Tenn. town to restore historic fire truck

The truck was moved recently from the park to the city's fire station, where it will remain in a metal building behind the station until restoration is complete


By Ron Maxey
The Commercial Appeal

GERMANTOWN, Tenn. — Germantown Fire Chief John Selberg well remembers getting out of class to respond when a blaze broke out somewhere in town.

Into the late 1970s — way past its early days as a sleepy horse community — the suburban city enlisted the boys of Germantown High to respond to fire calls during the day. In the evenings, once the men were off work, they'd take over.

The Red Devil 1 fire truck was first placed into service in 1942. (Photo/City of Germantown)
The Red Devil 1 fire truck was first placed into service in 1942. (Photo/City of Germantown)

"I think I was 16 when I started with the department, and my brother was 14 when he started," said Selberg, adding that the boys would usually meet up at the fire location with the driver who would bring the truck.

But no matter who answered, there was one constant — Red Devil 1.

Before today's professional fire department evolved to protect the city of now more than 40,000, a less formal network of volunteers of varying ages protected the community using the truck purchased for about $6,500 from a Cordova fireworks company that closed after it stopped making munitions at the end of World War II.

Though its days of active service are long since over, the 1942 American LaFrance truck dubbed Red Devil 1 remains as a reminder of Germantown's simpler times. And it'll soon be getting a face lift that will allow it to serve as a fitting historic display.

A committee formed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen has begun exploring restoration for the truck, with a goal of returning it to the splendor of its heyday. Retired from service when former Mayor Boyd Arthur and aldermen declared it obsolete in 1983, Red Devil 1 became a landmark at Cloyes Park but has fallen into disrepair with peeling paint and damage from critters that have made the outdoor display their home.

The truck was moved recently from the park to the city's Fire Station No. 4 on Forest Hill-Irene, where it will remain in a metal building behind the station until restoration is complete. And that job will be a long-term process, said Selberg, 56, who has been chief about five and a half years.

"It'll be longer than a year," he said. "There's no real time table; we're just beginning to explore what it will cost and what needs to be done. We obviously want to get it running, and we'd like to be able to use it in public relations events for the city."

The late Harry Cloyes, who died in 2011 at the age of 85, had a keen interest in preserving Germantown history and requested the truck be moved to his property after the city declared it obsolete. Thousands of visitors have viewed the truck over the past 33 years, along with other artifacts collected by Cloyes. But the elements took their toll, leading to the decision to begin restoration.

"It needs a lot of body work," Selberg said, "and the engine needs work. We also want to restore it to its original condition. Mr. Cloyes liked to tinker and would rewire things and such."

The price tag of the restoration is a big question mark right now. Selberg said there's really no estimate until the committee dealing with the restoration has more time to explore the issue.

"We just really don't know," he said. "We haven't done anything like this before. We'll look into it, and possibly go back to the board (of aldermen)."

Fundraising is expected to take place to help with the project as well. Representatives of the Fire Department, Historic Commission, Public Safety Commission and other community members will be involved.

All told, it could take as long as several years to finish the work, Selberg said, but he added it would be worth it if it gives the city a fitting tribute to its past.

"The goal eventually is to have it on display at the main fire station on Farmington when it isn't being used for public events," Selberg said. "The department here has a unique history, and this truck helps tell that history."

Copyright 2017 The Commercial Appeal

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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