Hale Antique “Elsie” Fire Apparatus a Big Hit at FDIC 2014

By Ron Heal

Hale Products Inc., a manufacturer of fire pumps, marked its 100th anniversary at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) 2014 by showcasing a beautifully restored 1928 Hale pumper. The West Grove (PA) Fire Company Antique 22 was a huge hit while serving as the centerpiece at the Hale booth. Once again, FDIC attracted record crowds at the weeklong event in Indianapolis, Indiana. Visitors from around the world stopped by the Hale exhibit to see the vintage fire pumper.

FDIC is the showcase for the fire apparatus industry. Vintage rigs are infrequent visitors to the big show. For some “older” apparatus enthusiasts, the sight of a beautifully restored vintage rig is a welcome treat. Count me in! I was barely in the building on Thursday when Al Petrillo, a fellow Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment advisory board member, hurried to tell me about the Hale display and a vintage rig that Al thought could be a feature story. Soon I was off to the Hale booth, and I was not disappointed. Yes, I did have a few pictures taken with the rig.

I was met at the booth by Bill Wohl, past president of the West Grove (PA) Fire Co. Wohl was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the 1928 Hale pumper and very helpful with additional details on the history and restoration of the first motorized fire engine to serve the fire company from 1928 to 1954. The West Grove (PA) Fire Company is located 40 miles southwest of Philadelphia. The combination department operates a fleet of 17 apparatus from three fire stations in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Why Elsie?
Not many fire trucks are named, but the 1928 Hale is named Elsie. In 1954, the fire company sold the rig to a private collector for $150.00. Vintage rigs sold rather cheaply in that era, and that trend continued well into the 1990s. That is not the case today. In 2005, the West Grove Fire Company was preparing to mark its own 100th anniversary and thought it would be special if it could find one of its own vintage rigs. That is not always an easy task. One day Chief John Chambers received a call from a woman in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. She and her late husband had owned an old fire truck for several years and she was interested in selling the rig she thought was the West Grove pumper. The rig had found them! The lady’s name was Elsie Thorpe. The West Grove Fire Company crew brought the rig home by actually driving it out of the barn and decided the pumper should be named “Elsie” in honor of Thorpe. Elsie came home in 2005.

The Restoration
Once the ’28 Hale was back in West Grove, the fire company decided that the rig should be professionally restored. That became a three-year project for Hal Fillinger, Harleysville, Pennsylvania. West Grove Fire Company Engineer Mike Predmore, an antique car enthusiast and refinisher, oversaw the frame-off restoration. Fillinger is a noted fire apparatus restorer, and his work on Elsie is outstanding! Apparatus restoration is never an inexpensive matter. The total cost for the restoration is in the range of $120,000. The fire company points out that all of the funds have been and continue to be raised by private donations and several ongoing fund raisers. The Hale pumper is a community asset and a historical treasure. More than two-thirds of the funds needed have been secured.

The Big Dance
So now it is 2014, and Hale Products Inc. prepares to mark its very important 100th anniversary. Although fire pumps have been a main product for all those 100 years, Hale only built complete fire apparatus during the period of the early 1920s to the 1930s. When Hale Products Inc. learned of the beautifully restored pumper at West Grove, it made arrangements to have the pumper transported in an enclosed trailer some 650 miles to the west to Indianapolis. Elsie was escorted by West Grove Fire Company Vice President Mike Miller and Wohl. The Hale team provided “Selfie with Elsie” photos for the three-day show.

View a slideshow of this Hale Pumper Restoration.

Once the exhibit hall doors opened, the word spread quickly that among the more than 100 pieces of fire apparatus on display there was one antique fire engine that was a show stopper! Visitors to the Hale booth came from around the world. The Hale team’s and West Grove members’ enthusiasm and excitement made the stop at the Hale display a real pleasure. Many visitors to the display that have vintage rigs tucked away went home with the idea that it was time to get their rig looking as good as the Hale.

All too soon it was Saturday afternoon. The big show was over and it was time to load up and head for home. But wait! Before Wohl would drive Elsie into the trailer at dockside, he gathered Dawn Wallner, Hale Products Inc. marketing, and off they went for a quick spin around downtown Indianapolis with the hand siren blaring and the bell clanging. Lucky them! What I would have given to have been riding the tail board! Some people get to have way too much fun!

For more information on Elsie and the West Grove (PA) Fire Co., visit www.wgfc.org.

If you have an interesting vintage apparatus that you would like featured, contact Ron Heal at ron-lois224@sbcglobal.net or (309) 698-6968.

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

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