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Neb. community works to preserve firefighting history with 1934 Ford fire truck

Waverly Fire and Rescue’s 1934 fire truck used to pump around 250 gallons a minute compared to the near 1,500 gallons in newer models

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City of Waverly

Ryan Luetkemeyer
Lincoln Journal Star, Neb.

WAVERLY, Neb. — In about four months, towns across America will hold their very own Fourth of July parades. Local fire and rescue teams often join in the fun, hanging off fire trucks and ambulances as they ride through town.

If you find yourself in Waverly for its parade, you might see something a little less normal. They have a fire truck, too, but this one is 90 years old.

Waverly Fire and Rescue’s 1934 Ford Model BB fire truck has been a prized possession of the city for many years. Showcased at local events, the truck is a window into the past.

Besides being a piece of history, the truck has quite the story of its own.

In November 1953, 19 years after the truck was purchased by the city, its engine failed on the way to a house fire in Prairie Home. Because of this, the truck was sold to Roca.

Around 1973, the Omaha Fire Department Historical Group bought and performed major engine and body restoration so it could display the vehicle at a museum in Omaha and parade it around the city.

And about 46 years later, in August of 2019, the Waverly Fire Department was contacted by Omaha, which was interested in returning the truck to Waverly.

Seven months later, in March of 2020, Aaron Hummel, a former Waverly fire chief, traveled up to Omaha, and with the help of Gana Trucking and a lowboy trailer, returned the vehicle to its home city.

“They helped go up to Omaha when we brought it home because we couldn’t drive it, we couldn’t run it, it wouldn’t start,” Hummel said.

Bringing the truck back to Waverly was the easy part; getting it back up and running proved to be more difficult.

Over the course of the next year, the truck was brought back to life under the expertise of Bruce Whitefoot, a former Waverly fire chief and antique Ford enthusiast.

“He loves working on the older Ford vehicles,” Hummel said.

Bringing the truck back to life involved a lot of work, including a new carburetor, spark plugs, wires, a new rotor, fuel pumps, fuel lines and general electrical work.

“We’ve had some former fire chiefs that have pitched in a lot of time and elbow grease to fix it up,” Hummel said.

A community project

Along with help from former fire chiefs, Nebraska businesses and members of the community donated their time and resources to repair the truck.

One big help came from Mark Schmit, owner of the Schmit Automotive shop in Waverly, who donated spark plugs, engine oil and other parts.

“I thought, oh that’s cool. We’ll get an old vehicle back in service,” Schmit said. “Every community needs a fire department, so I try to support the fire department as much as I can.”

In addition to Schmit Automotive and private donors, Waverly Glass Company also helped out, donating glass for the truck’s windshield.

“It’s a piece of history, Waverly’s first fire truck, and it’s nice that the community supports it, and the city wants to do something with it,” Hummel said.

After a long process of repairing and renovating the truck, on April 10, 2021, after being gone for 65 years, the 1934 Ford was driven through the streets of Waverly once again by Bruce Whitefoot.

“It’s always a joy when you get an old beast running again, that was a big deal,” Whitefoot said.

It’s truly a sight to see, and a physical representation of how much the design and size of emergency vehicles have changed over 90 years.

“A 5-foot-6 man struggles to get inside the cab because it’s such tight quarters,” Hummel said. “Most F-150s are bigger than this fire truck.”

In addition to size differences, the older model had no power steering, manual windows and a hatch that opened the windshield for the 1930s version of air conditioning.

The 1934 fire truck pumped around 250 gallons a minute compared to the near 1,500 gallons in newer models.

“Humorously, that old truck probably pumped more water than any of these newer trucks over the years because it was ‘surround and drown,’ till the basement was full of water they just kept pouring water on it,” Whitefoot said.

Firefighting techniques have since evolved to shooting water on a hot spot, which creates steam that puts fires out much quicker than water.

“It just blows your mind when you think what they had back then versus what we have now,” Jared Rains , fire chief at Waverly, said. “It’s great to get it back and to start sharing with the rest of the community.”

Looking for a permanent home

Waverly Fire and Rescue loves showcasing the truck to the community, displaying it at local car shows, driving it around the city in different events and taking part in Fourth of July parades.

The truck has been stored all across Waverly for the last four years with the help of local residents who donated their storage spaces, garages and barns, but now the city of Waverly is asking for donations for future storage, maintenance, restoration and any other associated costs to ease the burden on others.

While nothing is confirmed, Hummel says the hope is that the city can find a permanent home for the truck.

“Waverly currently has some conceptual drawings for a potential future fire station,” Hummel said. “Part of that fire station would have a museum that would house that vehicle. We’re trying to buy ourselves some time so we can get that done.”

That museum would include all kinds of antique gear for the public to see.

“When we have tours with children and whatnot they can go through and see all this old antique stuff of what they used to do 100 years ago,” Ryan Mueller , assistant fire chief, said.

Mueller shared the renderings for the future fire station, which on top of providing a space for the 1934 fire truck to be displayed, would also improve on the station they have now.

“It would allow us to modernize our way of doing things. Right now we’re double and triple stacked,” he said. “Trucks got bigger over the last 50 years. We’re kind of condensed.”

On top of improving space, Mueller said the new station would help with ventilation for gear by having its own space to be cleaned and prepared.

“Right now if we have a structure fire and we come back, it smells like smoke, and that’s not the modern approach,” he said.

Waverly fire truck fundraiser

Waverly Fire and Rescue is asking for donations to help it keep its 1934 Ford Model BB fire truck. Donations will be used for the storage, maintenance, restoration and insurance. It also hopes that one day to have a museum where it might store the truck and other antique firefighting equipment. To help with their efforts, contact them through their website or by calling 402-786-2312.


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