FireTruck Diary

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

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   Monday, July 22, 2002
Computers made of fluid and steel
I am in awe of the designers of my truck's engine. I live comfortably in the digital world. I can code in Assembler language for at least 4 different processors. I understand the transduction of sensor input into signals and then its conversion into data. I'm familiar with motion control algorithms and designs. But when I look at how the designers of the late 1950's solved some of the problems they had, I bow my head in humility.

In the digital world, you measure things with sensors, use a computer to figure out what the measurement means and then send a signal to a valve to open the correct amount (or something like that.) In the analog world of the 1960 Ford 534 cid. V8 engine there is no computer chip to decide what do do when things change (like temperature, or manifold pressure or somesuch.) Instead, the engineers had to create carefully constructed tubes and boxes that responded correctly based on pressure and vacuum and temperature. Astonishingly byzantine creations that sipped at a stream of air here, pushed a lever there, started another component sipping somewhere else. Tuned by a gap here, a screw there. Most changes impacting 3 or 4 other things. All brought together into a dynamic balance.

It's true that things got even more complex after the 60's. But somehow, the 60's maintained a sense of innocence. A clean esthetic that is missing in the 70's. Today's engines are designed with computers controlling steel. In the 60's, the engine was surrounded by analog computers made of fluid and steel. Computers you could program by feel if you were one of the talented. Like the kid down the street who could turn lawnmowers into go-karts. I was in awe then and am still now.

I've spent some time communing with the engine. I sat and stared at it with the shop manual in hand for an hour and a half this last weekend. I identified many things but found other things I could not grok. The biggest was a strange coil on the top left side of the engine, between the radiator and the left valve cover:

What is this thing? An oil cooler? I could find no description of it in the shop guide, though it appears in numerous illustrations.

The second was nearby. A bolt hole into the engine block (for a 3/4" bolt I believe) with nothing in it:

My hope is that it is a blind hole (does not go all the way through) and is meant to hold something irrelevant to my engine.

Ideas about these aspects of the Ford 534 cid gas engine welcome.

My wife is a saint
The inevitable quest for parts has begun in earnest. What might have taken months or years at flea markets and swap meets is now an impulse act on Ebay. This weekend I bought 75' of 1 1/2" hose with a brass nozzle for $71 and an Akron Brass hose coupling spanner for $15. I also ordered a copy of 'Intro to Fire Pump Operations' off

Fifteen years ago, finding those items would have involved phone calls, snail mail, money orders and interminable waits. (At this point, the little angel-guy on my right shoulder is hollering something about the evils of instant gratification, but the little devil-guy on my right shoulder is wondering if there are any fire helmets in the Ebay Buy-it-now section. You and me devil-guy, you and me :-)

As generations age and die, I wonder if we'll lose all awareness of the phenomenal efforts that collectors, hobbyists, restorers and others went through before Ebay and the Internet. I'm glad to be old enough (39) to remember how it used to be, and young enough (39) to get to enjoy the high-amplitude excitement that the digital age has generated. But, all bragging aside, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet (great job, sainted wife, mind-blowingly wonderful kid, cool house, too many toys, life in an age with antibiotics, it just goes on and on.) I do know that 'this too, shall pass', but all the more reason to enjoy the blessings I have.

Among which I want to spend a moment giving my wife some kudos. I collect hobbies for a hobby. I LOVE hobbies. I've always invested an inordinate amount of my energy in collecting, constructing, exploring, reading, buying and all the other hobby verbs. My wife doesn't have the same burning urges around hobbies that I do (that is, as long as you don't consider shoes, costuming, bizarre handbags and seeking the ultimate bath experience as hobbies :-) but she supports me even when she doesn't understand me. Quick example; I spent a good bit of time this weekend scraping rust and decades old grease from things like this:

, much of which returned with me, leaving a trail from the front door to the bathroom. And She didn't kill me! I've learned a lot from my wife, the biggest thing may be that we could all die anytime so we should live like we mean it. There's a quote, somewhere in Jewish literature, that when we die we'll have to stand in front of God and explain why we didn't partake of all the pleasures he offered us in life. Without my wife, I'd have a lot more explaining to do.


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