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The Day The Fire House Burned Down…A Blessing In Disguise

Story ID:7256
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Dillon Montana USA
Year:2011
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The Day The Fire House Burned Down…A Blessing In Disguise
By Chuck Dishno

My hometown, Bly, Oregon, like most small towns, had a volunteer fire department and usually had only one or two fires a year.

The firehouse was a wooden/corrugated building about the size of a small one-car garage. It had a large bell on the top that stuck up about 15 feet on a wooden tower. The bell was about 3 feet in diameter was very loud and could be heard all over town. The rope to ring it hung down into the building to be pulled by anyone reporting a fire.

The fire engine was a converted Model A Roadster. The rumble seat had been taken out, the sides cut away and a wooden pickup bed was installed in its place. The bed held the fire hoses and what ever else was needed to fight the fires. The Model A had two pumps mounted on the front bumper that were driven by a shaft with a U-joint that stuck thru the bottom of the radiator and welded to the crankshaft pulley where the crank normally would have gone.

Most of the time all went well when there was a fire but one-day disaster struck – the firehouse caught fire. No one ever figured out how it happened but there it was, blazing away. The first thing the men did was to grab the fire truck by the bumper and pull it out. Then they tried to start it but nothing would happen. Of course they couldn’t crank it as the crank was replaced by the U-joint that ran the pumps. The men frantically pushed it up and down the street to no avail. By the time they gave up the firehouse was a goner. I was standing on the side of the street and the last thing I saw was the bell crashing down into the inferno. Fire truck maintenance was never high on the town’s priority.

This incident worked out to Bly’s favor though as the sawmill donated a tanker truck with pumps and the whole works. A collection was taken up to buy a fire siren and a tall steel tower on which to mount it. The siren was very loud and could be heard for several miles. I think the siren came off a Navy ship. To make sure it always worked it was blown at noon each day. The siren was nothing to set your watches by but it was usually correct plus or minus 5 minutes.

The reason I’m telling you this is because in my search for another car, (my first Model A, a 1928 sedan had the engine freeze up a few months earlier¬¬). I spied the old Model A Ford, fire truck, parked behind the new firehouse. It had been sitting there for several years but it looked to be in pretty good shape. It was exactly what I needed.

I went over to the Pastime beer joint where several of the town men were playing cards. The local Justice of the Peace, Jack Britton, was the un-official town politician. I told him I would like to buy the old fire truck and he said he would take it up with the other men in town. They immediately had a meeting while I waited outside. After about 15 minutes Jack came out and said that I could have it for $10.00. What a buy, I was ecstatic and ran home to get my money before they changed their minds. I was now the proud owner of two Model A’s and for an investment of only $30.00. The greatest thing was that I had spare parts galore.

Of course, all the tires were flat on my new purchase and they were of several different sizes. Model A’s came with 17, 19 and 21 inch rims and this one I had all three. After I got the tires pumped up, the next thing on the agenda was to get it running. Several of my friends pushed it by hand while I sat behind the wheel like a king. I would put the gear shift in second gear, hold in the clutch and when it got rolling pretty good I would let out the clutch. The engine would turn over several times and every so often the motor would start to catch, backfire and then stop. Each time it would backfire, a huge cloud of smoke would come out of the tail pipe and my friends would disappear in the haze. They must have pushed it about a mile when finally the motor started and continued to run. They all piled in the back and we went racing around town. I was afraid to shut it off for fear that it wouldn’t start again but I finally did and it started right up. The next morning was a different story though. No matter how much pushing or pulling, it refused to run.

It wasn’t too long before my friends refused to come by my house if fear that they would be pressed into pushing me again. In desperation I took the off the distributor and found there was a part missing called the condenser. This is an essential part as it makes for a bigger spark to fire the spark plugs.

Bly had a garage that had just about any Model A part you could think of. Most of these parts were new and hanging on the wall. The garage was owned by an old man named, Ole.

I told Ole what I wanted and he sold me a brand new one for 15 cents. After I put the new condenser on I found that it was just what I needed and it never let me down. All I would have to do was step on the starter and after a few revolutions of the engine it would roar into life. It’s a good thing too because the place where the crank would go into was welded over for the shaft that ran the fire pumps.

I believe that was what was wrong with the fire truck all along. Just think, if it had started on that fateful day, the firehouse wouldn’t have burned down and I wouldn’t have my “new” Model A.

My new Model A did have the same quirk that the old one did though. The starter would stick with regularity. I think this is a quirk that Ford never did totally fix as I have had several Fords over the years and have had a starter or two stick from time to time.

My Dad, Ed, had a solution to the sticking problem in my Model A. Pop loved to fish and on the occasions that I would borrow his car, a 1947 Oldsmobile, he would have to take the old Ford to get him to the fishing hole. He would always make sure he had enough gas and water to keep it running for a few hours so that he wouldn’t have to shut it off. It was just too hard for him to loosen the starter and kick it free. For us kids, we just couldn’t afford that much gas even at 15 cents a gallon.

I have written many more stories about my experiences in my old Model A’s that I will post soon.

I hope Pop got to meet up with Henry Ford in Heaven and tell him about the starter problem and how much gas he was forced to waste. Pop was a forgiving person though and they probably laughed it off.