rigs we saw while at Rhomberg’s antique warehouse. After checking as many details as we could on the ‘Fox, Rhomberg invited us to join him for lunch. The lunch was delicious, and the trip down Memory Lane that surrounded the dining area was amazing. Some icing on the cake was checking out the 1932 General St. Louis pumper that served Kirkwood, Missouri; a 1926 Mack AC pumper lettered for Floral Park Center; and a 1926 American LaFrance lettered for St. Louis—complete with squirrel tail hard suction. Rhomberg is a most gracious host. We thank him so much for his hospitality. We could have spent several more hours discovering more of the gems on display in the warehouse. Rhomberg is always looking for any unusual St. Louis artifacts to add to his collection. He can be reached through his Web site at www.antiquewhs.com.
We weren’t done yet! There was one more stop on the hint. Next up was a short drive back over to Illinois and a chance to see Klink’s Collinsville 1925 Ahrens-Fox J-S-4 750-gpm pumper. I had not been in contact with Klink for several days, so I was not sure that he had successfully made the trip from Estes Park. Once we found the downtown Collinsville (IL) Fire Department headquarters, my doubts were gone. The fire station had been emptied out, and there in place on the apparatus floor sat yet another ‘Fox, beautifully restored over a four-year period by Klink. Once again the cameras went to work. Additionally, there were many questions on specific needs our guys had as they begin the process of rebuilding the Peoria ‘Fox. Klink was very helpful with our questions that day and has offered to help with additional concerns in the future. Many residents of Collinsville stopped by to see the big pumper that served their community so many years ago. As the time came for the various units to head over for the parade line up, Doug fired up his ‘Fox to head out of the fire station. A long-retired member of the Collinsville Fire Department that had driven the Ahrens-Fox just at the end of her service life climbed on board to ride up front with Klink in the Italian Fest Parade.
So, was our ‘Fox Hunt successful? You bet! Now it is back to work for a couple more years as we finish our restoration on Peoria’s’31 Ahrens-Fox pumper. A special thanks to Mark Hyman, Greg Rhomberg, and Doug Klink for sharing their magnificent Ahrens-Fox pumpers.
RON HEAL compiles the “Apparatus Showcase” and “Recent Orders” departments monthly in Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.
By Ron Heal