Ed. Note: Special thanks to Chief (Ret.) Rick Lasky for arranging to have the Seagrave stop at the Westin in Indianapolis, Indiana, so Rick Abers could share this 1966 tractor-drawn aerial with attendees and FDIC International staffers.
By Ron Heal
On the Wednesday of FDIC International week in Indianapolis, Indiana, I joined fellow members of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board for a noon meeting. Editor Chris McLoone and FDIC International Conference Director Diane Rothschild greeted me with, “You should have been here yesterday.” They went on to explain that they had a good lead for a feature on “old stuff” for our electronic issue. OK, so what did I miss? That is when I learned that both Diane and Chris had been touring around downtown Indianapolis on a 1966 Seagrave 100-foot tractor-drawn aerial (TDA).
FDIC International brings very long and busy days for Diane and Chris. On that Tuesday, Chris found out about a classic 1966 Seagrave TDA, ex Louisville (KY) Fire Department being in town. He had an opportunity to hop on for a ride around downtown Indianapolis. He extended an invitation to Diane and to FDIC Conference Manager Ginger Mendolia to ride along. It took a follow-up call to convince Diane and Ginger to take advantage of a ride. Diane said that words cannot describe the sight of that beautiful and stately rig pulling up at the Indianapolis Westin Hotel with people hanging on the rig. She and Ginger could not wait to climb on board! Diane felt the best seat on the rig was right behind the tractor cab, standing up, the wind rushing past, reinvigorating her from the exhaustion of long days of working the FDIC event. Their ride took them past the Convention Center, past Lucas Oil Stadium, past restaurants and bars filled with FDIC attendees with pipers playing outside some of the popular bars, and back to the Westin. All Diane could do was shout “AGAIN!” And, they did!
Diane, being a civilian, has never pretended to be a firefighter. She respects the profession and knows that many of the tasks taken on by firefighters and rescue personnel are things she could never do. Riding around the streets of downtown Indianapolis on a vintage fire truck, giving the royal wave to passersby, and experiencing a highlight of her week is totally something that Diane could see herself doing.
I appreciate that both Diane and Chris were enthusiastic to share their interesting news—even if I was a day late. They even made some phone calls to find out if the Seagrave was still in town for a few more days. While that was not the case, I did get a name and contact for the apparatus owner. Rick Albers is the proud owner of the beautiful piece of vintage fire apparatus. Albers’s story is long, so I will share it in two issues.
Albers’s fire service story goes back to the 1960s. In his early years, Albers lived in the Louisville suburb of St. Matthews. The suburb had a volunteer fire department. As a kid, Albers would hear the fire siren go off. He would hop on his bike and pedal to the firehouse to check the location of the fire on the chalk board. Then he was off on his bike to get to the location. How many of us have had a similar experience? Albers joined the volunteer department just as soon as he had his driver’s license. In 1977 he joined the Louisville Fire Department. He was also active with his volunteer department. In 1984, Albers became the first paid part time fire chief of the Anchorage (KY) Fire Department. Albers remained with the Louisville Fire Department, advancing through the ranks to battalion chief in charge of the Fire Communications Bureau. He left the Louisville Fire Department in 1990. He would serve Florence, Kentucky, as fire chief through 1999. He then became the first full time paid fire chief at the North Oldham Fire Protection District, Oldham County, Kentucky, retiring in 2011. Albers has had a good ride!
Like many old firefighters, Albers can’t stay away, so he collects old fire apparatus and fire memorabilia—something he has done for 25 years. While Albers has several vintage rigs, in this issue we will feature his 1966 Seagrave TDA 100-foot aerial ladder—“Road Warrior”—that first saw service with the Louisville Fire Department.
In 1964, the City of Louisville advertised for bids for a tractor-drawn 100-foot aerial ladder. The Seagrave Corporation of Columbus, Ohio, was the successful bidder with a bid of $57,975.00. The rig was delivered from the new home for Seagrave in Clintonville, Wisconsin. The TDA is one of the first units built at the new location. The truck carried the serial number Q-120, and was assigned to Louisville Truck Company 3, a very busy ladder company that included the southern portion of downtown Louisville. The truck remained in front-line service until 1982. A Pirsch 100-foot TDA replaced the “Road Warrior”—a nickname given by the firefighters as an indication of the truck’s ruggedness and dependability. The LFD Automotive Repair Facility then repowered the rig, replacing the Hall-Scott gas engine with a Mack 673ENDY diesel engine. At the same time, Seagrave replaced two fly sections on the ladder before the truck was returned to auxiliary service.
In 1998 Louisville declared the rig as surplus and, in turn, donated the rig to Anderson County (KY) Fire Department. The ACFD needed ladder service to improve its ISO rating. While their personnel trained on the rig, it was never placed in service. In January 2005, albers heard that the rig may be for sale. Contacting the Anderson County fire chief, he learned that he was a day late. Another party had agreed to purchase the truck with a plan to scrap the trailer and convert the tractor to be part of a car carrier. How many times have we heard similar stories on old fire trucks? Rick was dismayed by that news but asked if there was any change on that arrangement to let him know. Several weeks later, Rick got a call that the truck was available, would he like to make an offer. Not only was Rick’s answer “Yes,” but, “Hell yes!” A few days later, Rick closed the deal.
It is interesting that at that time Rick and his wife were finishing construction on their new home. Included in that construction was a 63-foot deep pole barn. The 58-foot long “Road Warrior” was just a nice fit. The rig had not been started for two years. New batteries were added, the tires aired up and all the fluids checked. The Seagrave came to life and Rick and a crew drove the rig home. Rick is fortunate that his Seagrave had good care for most of its life and that a major restoration effort was not needed. He has changed all the lettering identification back to the original Louisville configuration. He has some very good contacts that assisted in finding replacement ground ladders and some missing tools. The “Road Warrior” has been a part of many events including parades, tailgating at football and baseball games, kids’ birthday parties, weddings, funerals, and 9-11 memorial events.
This brings us to April and FDIC International. Rick and John Turner, a retired Louisville battalion chief, made the 101-mile run from Louisville to Indianapolis. Arrangements had been made for them to stay over at the brand-new Indianapolis Fire Station 3. There was an open bay where the Seagrave could spend the night. The word soon spread that there was a new ladder truck in town. Several Indianapolis fire companies stopped over to check out the Seagrave. With FDIC International in town, it was only natural to take the truck downtown and be a part of the action. That brings us full circle with some of my Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment folks being at the right place at the right time to hop on for a ride. Timing is everything!
Yes, I should have been there yesterday, but a good lead on a vintage rig feature has provided me with an opportunity to connect with a fellow vintage fire apparatus enthusiast and learn more about his fine collection and share with our readers. The best part of this feature is that there is more to come. That will be the rest of the story next month! My thanks to Albers for sharing his story and pictures. His Seagrave is a beautiful classic TDA.