Archive for the Fire 32 History Category

The Crash

Posted in Fire 32 History on September 8, 2009 by mikefire32

In the first post I made, I briefly mentioned that originally there were two identical trucks which were destroyed in a severe collision in 1968. Since this is a major part of the history regarding the restoration of Fire 32, I wanted to provide you with more details of that day along with some photos.

On a Tuesday evening in July, less than a year after my father passed away, the fire department was out on their weekly drill night, doing training on the west side of Mt Scott. For those not from the Portland area, Mt Scott is the tallest point in the Portland Metro area, topping out a little over 1,100 feet in elevation. The west side of the mountain was part of the fire district and included some of the areas steepest roads.   

According to Jerry Miller, who was a volunteer lieutenant, Fire 33 would not start when they were ready to return to the station. Concluding that the batteries were dead, he decided he would get the truck rolling down the hill and compression start it; unbeknown to him you could not compression start an automatic transmission. He jumped in the cab, released the parking brake and started rolling down the hill, only to find out the truck would not start. As he rounded the last corner and picked up more speed, he saw Fire 32 sitting at a stop sign at the bottom of the hill, waiting to make a turn. Fire 32, occupied by Morice Colvin and Wayne Frederickson, had been delayed while a girl on a bicycle made her way through the intersection. Just before pulling away, Mr. Colvin looked in his mirror and saw the other engine barreling down on them, having just enough time to yell at Frederickson to brace himself as they were going to get hit. The engines came together and ended up across the street strattling a deep ditch.

All three men were transported to the hospital and released, lucky that they were not seriously injured or killed. Miller said the only thing that saved him from more serious injury was he pulled his feet up onto the seat just before impact. Although the engines were equipped with seat belts, Miller was not wearing his and ended up hitting his head on the center post of the windshield, likely preventing him from being ejected from the cab. While he was released from the hospital that night, he has suffered from siezures through the years.

The crash left the Happy Valley Fire District without protection, as their nearly brand new, $30,000 pumpers had been destroyed. Within a few hours, reserve pumpers from neighboring districts were brought to the station for use by the Happy Valley fire fighters, and other districts stepped up their coverage at the far reaches of the fire district.

After consultation with several truck repair facilities, it was determined that the damage was too severe to repair, and the only logical option was to remove the cab from Fire 32 and place it on the front of Fire 33 after straightening the frame rails. One truck was totaled out by the insurance company and the district was given a check for $30,000 based of replacement value. The district then purchased a diesel powered 1968 American LaFrance Pioneer demo pumper.

Below are a few pictures of the wrecked trucks.




What’s so different about Fire 32? – Part 2

Posted in Fire 32 History on January 23, 2009 by mikefire32

Being a mechanical engineer who focused on the design of saw mills, my father was exposed to some of the most current technology of the day. As the logging industry was big business in the Northwest during the sixties, saw mills were always looking for ways to improve the efficiency of their operations, and the use of hydraulic and air operated systems was fairly common place. Being the forward thinker that he was, my father saw how the use of air controls could improve the operation of fire apparatus, just as it did in the mills.

Since Happy Valley was a volunteer department, and the number of people responding on fire calls could be minimal at best, he wanted to make the vehicles easy to operate, in some cases performing a needed function with just the flip of a switch. By using air controls, a function that normally required a mechanical lever or control rod could be remotely control, and placed anywhere on the vehicle. All the valves on the pump, including discharges, front and rear suction lines, tank supply and fill along with the foam controls were controlled by air cylinders. In addition to the pump valves, both transmission PTO’s and the winch controls were air controlled as well.

Let me explain how this all works and how the system was laid out on the truck. This system can be described as an electric over air system, where a toggle switch is used to send a signal to an air valve, which in turn supplies air to a small air ram that moves the valve open or closed.


The above drawing is of the air system on the truck. This is an actual construction drawing. When I get it posted on the website, I will provide a link so you can see it full size.


This picture is of the pump panel when it was being constructed. What you are looking at is a schematic of the plumbing on the truck, with the toggle switches in the location of the valve that it would control. The pump operator was able to look at the schematic, and based on what he needed to do, he could flip the appropriate toggle switch. To open a valve, the switch would be moved one way, then the other way to close the valve.

What’s so different about Fire 32 – Part 1

Posted in Fire 32 History on January 8, 2009 by mikefire32

So what made these, or I guess I will say this fire truck, so special? As I have said before, my father did not see things like everyone else, he looked at things how they could be, not as they were. And this was true in how he visualized fire apparatus.

If you don’t know anything about fire apparatus, you may have a tough time understanding some of the things I will be talking about, so I will try to explain them as best I can. If you are a young firefighter, or new to the fire service, you may have a tough time appreciating some of the innovations, as they are now common place on today’s fire appraratus. You need to keep in mind that these concepts were developed in 1961 by a man who had been a fire chief for just seven years, and this was not the FDNY or LA City Fire, this was the Happy Valley Rural Fire District, a fledgling volunteer department in Oregon, where the cowboys and indians were still battling it out.

So let’s talk about some of the of the things to make Fire 32 unique….

1) Automatic transmission, air brakes and power steering on the chassis. You say so what, all trucks have those. Now days they do, but very few trucks, especially fire trucks, had these items in 1961. It didn’t take long for power steering to catch on, but manual transmissions and hydraulic brakes were common place until the mid to late eighties. My father knew his volunteers were just everyday people, not truck drivers, so he wanted vehicles that would be easy to drive and operate. For you truck people, the transmission was an Allison MT-42 6 speed automatic with dual PTO’s. We will talk about those later!

2) The design of the body was very unique in that it was full width with no running boards, similar to today’s rescue bodies. Most fire trucks of the day had exposed fenders with very few compartmments, which required equipment to be mounted outside and exposed to the weather.

Take a look at this mid 60’s Ford F Series pumper that was built by Western States Fire Apparatus, a good example of what was a typical midship pumper. Make note of the running boards, exposed fenders and how the equipment is mounted on the outside of the truck. Also look at the side mounted pump fittings, the top mounted booster reels, the exposed hose bed and the side mounted suction hose. Once again, all typical of fire trucks of the era. 


Let’s take another look at Fire 32 when it went in service. Looks a little different than the other pumper, doesn’t it? (The upper front compartment did get a door, it just was not installed in this picture).


3) All discharges and suctions were out the front and the rear of the vehicle. Typical for the day was to have all discharges and suctions out the right and left side of the vehicle, with a few front suctions showing up from time to time. Fire 32 had two 2 1/2″ discharges and a 5″ suction out the front bumper (visible in the picture) and there were two 2 1/2″ discharges along with a 5″ and 2 1/2″ suction at the rear. Being a rural area, it was not uncommon to lay-in a long line off the main road and relay pump to the fire, so having the inlets and outlets at the front and rear made this job much easier. There was a 5″ inlet directly off the pump located inside the engineers compartment that could be used for pump tests.

4) The open compartment in the picture is storage for the cross mounted pre-connects. Pre-connects, like the name suggests, are 150′ – 200′ long hoses that are already attached to the pump and are pulled to make the initial attack on a fire. There are two things unique here: First, the door on the compartment was mounted so that you lifted it up and slid it into the body so it was out of the way of the charged hose lines, and two, the pre-connects were mounted in aluminum trays that could be pulled out and set on the ground when it came time to reload the hose. This is what we call “speed lays” today. This compartment also housed 1 1/2″ and 2 1/2″ “house bundles” for extending the initial attack lines.

Where it all started

Posted in Fire 32 History on January 6, 2009 by mikefire32

As I mentioned previously, my father was the fire chief of the Happy Valley Fire District, which is located on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. He never thought of being a fire chief, it just happened. When my parents began building our house, he wanted to see what was available for fire protection in Happy Valley, as it was a rural area and considered “out in the sticks” in the early 50’s. What he discovered was that there was a fire district with three board members, one broken down fire truck and a few “rag-tag” volunteers. The board members must have felt either they had a real sucker on their hands or they had found a true leader, because they offered the position of fire chief to my father if he wanted the job. He took it and never looked back.

While knocking on doors and trying to round up people to be volunteer firemen, he was learning how to be a fireman himself. He had no training in firefighting, just a Mechanical Enginering degree from Oregon State University and a Professional Engineers certificate. Over the next few years, the Happy Valley Fire District developed into a well trained organization, with more than 25 volunteers, a new station  and several well used peices of apparatus. The time had come for the district to purchase new fire equipment, and this would be the opportunity for my father to put those engineering skills to work.

I was born in 1960, so obviously I was too young to be aware of much regarding the development of Fire 32, but I have been able to learn quite a bit from materials I found looking through my father’s things. What I do know is that his original concept was based on a chassis built by the White Freightliner Company that was designed for use on fire trucks, called the Fireliner . I found a hand drawn rendering and a blueprint showing the Fire 32 body design on the Fireliner chassis, so it appears that was the chassis of choice, but White Freightliner stopped production of the chassis before the fire district was ready to go out to bid.  There were just a handful of fire trucks built on the Fireliner chassis, all built in 1961. The next choice of chassis was the relatively new Ford C Series cabover, and he chose to use the big C-1000 with a 534cu. in. gas engine.

The fire district did finally go to bid in December of 1963, with the contract awarded to Industrial Steel Tank and Body Works in Berkeley, California, who built fire trucks under the name Wesco. Industrial Tank and Body Works had purchased the fire truck construction business that had previously operated under the names Westland and Roney out of Portland. My father had done some engineering work on the side for Doug Roney, who was the previous owner and now the Sales Manager for Wesco. Based on the complexity of the design, it is obvious that the award would go to Wesco, as no one else was willing to build a vehicle so complicated without being inolved in the design.

Here is the Fireliner rendering


Here is his rendering on the Ford C series


Happy Valley Fire in 1961
Left to right: FFN-3 Navy high pressure pumper (the first fire truck), 1941 Chevrolet pumper, 1942 Ford pumper, 1948 Packard first aid vehicle (retired hearse), 1953 GMC tanker, 1959 Ford chiefs car (our family station wagon).


Take a look at the Happy Valley station today!

Mike’s fire truck restoration blog!

Posted in Fire 32 History on January 4, 2009 by mikefire32

Welcome to my fire truck restoration blog. This is a new venture for me; although I have built several websites, this is my first time to blog.

I am restoring an old fire truck, which I refer to as Fire 32. This was the vehicle’s designation when it was placed in service in 1965. The fire truck was designed by my father, who was a Mechanical Engineer by profession and a volunteer fire chief by default. As an engineer who designed saw mills, he saw things in the fire service different than most people in the early sixty’s. The design of the truck was easily 30 years ahead of its time.

The fire department was the Happy Valley Fire District #65, which covered the unincorporated areas of Happy Valley, Sunnyside and Rock Creek. The fire district would eventually become part of Clackamas County Fire District #1, which is now one of the largest districts in the state of Oregon. 

I need to clarify something now, as it could later confuse you without an explanation. There were two identical trucks when they were delivered, Fire 32 and Fire 33, but they were destroyed in a wreck in July of 1968. The cab of one truck was removed and placed on the front of the other to make one complete truck. I will go over the wreck in more detail in later posts.

The rebuilt truck remained in the fire district until 1981, when it was sold to the City of Soldotna, Alaska. I purchased the engine in the fall of 1998 and have worked on it on and off over the last ten years. In recent months I have picked up the pace with the hopes of having it back on the road within two years.

The purpose of the blog is to tell you about this unique piece of firefighting equipment, and to bring you along on my journey to get it back to original condition. It will not be a frame-off restoration, as that is simply not feasible on a vehicle this large and complex. I am, however planning to make it as close to the way it was when it first went in service.

I am preparing to launch a new FIRE 32 website, but until then, you can go to the following link to read the history:

Here is a picture of Fire 32 when it went into service in July of 1965


Here is a picture of the engine when it left for Soldotna in 1981


Here it is today with most parts removed and work being done