Ron Blake turned the ignition, and the 62-year-old fire truck roared to life.
“See, it still works,” said Blake, proudly patting the 1952 GMC’s steering wheel. “It’s still functional for grass fires, but the young guys — they don’t want it anymore. They want the fast-attack.”
The rumbling truck in which he sat was also a member of the original crew. Blake affectionately refers to the truck as “The Beast.”
Big Laramie bought The Beast for $250 in 1972, he said, the year rural firefighters opened the Harmony station. As the fleet’s first truck, The Beast earned the official title of BL-1.
After nearly 45 years of service, the truck is set for retirement this month.
The firefighters plan to display the truck for its final public appearance at their annual pancake supper fundraiser, scheduled for 3-7 p.m. Saturday at Harmony Elementary School, 20 Lewis Rd.
Blake said the event should be a fitting tribute for a truck that’s responded to hundreds of fires in the county and mountain west, fighting fires from Squirrel Creek to Yellowstone National Park.
In the early years, BL-1 often responded to grass fires alongside city of Laramie Fire Department firefighters, who manned Albany County trucks.
The two-wheel-drive county trucks would top off with water, pull into muddy grass fields and bog down, Blake said.
With its six-cylinder engine, a thick tow cable and six-wheel drive, BL-1 provided the muscle on those operations.
“The first four fires we went to, we pulled the city out,” Blake said.
Over the years, BL-1 was dispatched to the Three Sisters Fire, 1985, in Hot Springs, S.D.; Deadwood Reservoir Fire, 1986, Lowman, Idaho; Goldmine Fire, 1988, Big Horn Mountains; and the Clover Mist Fire, 1988, Yellowstone National Park, among many others.
For out-of-area dispatches, local agencies responsible for fighting fires paid an hourly rate for equipment use and manpower. In the course of its service, BL-1 brought in an estimated $80,000.
Although the truck is in working condition, Blake said it’s ready for replacement because parts no longer exist for repairs.
“It’s just as functional as it was, but it doesn’t have any chrome on it,” he joked.
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