By Linda Dillman
Tucked inside the city of Canal Winchester’s public service complex is a vehicle that stands out in sharp contrast to its far newer vehicular brethren, but in its heyday this little red truck helped save lives and structures in the community.
The 1942 International truck, with a Seagraves pumper engine conversion, was fire engine number one for village firefighters more than 70 years ago. However, because of some underlying green paint, the truck is thought to have previously served as a military vehicle before being put into fire service.
“When I started in 1994, it was in storage at the public service complex until 1997 when we started the Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion and had to demolish the barn it was stored in,” said Canal Winchester Public Service Director Matt Peoples. “It was taken to an off site storage facility where it was under the care of resident Donnie Miller until around 2012, when we brought it back to the public service complex where crews began repair work.”
Miller’s father, former Mayor K.L “Mike” Miller, was a member of the Canal Winchester Fire Department when the truck was purchased. According to the book, “Canal Winchester Ohio: The Second Ninety Years,” by Frances Steube and Lillian Carroll, K. L. Miller was one of the first members of the volunteer fire department when it was incorporated in 1942.
Public service employees working on the vehicle are also getting repair assistance from Cliff Spruill, a local resident with extensive knowledge of classic cars. Peoples said Spruill is a huge help with the engine’s electrical and carburation system.
While no longer useful as an emergency vehicle, Peoples said the fire engine has been in the Labor Day Festival parade and the Santa parade as part of Christmas in the Village. It has been driven around town periodically to keep everything lubricated. Peoples surprised even his own family one day when he drove past his house during one of the truck’s periodic operational runs.
“Fortunately, when it was in off site storage it was kept in pretty good shape,”said Peoples. “We are getting all of the mechanical and electrical systems up in running order and completely replaced the braking system. Being a 1942 vehicle, parts are becoming difficult to find. We have been mainly working through the local NAPA store and have found some suppliers through web searches.”
Peoples and his staff cobbled equipment together from old parts and pieces found in the public service complex and plan to store the vehicle inside the building for now.
Peoples called it an “irreplaceable piece of history,” not only for Canal Winchester but also for the Madison Township Fire Department.
“Fortunately, it was cared for over the years with storage under roof and not too far gone to repair, like a lot of historical items end up,” said Peoples. “If it was sitting out in a field or out in back of our facility in the supply yard, who knows if it would have ever seen the road again. Given the 1942 model year of the truck, and with the interior and engine compartment’s original green paint color, it was arguably a truck manufactured as part of the war effort and was destined to see action in World War II. I am sure it was difficult to obtain this truck for firefighting purposes, so I imagine the local officials would have pulled quite a few strings to be able to get the truck and then to have it upfitted with the fire apparatus.”