10,000 volunteer hours later, 1920 apparatus restored

Seagrave Model 66 once brought Livermore, Calif. firefighters to their calls


By Rebecca F. Johnson
Contra Costa Times

LIVERMORE, Calif. — At more than 90 years of age, she was looking pretty worse for wear. Her once-shiny skin was saddled with rust, her valves were stuck in place and she was missing a lot of her original parts.

The thought arose in people's minds: Is this even possible?

But the volunteer group embarked anyway and after fixing the engine of the 1920 Seagrave that once transported Livermore firefighters to their calls, they decided to go all the way and restore the truck to its original glory.

"It's certainly highly impressive and amazing to us because it never looked like it was going to make it this far," said project leader Irv Stowers.

Next week, the restored Seagrave is poised to make its debut during the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race stop in Livermore and is slated to shuttle city officials along the route of the Livermore Rodeo Parade in June.

The purchase of the Seagrave Model 66 was a harbinger of Livermore's shift from a small rural town to a city, Livermore Heritage Guild President Jeff Kaskey said. At the time, the high-end engine sported a hefty price tag of more than $10,000.

"This was really an item of town pride then, and it really carries forward to being an item of town pride today," he said.

The engine was used for more than 30 years before being retired. The Seagrave then spent many years outside before it was permanently moved to the Duarte Garage in 1985.

The volunteer group began the restoration process more than two years ago and has spent an estimated 10,000 work hours thus far.

Stowers said the truck was in such derelict condition people were unsure if it was fixable. The generator was missing, the leather seat totally deteriorated and the steering wheel was falling apart. The gear shift lever was broken, the fender dented and some of the key parts that defined it as a fire engine — including the bell and siren — were long gone.

Despite this, the engine hood had covered many of the critical components such as the bearings and gaskets and kept them in decent condition, he said.

After a few volunteers began working on the truck, a group slowly emerged composed of retired laboratory workers, others with some very useful mechanical or technical abilities and people who had never before worked on a vehicle.

"We had a great cadre of people that had a variety of different skills," Stowers said.

In addition to the guild providing the bulk of the restoration funding, there were many monetary and in-kind donations from businesses and organizations including the Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters Association, Altamont Cruisers, Lance Cavalieri Jewelers and private individuals.

Some local businesses also participated in the process, including Tri-Valley Auto Body, whose employees painted the engine the classic shade of red.

Owner J.R. Romero said he was initially skeptical about the project. But once he saw the caliber of the work a volunteer had done to rebuild the steering wheel, he contacted his paint supplier and started the job.

"It's just great to be a part of something that is going to give people pleasure to see for years to come," he said.

As for the volunteers who gathered many a Saturday morning to restore the Seagrave as close as possible to its original appearance — photos of the model coming off the factory floor obtained from the company served as a guide — the vehicle is a huge source of pride.

"My buttons are popping off my shirt," said Randy Jennings, who served in the Livermore Fire Department for 17 years. An artist, Jennings designed the drawings for the gold-leaf detailing that adorns the truck and completed some of the pinstriping himself. And it may have just turned many of the guild members and volunteers into a permanent team.

"We're kind of scratching our heads thinking, 'Three or four months from now, what are we going to do next?' " Stowers said.

Copyright 2012 Contra Costa Times

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