A 1928 Seagraves Ladder/Tiller truck — put into service Aug. 1 that same year by the Modesto City Fire Department and kept in use until the mid-1960s — is in retirement at Station 5, at McHenry and Briggsmore avenues. Fifty-four feet long from bumper to rear, it is the type of truck that requires a driver in front and another riding atop the rear seat to steer the back end.
Photos of the old truck in action are found in “The Modesto Fire Department History Book — 137 Years of Fire Fighting Tradition,” co-written by Jim Gunn, Bill Wallace and Robert Walton. The Seagraves originally was housed in Station 1 on 10th Street, between G and H streets — the same block destined to become Stanislaus County’s new courthouse.
In its time, it was the city’s best piece of firefighting equipment. It still has the circular piece of canvas used to catch leaping evacuees. Its 75-foot-long ladder sprang upward to save more than 40 women and children stranded on the upper floor of the old Modesto Hotel when fire destroyed it May 3, 1944 – 70 years ago on Saturday.
But the truck had become a largely forgotten piece of Modesto history after being decommissioned, stored at the old Rainbow Bread plant and several other stations before being towed to Station 5 a couple of years ago. No one had tried to start it over the past 17 or so years.
“As far as we know, there’s only two of these on this side of the Rockies,” Brian Whitcomb said. “For as little attention as it’s gotten, it’s in great shape.”
“It was pretty unusual for a city our size to have something like that at the time,” said Gunn, whose father, Robert S. Gunn, retired as Modesto’s fire chief in 1976.
So with Gunn set to join Modesto Truck 1 in retirement Monday after 37 years with the city, Whitcomb came up with a plan: Get the old truck running again and give Gunn one more spin before he shelved his firefighting gear for good.
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