Vintage: 1919 La France fire engine celebrates 100-year anniversary in North Carolina, US
An old and rusty piece of the Goldsboro Fire Department’s history will soon return to its former glory in North Carolina, US. As the Goldsboro Fire Department’s 1919 La France celebrates its 100-year anniversary with the department, Goldsboro fire chief, Joseph Dixon, is searching for a way to restore the engine. The truck, which came to Goldsboro in 1920, was the department’s first motorised apparatus. “It’s a part of Goldsboro history, as well as the entire department’s history,” said Goldsboro deputy fire chief, James Farfour. “The truck itself belongs to the citizens of Goldsboro. We were just fortunate enough to have care of it and we want to take care of it and get it running again.”
Through the years, fire fighters talked about wanting to refurbish the 1919 La France but nothing came to fruition, Farfour said. Since the truck will turn 100 this year, Dixon decided to kick the operation into motion and design a plan to restore the fire engine, all without costing taxpayers a single dime. “We’re looking for sponsorship or general donations,” Farfour said. “We’re going to try to do it all without any taxpayer funds. We’d like for it to be a community project.”
The project is still in its early stages but Farfour said Dixon is looking to set up sponsorships with local businesses. Dixon recently presented to the Goldsboro City Council four levels of sponsorship available: diamond, platinum, gold and silver. Individual donations from people and businesses are also welcome, Farfour said.
Before the refurbishing process can begin, Farfour said the department would like to secure some funding before they hand the truck over to the gentleman they have discussed the project with. In total, the project is slated to take nine to 12 months and cost between $60 000 and $80 000.
“We’re being very liberal with our numbers and anything that is left over would go to maintain the truck after (it’s refurbished),” Farfour said.
A piece of history
Prior to the 1919 La France’s arrival in Goldsboro, the department was still using horse-drawn apparatuses to fight fires, Farfour said. Back in the day, a La France was considered a top of the line fire engine, which Farfour said most likely contributed to why the department kept the truck for so many years. The fire department purchased the La France in 1919 but it didn’t arrive in Goldsboro until 1920. The department still has the truck’s original paperwork from when it was purchased.
Brand new, the La France was a mostly wood, steel and brass vehicle. Its wheels were made of wood but were eventually replaced in the 1930s. Other small modifications were made through the years. “It remained an in-line apparatus and responded to calls up until the late 1940s, from what we can gather,” Farfour said. “A lot of information is passed down verbally and when we get into the much older areas of the fire department, not a lot was documented or can be found.
“Some of the retired fire fighters remember, when they were new, some of the older fire fighters talking about that truck. That’s how a lot of that information got passed down.”
After fire fighters stopped using the truck, it was stationed inside the old fire station on John Street. The truck was later moved to the station on Ash Street and finally at Fire Station No. 5 on Central Heights Road. “It has always been a Goldsboro fire truck and has always been in our possession since it was purchased,” Farfour said.
Once the department has secured enough funding to cover labour costs, Farfour said the department hopes to get the project started. A volunteer fire chief from out of county, who has worked in the fire service for around 40 years, has visited the La France on multiple occasions to take photos of what parts need fixed and replaced. He has agreed to take on the project. He not only has experience with refurbishing old fire trucks but has also worked on a lot of antique farming equipment, Farfour said.
“He’s already doing his research and trying to find parts from different areas,” Farfour said. “Of course, it’s not easy to find parts for a truck that’s 100 years old. We’ve seen some of his work and we’re very confident he’ll be able to get it done. He has an excellent knowledge of the fire service and the fire trucks. When he looks at the pump on that truck, he knows what he’s looking at.”
For the most part, the La France will need a full body restoration, a fresh coat of paint and engine work, Farfour said. Luckily, most of the restoration is returning the truck to its original state, which means repairing the wooden bed among other things.
“A lot of it is going to be the body work, the painting and aesthetics of the truck. Originally, when it came, everything was wood and brass,” Farfour said. “Some changes were made while they were still using the truck. It still had the hand crank on it. Well, at some point, they upgraded it and put an electric starter on it. The hand crank was disconnected but, thankfully, they had the foresight at that time. They just disconnected (the crank) and left it there.”
The finished product
The fire department plans to use the truck for community events and possibly funerals for retired fire fighters, Farfour said. When the truck was still operational, Farfour remembers the truck visiting schools and Santa Claus riding in the bed of the truck during parades.
Farfour also mentioned looking for a way for the truck to be displayed on Center Street. “It is a piece of history that we don’t want to keep in a fire station away from everybody,” Farfour said. “A fire engine represents the community that it’s in and we would like that one to represent Goldsboro.”
Source: News Argus