A piece of local history comes back home

As their 1932 Stutz fire truck the second motor-driven fire truck owned by the city was being restored, members of the Vandalia Volunteer Fire Department began digging up old photos and news stories to learn about the trucks history.

In some of those photos, VVFD members also saw the citys first motorized fire truck, a 1924 American LaFrance. And they talked of how nice it would be to also have that truck.

But, based on stories theyd been told, that wasnt a possibility.

Dale Slater, when he was serving as the police chief, told us that after that (1924) truck was taken out of service, it went to (the citys) street department, for use as a street sweeper or cleaner, said current VVFD Chief Merle Adermann.

After that, it supposedly went to Gene Irelands junkyard and sat for a number of years, and then, everyone assumed, it was scrapped out, said Adermann, who found out through some research that the city bought the truck in 1925.

That was not the case, as VVFD members learned last year.

A Texas man contacted Adermann to let him know that he had the 1924 truck, and to ask whether the department would be interested in buying it.

He told Adermann that he checked the serial number with American LaFrance records to learn the trucks original owner.

Hed said that a Texas doctor somehow acquired the truck, did a minor restoration job and used it to give rides to his grandchildren on his farm.

After his death, the doctors family then either gave it or sold it to Special Camp for Special Kids.

The man who contacted Adermann about the truck said that the proceeds from the sale of the American LaFrance would go to that foundation.

As the members talked about whether to buy the truck, which was to be put up for sale on eBay, a retired member of the department, decided to see if he could get the fire truck back to Vandalia.

The night before the eBay auction for the truck was scheduled to end, Andy Craig began calling some current and retired members of the department, to see if they were interested in become investors in the project.

Craig raised more than enough to buy the truck, and a week later, it rolled into town on a trailer pulled by Chad Feldpouch, who picked up the truck after delivering an airplane.

Craig thought it was important to get the fire truck back to Vandalia because of its history.

This town is so proud of its heritage, and this truck is a part of that heritage, he said.

It was documented that this is the first true fire truck bought by the city and used by Vandalias firefighters, he said.

It was for sale on eBay, and it was going to go home with somebody, so I thought it would be best to come back to its original home, he said. If we hadnt bought it, it would have ended up in Germany.

Craig was referring to the fact that he just beat out a man in Germany who had an American LaFrance automobile and wanted to also have a fire truck made by that company.

A dozen other people agreed with Craig that the fire truck should come back to Vandalia. Investing in the project with him were current VVFD members Ty McNary, Bob Trexler, Bob DePaolo, Steve Stombaugh, Brian Westendorf, Trent Smith, Mark Miller and Adermann, and retired VFD members Randy Edwards, Matthew Adermann (now a firefighter in Taylorville) and brothers Walt and Charles Barenfanger.

Those he called were quick to get on board with the project, and he had sufficient funds raised in no time. It only took me 30 minutes, Craig said.

Once the truck got here, in the first week of January, it was in considerably better shape than the investors and VFD members expected.

With just a little tinkering, Craig got the truck running.

I just put a little air in the tires and cleaned out the bottom of the carburetor, he said.

We also made a new fan belt, he said, adding that the fan belt on the truck appeared to either be the original belt or one put on in the 1940s.

One of his employees, Ed Garrison, took the wooden steering wheel home and fixed it up. He made a couple of new pieces and laminated all of them together, Craig said.

Based on the trucks condition, Adermann said, It could be restored to almost original condition without a whole lot of work.

Thats what he would like to see happen. Craig agrees.

Its a classic style and design. Touching up the nickel-plated accessories and adding some gold leaf striping and lettering, it could be made to look like it was when it was new, Craig said.

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