After thousands of volunteer hours--and thousands of dollars of community donations--Ashland's Amphibious Fire Engine is whole again.
Before recounting the gory details of the last few days, a few acknowledgments are in order. Actually, many, many acknowledgments are in order. Many more people have contributed to this effort, in equally indispensable ways both great and small, than I can recognize here. You have not been forgotten. We are grateful.
This effort would not have been possible without the labor and leadership of our dear departed Rick Black, who spearheaded this effort for the last fourteen months. He will be missed, even though he isn't dead, just moved halfway across the country.
Jim Martin from Ashland and retired Medford firefighter Phil Kessler are the second and third heroes of this effort, donating hundreds of hours of their expertise, time, labor and skinned knuckles and good humor.
Major cash and in-kind donations came from TP Trucking, the Gold Diggers, Nancy Morgan and James Black. Many, many more people made smaller contributions. Now that the fire engine rehabilitation is essentially completed, a display board will be prepared recognizing all the donors--at least all the donors we wrote down.
The last two weeks have been ones of dread and anticipation as we watched the days tick away while we begged and browbeat parts suppliers to pull parts off their shelves and our nuts out of the fire.
The much-anticipated steering parts, located by Joe Davis of Aries Muffler in Medford through multiple sources across the West, finally arrived yesterday, June 27. I won't trouble you with the details, but it was only a matter of a couple of hours for Jim Martin and me to sort through the parts available and assemble and adjust a functional steering box, almost as good as a new one.
Equally anticipated was the instrument cluster, promised several months ago for shipping June 21st. The owner took pity on me and worked all last weekend on it, and shipped only a day later than he said he would. It also arrived yesterday--and is gorgeous. I doubt new ones were as pretty.
Phil Kessler joined us at the garage and the three of us reinstalled the steering box, which involves jacking a ton of 70-year-old metal two feet higher in the air than it should ever hover, then threading the steering column and gears into place--from the bottom.
Replacing the gauges is also an acrobatic exercise, necessitating entirely too many headstands under the dash. We referred to the wiring diagram and scrupulously matched the appropriate wires to the appropriate terminals.
By this time it was 6:00, but how could we delay starting it up and taking just a little drive around the block? We turned the key, switched the ignition on, pressed the starter button, and it cranked beautifully. But didn't start. Not only didn't start, but none of the lights that Mike Trump had finished working on last week--turn signals, head and taillights, spotlights--worked either.
Probably wisely, we decided not to fool with it any more yesterday evening and to attack it again the next day (today). So we went home to ponder the problem and to let the fire engine think about just what it had done.
This morning we pulled the instrument cluster out again (more headstands) and checked the wiring. We had wired it correctly. But Jim Martin had an inspiration, switched two wires, and everything works again. None of us really understand why, not even Jim, but we're trying not to question it.
Everything works now except the speedometer, and, frankly, at this moment I'm content to drive it without one. This is not much of a concern when it has a top speed of 45 miles per hour.
I wish I could say the rest of today was spent skylarking, just driving around and enjoying what we'd accomplished, but instead we spent the rest of the day trying to find a garage that would bleed and adjust our brakes in time for the Fourth. (And then there was the hour we blew after we ran out of gas and tried to figure out why it didn't run anymore.)
We did find such a place, and with luck we'll have the vehicle back on Monday at the latest. There's still some more work to be done--it'd be nice to have a tailpipe--but by Monday it'll be safe and reliable enough for parade work. Mostly.
It's a hoot to drive. I've driven a lot of weird old vehicles, but never one as reluctant to be driven as this one. The only thing that isn't stiff and unresponsive and funky is the turn signals, but since it's too noisy to hear the signal flasher clicking and there's no indicator light, even the turn signals are a problem of their own.
After about an hour of experience driving it in town the truck finally decided that resistance is futile and let me shift gears without crashing, but it will NOT be downshifted, thank you very much. You certainly can't say that it doesn't have a personality of its own.
If you want to drive it yourself, stop by the SOHS Research Library and fill out a volunteer form. Now that the work of the rehabilitation committee is mostly in the past, we need a new committee maintain it, schedule it, fill the seats and drive it to events and in parades. The SOHS Amphibious Fire Engine needs YOU!