FireTruck Diary

My experiences restoring and playing with a 1960 Ford C-850 Fire Engine

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   Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Dead Truck
Okay. So now I've got a dead firetruck outside my house. Not the worst thing I can think of :-)

I'm really wondering what works and doesn't work on this truck. We had noticed during the tow that the truck had a full 1000gal. of water in the tank. The truck hadn't been in service for over 18 months, so the tank must not have leaked much. I decided to pull levers and twist knobs until I could make something happen. After a while I manage to get a moderate flow out of one of the hose connections and drained somewhere around 600 gallons of water into the street.

At this point the two 12V batteries were long dead (really dead, not just discharged) and I had to jump it by paralleling my car with jumper cables and a jumpstart box. It was a real adventure to get the thing jumped by myself, but I managed to do it 4 or 5 times.

I decided that the best defense (good offense) would be to go and knock on my neighbor's doors and ask them if they minded me having the truck out front. All but one were pleasant about it. The one abstainer missed my '63 van (which is black with 5 foot tall letters in white spelling PEACE on it,) but could live with the truck. This was important since the cops might tag the truck any time with a vagrant vehicle sticker. At that point I would be forced to tow it somewhere.

I was having no luck finding where to get the truck worked on. My regular vintage vehicle mechanic laughed and laughed and declined the opportunity. I was afraid that I would have to tow the truck to an RV storage facility and then later tow it again to a repair shop. I determined that I could only afford two more tows, and if the repair shop told me it would cost more that $1000 to fix, I'd need to get it towed to a junk yard. So I went to my local Harbor Freight store (oooh how I love that store) and bought a creeper and a big rechargeable spotlight. I proceeded to spend a couple hours a night (often after 11:00pm) under the truck trying to figure out what might be the problem.

I decided that it couldn't be the clutch or transmission. It couldn't be those becuse I couldn't afford to fix those. Therefore it needed to be something else. Something I could fix. I realized that the pump ran off the engine and so did the wheels. But the two never ran off the engine at the same time. There must be something that controls this. I knew where the thing in the cab to control this was, but it didn't do anything.

I went to my local pharmacist, B.C. who I knew had a past life restoring fire trucks and talked it over. He really felt that the problem was the pump engage/disengage. I spent more nights under the truck trying to find this mechanism. Finally I scored!

What a beautiful sight! The lever arm wasn't inserting all the way into the gearbox. I tried and tried but couldn't get it all the way in. Finally, by turning the driveshaft by hand, I got it to engage! I knew goodness was about to happen.

I went through my jumpstarting routine again and sure enough she moved!!!!!!!! Oh happy day (Wed. Jul 3rd, 2002)! I pulled her up into the driveway and felt a hug wieght lift. As long as my wife could cope with the tight fit between DeTruck and DeChurch (our house,) I could work on her at my own pace.

Now meanwhile, in the quest for legality, I'd been trying to find insurance for DeTruck. My State Farm rep had bailed on me. I knew that I wanted to register the truck as an antique, which meant no inspection and infrequent use. But State Farm doesn't typically insure antique Fire Trucks it seems. My friend B.C. had told me that there were special companies who would write policies. I began the search.

All the time this is going on, people are stopping in the street to talk to me about the truck. People I barely know are coming up to me in stores saying "I heard you bought a fire truck!". It's amazing how word spreads. The fascination with fire trucks is amazing for some folks. I love the attention (I live in a converted church, have a three legged dog and a kid named Zap, what can I say?)

As the 4th of July holiday weekend went by, I got the truck cleaned up, washed, new batteries installed and the top of the bed cleared off. The hose reel retractor works, the beacon ray works, the siren works, the engine runs great. I'm feeling good.

Monday the 8th I manage to get a quote from Progressive for $274/yr. for liability insurance, so I'm very close to getting the truck legal.

Next time I'll talk about what work the truck does need and what my plans (involving Burning Flipside are.)


It Begins!
I'm starting this blog to share my experiences restoring and playing with a 1960 Ford C-850 Fire Truck.

More Pix
Young Fire Equipment Corp.
Ford C-850 Tilt Cab
1000 Gal. Tank
500 GPM Hale Pump

I've got to take a few initial entries to define why I bought a firetruck and what's happened so far. Let's start with why....

Much of the excitement in my recreational life centers around Burning Flipside which is the regional Burning Man festival near Austin, TX. I'm part of the BurninGlam Krewe (BGK) that puts on a theme camp at Flip. Last year we hauled out a 16' trailer and 4 vans worth of stuff to set up our camp, next year I wanted to see if I could score a vehicle to haul it all in one shot.

My first idea was to get a step van (bakery truck, delivery van, Fedex van, you know,) or possibly an old school bus. A car casting company had recently started to talk to me about buying or renting my '63 Ford Econoline Van for an upcoming movie and the idea of actually selling it to buy something else had taken hold. As I researched the market for step vans and school buses, I was pleasantly surprised that they were reasonably affordable (< $3000.) While trying to get ideas of what these vehicles might cost, I turned to the great price definer 'Ebay'. By nothing more than luck, I stumbled on a local sale of a running firetruck. It was 5 days before the auction and the high bid price was $1355 (reserve not met.) I won't go into Ebay strategies, but my gut (and the market for old firetrucks) suggested to me that this might go for around $2400.

I laughingly suggested to my wife that there was a firetruck on Ebay that I might buy, prepared to hear derision, scorn and frugality. To my amazement she jumped up and down and said 'Lets buy it!'

This was the beginning of a delightful series of observations, the first of many learning experiences with DeTruck.

LEARNING EXPERIENCE #1 - it is (in my new found experience) impossible to use any basis to determine in advance whether, upon hearing that you have bought a firetruck, a given individual will; A) get very excited and want to come play/ride/etc. or B) get a weird look and ask 'Why?' I thought I'd be able to guess, but I was wrong (and I'm usually good at such things.)

The short story of the early days is that I won the auction for $1500!!!! I was thrilled, startled, amazed. I danced around my office at work, I called everyone I knew. I acted like a goober.

I called the seller and took the family out to see the truck, 35 miles away in Georgetown on a Saturday (6-22-02). It was hot, dry and dirty. My four-year-old decided that this might not be as cool as he had imagined. The truck was loud and with the cab flipped over, dangerous. Z (my kid is named Zap) cried for an hour. I realized that the truck was MUCH larger than anything I'd ever driven. It was all a bit intimidating.

I determined that I didn't need a commercial driver's license to drive it (it's now a big RV!) and got ready for the day upcoming when I could go get it and bring it home.

I live in an old converted church and have a 100' concrete driveway that I planned to put the truck in. The plan was to get my brother and sister in-law, in from out of town on a visit to go with me and follow me home. I got my nerve up and we went on the following Wed. (6-26-02). I would drive the truck on as many back roads as possible (staying away from I35.) Before I left, I wrote down the numbers of a couple of towing agencies, just in case....

We drove to the dusty lot where the truck was, money changed hands and I found myself behind the wheel of a BIG truck. A really really big truck. I made it 4 miles down a back road and the trouble began. The truck started slipping out of gear. Soon, it wasn't in gear regardless of the clutch or shifter position. I drove up on the side of the road and sat. The motor was running great, but the wheels wouldn't go.

A creeping horror started to wash over me as I realized that I didn't have a clue about dealing with trucks this big. My motto has always been 'How hard can it be?' :-) this has gotten me into many adventures over the years. Many 'learning experiences' as I find out how hard things can be. I didn't know squat about big (27000 lbs. Gross Vehicle Weight) trucks. I tried calling the seller, but he had gone to work. I started calling tow trucks.

LEARNING EXPERIENCE #2 - What does it cost to tow a fire truck?

The first few laughed and laughed as I described my situation and 'declined' the opportunity. Eventually, as my battery was dying, I got a hold of the company that tows semis and buses and such. They quoted me $250-$350 to tow it back the 4 miles to where I bought it.

The driver showed up in a monster tow truck, almost 40 feet long. Purple with blue flames. 16 wheels. He hooked me up and drove me a mile to a side road where he could disconnect the drive shaft. I'd already tried to talk nice to this friendly but taciturn fellow and as he crawled out from under the truck, I asked how much it would be to tow it all the way back to Austin (31 miles away.) He looked me over like a side of beef and allow as to how it wouldn't be a 'whole lot more.' Gulp. I said go for it. I had to get it back home eventually.

As I rode in the cab, I made nice. Very nice. He had some great stories to tell and I didn't have to pretend to laugh at them. Much of my youth was spent around men who work with their hands and backs and I have an unfeigned respect (that I did my best to show :-) We got the truck back to my house and he parked it out front.

When he was all finished he came over with his invoice book, looked at me again and said "$250" I was thrilled! I got off easy on that one.

Enough for now, soon I'll tell some more of the story to catch up to today.


Index of Post Titles:

Vital Statistics:
1960 Ford

534 cid
5-speed Gas
277 horsepower

27000 lbs. GVW

Young Fire Equip.

1000 gal. tank

500 GPM Hale
Midship Pump
Type QSHD-2,

Ferrell Fire Co.,
Ferrell, NJ

Buchanan VFD,
Buchanan, TX