FireTruck Diary

{8/5/2021: In 2002 I bought a firetruck and documented my experience in the text and images below...}

This is a story about a truck, a man, a generation, some heroes, two small towns, three companies, a lot of gear, a bit of history and a lot of cogitating.

- The truck is a 1960 Ford C-850 Fire Engine.
- The man is me, nearly 40 years old, over-privileged and armed with a sense of whimsy and honor.
- The generation is the folk who've caused and survived the changes in the world between 1960 and today.
- The heroes are the brave men and women who serve their communities as volunteer firefighters.
- The two small towns are Ferrell, NJ and Buchanan, TX, both easy to miss on a map.
- The three companies are the Ford Motor Company (now nearly a force of nature,) Young Fire Equipment (lost in the ashes of the steel belt) and Hale Pumps (transformed into a multinational tech firm.)
- The gear is an endless pile of hoses, couplings, nozzles, axes, spanners and the other odds and ends that acrue around firefighters.
- The history is the growth of urban sprawl, the decline of manufacturing, the acts of heroes and the labor of regular men and women.
- The cogitating, well, that's the product of my encounters with the above and my attempts to make sense of it all.

I hope you enjoy the story. The plot is a bit vaporous. But it's a story I seem to have to tell, so...

Monday, July 8, 2002

It Begins!

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

1960 Ford C-850
534 cid 5-speed Gas 277 horsepower
27000 lbs. GVW
Young Fire Equip. #60-25
1000 gal. tank
500 GPM Hale Centrifugal Midship Pump Type QSHD-2, QS-16-10 #22139
1960-1986 Ferrell Fire Co., Ferrell, NJ
1986-2000 Buchanan VFD, Buchanan, TX

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.


posted by Tim at 1:17 PM | Link

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.)


posted by Tim at 3:15 PM | Link

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Risk and Reward

I want to step back for a minute and talk about the intensity of the experience with DeTruck.

The first notable intense experience was the excitement. Those of you who Ebay know the thrill of waiting, bidding and winning (yes, I sniped.) I love peak experiences and spend way too much effort seeking them. The happiness around actually buying a fire truck really qualified as peak moment. Partly because my wife was excited enough that I got to share the experience and that really helps.

The second intense experience began when it broke down. Not so much anger or frustration or sadness. More like fear. Here I was, responsible for over 14 tons of potential cop bait. I'd just spent more money than I should have (even though it was a bargain,) and I might have to spend that much all over again just to go through the actions that would lead up to the truck in a junk yard. As the days wore on, with the truck illegally sitting in the street in front of my house, I began to feel a pervasive sense of dread. The feeling of getting in over my head is not unfamiliar (it comes with seeking peak experiences,) but it is uncomfortable. My work was starting to suffer due to lack of concentration. I was on edge around my family. And yet, hope had not died. Part of me kept thinking, 'I might manage to pull this out. If I just keep trying, something good will happen.'

The third intense experience was when I managed to get it running by myself. The moment I felt the engagement arm seat firmly with a 'clunk', my brain starting pumping endorphins and other goodies into my bloodstream. When the truck started up and moved I felt ten feet tall.

Other experiences have been more diffused but nearly as powerful. I love how many folks stop their cars in the middle of the street to talk to me about the truck. I feel more connected to the neighborhood. (And I've always been very connected becuase of the church renovation we live in and the folks who want ot talk about that.)

The risk and fear I was feeling really made the triumph moments much more intense. It's a damn big toy, but I gotta say, I love playing with it.


posted by Tim at 1:23 PM | Link

Friday, July 12, 2002

A little more progress...

I have insurance! I decided to go with the only company that would respond to me with a quote. How's that for careful shopping :-)

$279 in one lump sum will buy you $100K liability, $300K personal, and $100K property protection (if you have my driving record, credit history, facial hair, etc.) I bought the coverage from Progressive, a officialy 'big' company. Other 'big' companies and quite a few small ones were completely flummoxed by my request. Now I have to do battle with the Travis County Tax Assessor.

In Texas I can register the truck as an antique (more than 25 years old, freaky that a 1976 vehicle is an antique.) this means that "The vehicle must be used exclusively for exhibitions, club activities, parades, or other functions of public interest and in no case for regular transportation." I can live with that. Especially since I started the 'club' that will be having activities :-) TXDOT was marginally helpful over the phone, but left me with the sinking feeling that I wasn't getting the whole picture somehow.

My gut sank to my ankles when the woman from the Tax Assessor's office told me that the registration would be based on the Gross Vehicle Weight. Ouch. It broke my heart to have to say "27,000 pounds". This means that I get to pay the state $275.40 a year. I'm now looking at around $550/yr to keep the vehicle unless I can get cheaper insurance.

I searched Ebay yesterday and determined that I could get about:
$160 for the beacon ray light on top
$200 for the Federal Siren on the front
$300 for the booster hose reel.

I'm not too thrilled about stripping DeTruck for parts, but I can't legally run the lights or siren so maybe I'll cash in on them. If the pump doesn't work then I'll sell the hose reel since it will be of no use.

I need to get creative and figure out a way for the truck to pay its own way and make me about $500/yr. How hard can it be? ;-)


posted by Tim at 8:45 AM | Link

Friday, July 12, 2002

Motor news

I've determined that the truck has a Ford 534 cid V8 Super Duty gas engine. This is actually interesting for the sake of trivia, the 534 was the biggest engine Ford made. They made it as a competitor to the up and coming diesels that were starting to dominate the heavy truck market.

534's were used in almost all the fire trucks that were built up from Ford C-series chassis. Many believe this was the single most popular fire truck chassis and engine combination ever used. Tens of thousands were made between the late fifties and early eighties. An amazing number are still in service.

I got the 1960 Ford Truck Shop Manual from, an excellent resource for, well, ford trucks. At first, it was an exciting and pleasant read (yes, I derive pleasure from sitting around reading technical manuals.) But soon, as the awareness spread throughout my brain that I was likely to have to DO some of the things displayed in graphic parts-blowout horror, I felt the cold hand of fear. My reading pleasure was constantly disrupted as I made guesses as to how much the mechanic's bill would be to do anything I was reading. Gulp.

Standing on the edge of the money pit, I'm just trying to enjoy the view....


posted by Tim at 2:38 PM | Link

Monday, July 15, 2002


I only had a few minutes this weekend to spend with the truck so I decided to start peeling off the Buchanan Fire Dept. stickers that are on the driver and passenger doors.

The stickers are plastic and weren't put on perfectly, there were bubbles underneath. A maltese cross with the various fire dept symbols; helmet, hydrant, ladder, hook, axe and nozzle. The words "Buchanan Fire Dept." in all caps and a simple sans serif font. The edges had already begun to peel up.

But as I started to peel back the plastic, I became sad. Somehow it was like lowering a flag for the last time. I couldn't help but visualize the moment in 1986 when Buchanan (a very small town in Central Texas near Austin,) having purchased the truck from Ferrell, NJ repainted the cab and put their department symbol on it. I imagined the pride they must have been feeling. A truck, of any vintage, is not a trivial addition to a small rural volunteer fire department. Funds are hard to come by, typically they are donations from the individuals and businesses in the community. A VFD fire truck is a large, tangible symbol of a community's willingness to protect itself.

I served with the Brent Volunteer Fire Department outside of Pensacola, FL between 1978 and 1981. I was lucky enough to be there when two new trucks were added. It's a powerful moment. Not only was the richness of men (there were only two women on our department at that time) wth large machines part of the experience, but there was immense pride in the commitment that we would take this beautiful, powerful machine and use it, at risk to ourselves, to protect our neighbors lives and property. As I peeled the sticker back, I kept having flashbacks to the day we got our first new Mack MC Fire Pumper at the Brent VFD, all of us walking around and around the great big thing, admiring and sharing emotion that we hid in our posture and gentle touches of the equipment.

The sticker peeled away fairly easily, leaving behind a thick coating of adhesive. I used a can of Goof-Off to try and remove it. It was as if it wasn't ready to come off. As I scrubbed, I stood wondering what lives and property this truck had saved. What firefighters had jumped off it and run into injury or death. What parades it had driven in, what relief it had brought to people as they saw it driving up to their burning home. What loving care it had gotten in almost 40 years of service.

This truck has had a long journey. As I transform it into what it will be next, I want to understand where it has been. The more I contemplate its role as a small town and rural volunteer department fire truck, the more I want to know the details. What a powerful icon I have brought into my life. A 27,000 lb. rolling altar to heroism, community, trust, loss and love between the men and women who volunteer to stand in harm's way.

The adhesive is very sticky and tought to get off. Perhaps because it binds so deeply.


posted by Tim at 8:25 AM | Link

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Legaler than I used to be....

I have returned from round 2 in the quest for legality. Today's match was with the Travis County Tax Assessor's Office. Luckily I got a very helpful employee, we'll just call her Miss P.. Miss P. politely shattered the illusions I had developed during phone calls to the Tax Assessor's Office and TxDOT (Texas Dept. of Transportation.) As it turns out, everything I was told during my phone quests was wrong and the paperwork I had would have, if filed, returned ownership to the Buchanan VFD.

I managed to take the first step, which was to get the title in my name. I was offered other alternatives, but I didn't come close to understanding what they actually were, so I declined. Additionally I was able to drop off the request for antique plates at the Tax Assessor's Office, who will send it over to TxDOT. When TxDOT informs me that my (ugly) plates are in, I can go, pick up the plates at the Tax Assessor's and register the truck at the same time.

Today I had to pay $106.79 to get the title transferred. This was because I accurately reported the sales price, I then had to pay the sales tax. Few people report the real sales price of vehicles sold between individuals in Texas. Most folk go with $100 to avoid the sales tax. Wuss, Boy Scout, whatever, I had to fess up or lose sleep.

My mother has been sharing this blog with relatives (howdy!) and let me know that her brother, my uncle Ralph, "went to the manufacturers school for operation and maintenance of pumps and maintained the crash trucks in the air force for years." It's amazing how many people's lives have some relationship to fire trucks. Oh I wish my uncle was closer than 2000+ miles away. Not the least because I've never really known him and the opportunity to get to know my uncle while messing about with a fire truck is a wonderful idea.

I'm starting to wonder whether I might end up using an airplane ticket, that I missed getting to use to go to my sister's wedding :-( , to go to Ferrell, NJ and interview the folks up there. I called and left a message with the Ferrell Fire Co., so perhaps they'll call back and tell me there is someone around who remembers the truck. It would be an interesting trip....


posted by Tim at 11:09 AM | Link

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

A Domesticated Truck

DeTruck is becoming a standard part of the home now. I have to move it fairly regularly to make way for access to the office at the back of our property. It actually fits surprisingly well in my driveway...

And the cat has accepted DeTruck as yet another item we purchased solely for her lounging pleasure:

The strong, yet friendly, front end of DeTruck is such a pleasant greeting outside our front door:

Our driveway is almost 80 feet long. It's quite possible to park all four of our vehicles in it. But it's quite a production to shuffle them all. There are days when I'm tempted to find out if DeTruck can push the other three out into the street (against their car'ish wills.) It is my hope to attempt to back DeTruck into the driveway for the first time this weekend. I'm sure truck drivers will laugh at my naivete, but you can't see a DANG thing behind that big fella. If I have to drive it often, I'm going to get one of those RV cameras that let you see behind you (and get a monitor in the cab to boot!) plus a backup alarm.

Excitement is building as the various fringe groups I interact with have begun to contemplate what we might do with a firetruck. If only the pump works....


posted by Tim at 10:37 AM | Link

Friday, July 19, 2002

Pump by Numbers

I'm getting ready to try and decipher the pump. I'm willing to enlist all the help I can get, so I'm putting a diagram of the pump panel up on the site. My hope is that kind-hearted folks can help me determine the following:
1. What sequence of operations will allow me to test the pump?
2. How can I test suction?
Here's the panel:

Here's the labelling:
1 - "Vacuum"
2 - "Oil"
3 - "Temp"
4 - "Pressure"
(not labelled - Tank level and RPM)
5 - "Relief Valve Control"
6 - "Left Rear Discharge" (on top of truck bed 1.5")
7 - "Right Rear Discharge" (on top of truck bed 1.5")
8 - "Throttle"
8A - Unlabeled thing between 8 & 9, no obvious function
9 - "Prime - Hold Down"
10* - Open/Close
11 - "Reel" - Open/Close
12* - Outlet
13 - "Fill Tank" - Open/Close
14 - "Manual Prime"
15 - "Manual Prime"
16* - Big Outlet
16A - (unseen) "Drain"
17* - "Cooling"
18 - "Suction"
19 - "Tank Suction"
20 - "Drain"

* - 10,12,16,17 are replicated on the other side of the truck.
Two outlets are on top of the truck bed (Rear discharge)


posted by Tim at 7:23 AM | Link

Sunday, July 21, 2002

She PUMPS!!!

You just can't beat family in a pinch.

I have a huge number of aunts, uncles and cousins. But because of geography, I've never really known most of them. Many I've never seen since I was a toddler. My mother's eldest brother, my uncle Ralph, is an uncle who I haven't had an adult relationship with. I've often wished I had more interaction with my cousins, but I'm so pathetic about keeping in touch with my brother and sisters that I knew anyone beyond that was a pipe dream.

My uncle recently retired to south Florida, my parents are in north Florida, so they see each other more than in the past. I do manage to keep in touch with my parents and they were visiting uncle Ralph when I bought DeTruck. My mom related to me that my uncle was excited to hear about my truck because he maintained firetrucks for the Air Force for decades and had been to all the pump maintenance schools, etc. Wow! what a score. I wrote him and basically begged for help. And boy howdy! Did he ever come through.

Using my numbered pump panel diagram below, uncle Ralph gave me a description of each control and a sequence to operate them in to try the pump.

The basic sequence was:
1. Chock rear wheels
2. Start Engine (put in 5th gear for pumping as noted in cab)
3. Open tank suction (this is a pullout knob so I'll pull it out, #19)
4. adjust engine speed (~ 1500 RPM, #8)
4a. Note pressure on gage (#4)
4b. Slow engine if pressure is over 75 PSI
5. take cap off 2 1/2" outlet
6. Slowly open control valve associated with selected 2 1/2" outlet
7. See what happens

She PUMPED water!! Pressure was a bit low, but I got water streaming out the booster hose reel under my control!!!!! Wow, this really cranks up the possibilities of the truck. Now I'll go to Ebay and buy some hose and a decent nozzle.

The pump panel rates the truck as follows:
500 GPM @ 150 PSI @ 1810 RPM
350 GPM @ 200 PSI @ 2000 RPM
250 GPM @ 250 PSI @ 2220 RPM
Governed Speed 3240 RPM

I am very excited, thanks uncle Ralph!

posted by Tim at 3:45 PM | Link

Monday, July 22, 2002

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.


posted by Tim at 9:48 AM | Link

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.

posted by Tim at 8:14 PM | Link

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

   Tuesday, July 23, 2002
These department links detail the differences:

The bottom line is that engines carry water and hose and focus on fire suppression. Trucks carry ladders and focus on entry, rescue and ventilation.


posted by Tim at 12:55 PM | Link

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Stop me before I bid again!

Recent fire engine purchases I've made on Ebay for DeTruck:

One 75 foot length of 500 PSI 1-1/2 inch rubber lined fire hose with a brass nozzle - $71.00
"You are bidding on one 75 foot length of 500 PSI 1-1/2 inch rubber lined fire hose with a brass nozzle. One end has a male connector, the other end is female so you can connect multiple hoses for additional length. This used to be a cabinet mounted stationary hose connected to a sprinkler system. We took it down a while ago due to changing insurance regulations. This hose is in excellent condition but I haven’t tested it. I believe the last hydrostatic test was in 1996. It would also be great for draining a pool or basement or watering the lawn, etc."

2 1/2 INCH FIRE HOSE. 50 FT ROLL. - $14.51

Morning Pride Fire Fighting Boots Size 8 - $10.50
"Morning Pride FD boots. Stock-1430, size: 8. Steel toe and soles. In good condition with some wear and tear shown on heel.(boot in pic not actual boot but same style) "

Vintage LikeNEW AKRON BRASS FIRE HOSE Spanner - $15.00
"Here is a CLEAN, LIKE NEW, sandblasted & repainted piece of FIREFIGHTING MEMORABILIA ready to display or give as a gift to your favorite FIREFIGHTER! Just wrap it and go! It is an AKRON BRASS MFG CO INC, WOOSTER OHIO Patent Feb. 24, 1925, NO 10 FIRE HOSE Spanner / Tool . It was used by FIREMEN for tightening hose couplings and/or attaching hoses to various hose appliances. It has a notched prying blade on one end and a lanyard loop on the other. I've had it for 25 years myself, just put away--don't know the true age of manufacture, but it's an oldie but goodie!"

X-10 Nightowl Low Light B&W Security Camera - $26.99
"The new Night Owl Surveillance Cam is an extremely powerful black and white micro camera , attached to an extremely long and durable 60 ft. cord. Through the cable, LIVE video is transmitted direct to your TV, VCR, or any other home electronic appliance with standard RCA inputs! It has a .5 lux rating (Illumination ability) which is over 5 times greater than most color cameras! This is truly amazing as it provides "night vision" power! But the true beauty is the size! It is super small and very discreet. You can hang the camera in planter, mount to a tree, place on top of a book. It's just like a small owl! " (this is for backing the engine up.)


posted by Tim at 9:38 AM | Link

Wednesday, July 24, 2002


heroic engine
red and white leviathan
rolling through my dreams


posted by Tim at 3:04 PM | Link

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Riding on the back.

The cab of my engine is designed to seat two. Three could fit, but there is no center seat belt and the big shifter would be a problem for someone in the center. The truck was clearly designed for firefighters to ride on the back.

You don't see this much anymore, in the eighties it was determined that over a third of firefighter deaths were attributable to accidents while going to or from fires. "Jump cabs", an enclosed space behind the driver, became commonplace among newer engines. I'm extremely glad for the increased safety of firefighters. But I'm also glad that I got the chance to ride on the back of firetrucks in the 1970's while on a VFD.

I suppose it's equivalent to riding a motorcycle without a helmet, that is, an act of natural selection. It really is dangerous and it really feels GREAT! Of the memories burned into my brain, the feel of hurtling down a busy street, lights flashing, siren howling, holding on for dear life surfing the back of the truck as we 'broke' red lights and turned corners will always be fresh and exciting. A large fire engine, loaded with 1000 gallons of water weighs a LOT. Big inertial momentum. Once, while riding on the back of a fully loaded engine, we hit and totaled a Volkswagen beetle. Neither I nor the other firefighter on the back of the truck even knew it happened. There is a sense of immense power combined with open air and the knowledge that you'll fall if if you don't hold on (the illusion sought by all great theme park rides.)

The assistant chief of our VFD (Brent Volunteer Fire Department, Pensacola, FL) was a local bank president. An important figure in the community. A man with much dignitas and gravitas, if you know what I mean (if you don't then think of a really boring guy in suit that looks like he has a lot of money.) I remember rushing into the firehouse, throwing on my turnout gear and jumping on the back of a truck just as it was rolling out of the station. The assistant chief was on the back with me and I thought that I should really mind my manners (I was 17.) As we pulled out into the street, with the big Federal siren blaring, the electronic sirens screaming, the wind blowing and the truck lurching I looked over and realized that he was gripping the rails as hard as I was and yelling "WOOOO-WOOOO-WOOOO" like a siren at the top of his lungs. He caught my glance, looked over and grinned like a maniac.

I doubt if I'll ever ride on the back of my engine or allow others to do so on the street. The liability concerns are just too great. Kinda sad. But every day, I walk out to the engine and, just for a moment, stand on the back deck softly going "woooo-woooo-woooo", just for the memories.


posted by Tim at 8:10 AM | Link

Monday, July 29, 2002

In Pursuit of the Obvious

Every time I think the horror of owning a 27000 pound unmoving lump of steel subsides, the truck dies again. This weekend, I tried moving it into the street to take some pictures. I started the truck up, sweet and easy as always, and began the slow but persistent set of operations to get it out of the driveway.

This takes a while, since I have to park the truck flush against the fence on one side of the driveway to allow pedestrian access to the back of the house. I have to move the truck back and forth easing it into the center of the driveway to be able to actually back out. About 4 moves into this ungainly ballet, the truck backfired hideously and died. From that point forward it declined to start again. I used up two cans of starter fluid, each spray would get the engine to turn over, but not run. I lifted the hood. (At this point of this message I am grinning broadly since lifting the hood on a tilt-cab is a big endeavor. The lift assist springs are old and tired so it's more of a 'clean and jerk' action on my part.)

I sprayed the carb with carb cleaner. I checked the spark plugs (and found that one had been disconnected from the distributor long enough to allow a tiny critter to move into the contact.) I went ahead and checked the oil, cleaned the fuel strainer in the carb and checked all the linkages.

I climbed under the truck and found and banged on the gas tank (the gage is dead.) It seemed empty! Ah-ha! So I decided (while on my back on a creeper) to unscrew the drain plug at the bottom. 2 minutes later, covered head to toe in gasoline (with a sloshing puddle of gas in the back of my coveralls,) I got the plug back in. The tank was _not_ empty. I dipsticked the tank and found 4 inches of gas. Yes, in retrospect my sequence was flawed.

I found and disassembled the fuel filter (big motha') and got it back together. None of this did anything to help it start.

I finally decided to pour some more gas in, since perhaps 4 inches wasn't enough. I got 5 gallons into her (I keep a lot of gas around for my ridiculously oversized generator.) A few moments to refill the filter and voila! She runs.

I've got to get the gas gage fixed. This also doesn't bode well for A) the gas mileage, which I currently estimate at 2-3 MPG and B) the amount of gas used while pumping. I put 10 gallons of gas in it when I bought it, I've driven it less than 6 miles and had it idling for no more than 50 minutes and pumping for no more than 15 minutes. All of that must have used up the 10 gallons. The gage consists of a rheostat (potentiometer, variable resistor) attached to a float in the tank and a heating coil around a thermocouple in the gage. You can test the gage by applying 3 volts across the terminals to (hopefully) get a 'full' reading. Kinda cool.

Live, learn, pay.

posted by Tim at 3:00 PM | Link

Monday, July 29, 2002

Hot Rod Engine

Here's a fantasy of one of my painting ideas if I do't do a straight restore (which I go back and forth on every single day.)

{done with The GIMP photo editing tool}

posted by Tim at 3:05 PM | Link

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

A sign of affection...

As I think about restoration vs. 'art car', I can't bring myself to ignore some of the care that has been given the truck in the past. I've always been amazed at how fire engines and trucks get the loving detail touches that other vehicles seem to go without. Most delightful to me is gold leaf. While most of it has worn off my engine, there are still big sections of the detail painting and gold leaf it was given when new:

Whatever I do, it will have to honor and celebrate those hand painted signs of affection that others gave her before me.

posted by Tim at 3:05 PM | Link

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

A different kind of company.

The truck was built by Ford in their Louisville plant. It then went to Buffalo, New York to be turned into a fire engine by Young Fire Equipment. From 1932 to 1991, over 2000 Case/Cayasler/Young (the various company names) trucks and engines were built.


I work in the tech industry. My job title is 'Information Ecologist'. I've worked for companies for whom 5 years is a rich corporate life. My industry often looks on resume's that have more than 4 years at a single job as suspect. I'll be 40 this year, I've never worked anywhere for more than 5 years. What must it have been like to work in a company that has operated from the a single location for 59 years? I know that there are tens of millions of people in the U.S.A. who potentially have a solid idea of this, but most of my generation is not included, or at least not the ones I know (blue or white collar.)

The company that made the pump, Hale has an even longer history. They started making pumps in Radnor, PA in 1914 and are now part of a multi-national German/British/American company called IDEX. They also make the Jaws of Life®.

What an interesting snapshot of American industry. The brave little company fighting and dying, the specialty manufacturer becoming part of the world economy.

My generation is more defined by the 401K than the pension. My companies make things that exist in the mind and silicon. Wispish, transient things expected to live a few years and die. Nothing at all like a 27,000 lb. rolling sculpture of iron and steel. What are the odds, that even with my best work, there will be someone 41 years from now who looks on what I've done for a living and shudders with reverential joy? Who finds it iconic of so many American dreams and myths? Who wants to learn about me because of the product of my labors? Humbling.

I got a copy of the 'build card' from Hale Pumps today. The were very helpful when I emailed with the serial number of the pump and asked for any documentation. They didn't have more than a large index card of the 'as shipped' configuration, but it's nice info to get.

I learned that the pump type is QSHD2 and the impeller type is QS-16-10. I knew both of those numbers, but now I know which things they refer to. For the deep pump enthusiasts, here's the rest of the relevant statistics:

Thanks Hale!

posted by Tim at 7:16 PM | Link

Friday, August 02, 2002

Incremental acquisition progress and turmoil...

Well, the package delivery fairies have been very good to me. In the last two days I've received:
Fire Boots
75' 1 1/2" fire hose with brass nozzle
1 1/2" adjustable GPM stream/spray nozzle with cutoff
B&W low light camera with 60' cable
4" Playstation One color LCD screen with A/V inputs
Yellow Full-brim hard hat
50' 2 1/2" fire hose

It's been really interesting as I try to explain to people that I don't want to get a full firefighter costume to go with the truck. Most folk seem to expect that I want to dress up and pretend to be a firefighter. That is a really unappealing prospect to me. I'm not a firefighter and it somehow feels disrespectful to try and pretend to be one. I do feel like there is a good outfit to wear while operating the truck and pump, for me it's fireboots (steel toe, waterproof, great tread), either turnout gear pants or just heavy rain gear pants (waterproof, tough), any old shirt and a hard hat. Folks seemed to think that I'd really want a fire helmet. I do want head protection, I'm a bald man and have more than enough evidence of my habit of collecting head blows, but a hard hat does that job without looking like a wannabe.

I see myself more as a pump operator rather than a fake fireman. I have ideas about what to do with the pump and none of them involve putting out fires (I'm not against it mind you, but I'll leave it to the professionals any time I can.) I'm thinking more along the lines of mini-portable water park. Visquine (plastic sheeting), sand bags and 500 GPM of water have real potential...

I suppose that this is all an aspect of my turmoil regarding art-truck vs. restoration. I never really wanted to 'restore' a fire engine. I really wanted to explore the potential of re-purposing a fire engine into alternative uses. I'm in love with the engine, its history and all that I feel it represents. Mark Pauline of Survival Research Labs was once quoted as saying something along the lines of 'I try to look at old farm and industrial machinery and ask it, what do you want to be now?' Granted, Pauline often hears the answer 'I want a cruise missile engine and a flamethrower strapped to me so I can bash up other machinery' and God knows, I respect that answer, but the answers I hear have a more whimsical trend.

I don't want to be shunned by the fire engine restoration community. I fear that a hot rod paint job or somesuch will offend some purists. But I really truly feel I can be fully respectful of the engine and the firefighting service even while tarting the thing up. I want DeTruck to turn heads in a new way, to inspire and excite people. I really want to explore context as an artistic medium. Robert Wilson (the set designer/artist who often works with Philip Glass) once said "A candelabra on a grand piano is one thing, a candelabra on a rock in the middle of a field is another." A fire engine is one thing, a fire engine with hot rod flames is another. (My apologies to Robert Wilson.)


posted by Tim at 8:41 AM | Link

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

RTFM and Ebay Sniping...

I received 'Intro to Fire Pump Operations'. What a treat. When I say that you could 'fill a book' with what I don't know about running pumps, well, this is the book. Last night I read the first 143 pages. Many things now make more sense to me.

I've been trying to identify some of the mysterious components beneath the truck that look water related. One has baffled me. It is a green cylinder approximately 14" x 4" with garden hose size fittings at each end. There is more than one, but the one that has driven me crazy has been the one close to the motor near the front of the truck. Its hoses are cut, so I can't tell where they once went. I'm convinced the unit is a pump. Now I'm convinced that it was part of an auxiliary cooling system that pumped water through a heat exchanger that would cool the water from the radiator while the truck was sitting still and running the motor to pump.

This is really cool. A system that replaces airflow across the radiator with water flow across a heat exchanger. Alternately it might be a radiator fill system, which pumps water directly from the discharge side of the pump into the radiator. Ahhh, more hours under the truck debugging the mechanicals :-)

Ona different topic I have been receiving a lot (well, 3) nasty grams from an Ebay user who is angered by my sniping auctions. I really have to feel that the folks who have a problem with sniping have just somehow missed the point of Ebay. Ebay is an electronic auction environment, not a live auction. The folk who only bid incrementally, i.e., don't input their max bid once, are ignoring the proxy-bidding mechanism that runs Ebay. Here’s the points I made in my reply to the unhappy guy:

1) Sniping is irrelevant within the Ebay system. Sniping cannot affect the Ebay proxy-bidder. Whoever puts in the highest bid wins, sniping or not. I was willing to pay more than the other bidders for the auctions I won. I've lost plenty of auctions where I tried to snipe (manually or automatically) because other bidders had higher top bids.
2) Sniping is free to everybody (try, so it provides a level playing field for everyone.
3) I'm not trying to compete with anyone, I don't use Ebay for recreation, I'm trying to purchase items that are not available in any other marketplace, therefore I will use all legal means to win.
4) Sniping is entirely appropriate within the Ebay rules and policies, since it is just a bid entered close to the end of the auction and the proxy bidder they have built doesn't care when the bids are entered, the max bid always wins. Incremental bidding defeats the whole purpose of the proxy-bidder. Sniping is in the interests of the buyers and keeps the prices down (early bids are similar in nature to shill bids which drive the prices up.) If Ebay thought it was a problem, they'd disallow it.

Perhaps the antisnipers are trying to have the thrill of a live auction bidding war. That's too bad, it's just not that kind of environment. Switch over to the thrill of setting up a snipe and hoping you were willing to pay more.


posted by Tim at 8:45 AM | Link

Friday, August 09, 2002

So Close and Yet...

So far I haven't been able to get much time with DeTruck. Perhaps it's the demands of family life. I have a four-year old who deserves every minute I can find to spend with him. I have a wife who has a career and yet manages to do 5 times the housework I do. I have a job that pays me hourly, so time off is unfunded. I have a compulsive need to read at least 150 pages a day. Poor truck.

I think about DeTruck all the time. I snatch minutes here and there to buy things for it :-) I spend MUCH more time blogging about it than actually working on it. Yet perhaps it's just a phase. There's not a lot I can actually do to it right now. Many of my plans are on hold till I get plates for it (should be in any day now.) I do get a bit of time most weekends. This weekend I intend to install the rear facing camera and television screen, which should allow me to be able to back the truck in the driveway without help (this has been a problem so far.) I also purchased a back-up alarm to go BEEP-BEEP-BEEP when I put DeTruck in reverse, oh lucky neighbors!!!

I learned a LOT from the 'Introduction to Fire Pump Operations' book. I now know many of the significant differences between positive displacement pumps (piston, rotary, etc.) and centrifugal pumps. I understand much more about drafting (sucking water from a stream, pond, etc.) and the various aspects of math that come into play while pumping. It has become clear to me that I don't ever want anyone to actually be relying on me, DeTruck or its pump for their safety.

I turn 40 next month. I had, for years, planned a trip to Amsterdam with my wife for my treat. We intended to leave my kid with his uncle and aunt for 6-8 days. Alas, I cannot bring myself to put an ocean between us while the world is so skittish. So many folks have asked if DeTruck is my present. Good question. I hadn't really thought of it that way. It may turn out that, while the truck itself is not my present, that the absurd amount I am spending on things like proximity suits:

traffic cones, gated wye valves, nozzles, hoses, books, wheel chocks, hydrant wrenches, spanners, turnout gear, cameras, etc., etc., etc. are my present :-) (I've actually gotten almost everything at way below average prices, the issue is how many things, not their individual prices.)

Yet to come, I want to take the truck to a real truck mechanic and get a once over for it. Goodness knows what will be found, but I'd rather know before I get out on the road. I'm still a bit gunshy after having had to have it towed once already. It's so BIG. And it gets three times as big when it's dead and blocking someone's driveway or two lanes of traffic.

I'm still ensorceled by it. I want to get it out in front of my house again just to get a good look at it. I'm a lucky guy.


posted by Tim at 10:16 AM | Link

Monday, August 12, 2002

Progress and paint...

I managed, despite throwing my back out and getting some kind of flu (not West Nile I hope) to get the backup camera installed into DeTruck and I started painting.

The backup camera uses an X-10 B&W Nightowl camera (ran about ~$26 on ebay) and a 4" color LCD display for a Playstation One that takes A/V inputs as well (ran about ~90.) Now I have a screen mounted on the dashboard that lets me see if there is anyone or anything behind me! Big improvement.

I tried to install a backup alarm (BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, etc., ~$5 at Harbor Freight,) but DeTruck does not seem to have lights that come on when you put it in reverse! It's not that they're disabled, there just don't seem to be any. Most mysterious.

I decided to try painting one section of the truck, I selected the area on the passenger's side where the rust was really bad and I wanted to try saving some of the hand paint and gold-leaf. Here is what it was looking like up close:

I masked with masking tape and X-acto'd away all but the needed masking and a tiny buffer. Luckily a past life airbrushing helped in cutting masks. I then used a chemical wash to turn the rust into a paintable surface. After it dried I wiped and spray painted using an off-white paint. I'll do another round with a bright white to ease the off-white closer to the color of the rest of the white on the truck.

Hopefully the rust changer didn't leak under my masking and trash anything. I'll finish the white paint tonight and pull the masking tomorrow, so I'll know soon enough. If this worked, I'll do the whole truck in sections. I want to get the white looking white with no rust and the red looking red without blemish before I consider what to do next. Matching the red is hard with only spray paint to choose from. I need to start shopping around, but it's hard since they started locking up the spray paint in most stores.


posted by Tim at 10:00 AM | Link

Thursday, August 15, 2002

A little bit of this and that

In and among fighting the dreaded allergy season (all year for the most part) here in Austin, I have actually been doing more with DeTruck than I've been writing about it! (oh! the squalid reality of it all... delicious!)

The first delight is that the painting experiment went as well or better than could be hoped. Here are two pictures:

Since the white is intended to cover rust, act a primer and potentially a kind of gesso for any kind of painting I do next, it is serving very well. Matching the off-white that was there was difficult in spray paint, but I got an off-white that was a bit to dark and then gave it a light second coat with a pure white and it looks pretty good.

Matching the red will be much harder. Using a Pantone book (thanks to Debbie and the skinny Italian woman at work,) it comes in at Pantone 200C in the sun and 201C in the shade (or possibly 186C and 187C.) If I can't luck out and find matching spray paint, I'll need to use my paint sprayers (luckily I have electric and compressed air paint sprayers as well as an air brush, but they're a pain to clean when using oils or enamels.) If I have to use the sprayers, I'll want to do the truck all at once because of the hassle factor. That would delay things. Everything's a trade off.

I also added some confidence:

after reading about the dangers of a truck with 1000 gallons of water parked on grade.

The coolest thing I've ever bought in clothing arrived, my Proximity Suit (dog came extra):

It fits and it's amazing! Look out Halloween!

The next thing I'm going to start is trying to clean out the tank:

which I'm afraid will be sending large rust chips into the pump. There's a clean out plug deep under the truck that I'm sure I will abuse myself getting open. But open it I will! Then I'll use a garden hose sprayer and long brush to try and get the worst out.

I'm still waiting on my plates. An my original insurance agent finally got back to me (I went elsewhere long ago.) So the legal side of things is moving slowly. I'm also learning the difference between NST, NH, NPSH, NPT and other firehose threads, since I wasn't careful and bought a (well labeled dang it) gated wye valve that has 1.5" NPSH male threads when I need 1.5" NST male threads. Luckily adpaters do exist and adding the two I need will still make the gated wye a bargain. YAFLE (Yet another freaking learning experience.)


posted by Tim at 1:30 PM | Link

Friday, August 16, 2002

Teased with the sight of my plates

I almost got my plates today. Having gotten my letter saying they were in, calling to verify, showing up at the Tax Assessor's office and getting to see them across the counter from me, I wasn't able to get them today.

I'm fascinated by the convoluted series of things required to get DeTruck legal. In this case the problem was that on my first visit to the Tax Assessor's office, which resulted in a Title transfer, the 'Registration Class' and the 'Plate Type' were set to 'Exempt'. Brrrrrrrrrrt! Wrong answer! Go back to start and begin again. This last step was one month ago today and I still haven't actually received the title. This was mysterious to the Tax Assessor's office as well. Now I have to call TXDOT and determine what is up with my title and get it re-issued with the correct registration class and plate type.

It was a slow afternoon, close to closing, at the Tax Assessor's. I was able to go directly to a window where a nice young woman proceeded to help me. She found the plates right away, but seemed to be taking a long time asking questions of co-workers in the back cubicles. I knew something was up when the woman she was talking to shook her head and I could hear her say something about 'You'll have to ask...' and pointed to a man in a different area. I was pretty sure right then and there I wasn't walking out with plates.

My attendant had a conversation with the man and I could tell he was explaining something negative. He started going on about his business and I heard her say to him 'Could you explain that to him?' (meaning to me.) He came over, and adopted the body posture of someone official who is giving bad news. Everyone had the air of getting ready for me to get angry. I listed to his explanation that the title was incorrect. I had decided that life would go on either way, whether I got the plates or not, and I didn't feel like getting angry, so I smiled while he talked and asked politely what steps I needed to take next and what I might have done to avoid this problem. Everyone seemed a bit shocked that I wasn't being a jerk. The woman helping me actually thanked me for my attitude and said that I couldn't imagine how much my attitude meant to all of them. I felt sorry for how much abuse they must take. I told her that I was glad they were there and that they did a good job. She seemed quite surprised. Some days it's a sad world.

Now I must call TXDOT (of course it's Friday after 5:00 now, so it'll have to be next week,) and track down my title so that I can send it back through the system :-) Amazing. But not worth getting cheezed about. As Kurt Vonnegut writes, "So it goes."


posted by Tim at 3:27 PM | Link

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Who's on first, What's on second...

Following up on my quest for legality...

I called TXDOT to let them know that the Tax Assessor wasn't going to give me my plates because the title was incorrectly flagged as 'Exempt'. It was a classic moment. The TXDOT lady told me that all I needed to do was get the registration and plates and bring them to the TXDOT office and they could fix it up. Hmmm, laugh or cry? The Tax Assessor says that all I have to do is get the title fixed and they'll give me the registration and plates.

I laughed. This disturbed the TXDOT lady for a moment until I was able to get a breath and explain the irony. She softened a bit from her official demeanor and asked if she could call me back after looking into this.

I got a call back 2 hours later asking for Oscar (my name is Tim.) I asked what number they were trying to call (I like to be helpful with wrong number callers, it can happen to anyone,) and the called paused and said "Do you own a firetruck?" I recognized the TXDOT lady's voice and acknowledged my luck in owning a firetruck. She went on to explain that everything would be fixed in 24 hours. The title, weeks overdue, had actually been put in limbo because of the 'exempt' thing. I never would have gotten it without calling.

So theoretically I'm closer, incrementally closer. A comedy of disposable income.


posted by Tim at 7:24 AM | Link

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Oops, I bounced off again

Yet another attempt at getting my plates for DeTruck has bounced off the bureaucracy. Despite TXDOT telling me that the problem was resolved and that I could go to the Tax Assessor and pick up my plates, my visit to the Tax Assessor was unproductive. The luck of the draw saw me seated in front of the woman who had set up the title transfer in the first place. The title transfer that the license plate clerk had told me was incorrectly done. The title woman looked my paperwork over and pronounced everything fine. No I couldn't have my plates, but everything was fine.

She whacked the problem into the hands of TXDOT (much like a successful volley in a tennis match.) She was able to show me the screen on her computer that declared 'TITLE APPLICATION AWAITING RELEASE', meaning that TXDOT hadn't gotten off the ball. She informed me that when my title showed up in the mail I would be able to bring it to the Tax Assessor's office to apply for a different title (paying my title application fee again,) but until I had a different title I couldn't get plates. If I had the vehicle registered I could get the plates, but you can't register it without the title. She then went on to explain how lucky I was that everything had worked the way it did. Not only had she not made a mistake on my title application, but she had saved me hundreds of dollars! (Imagine me desperately searching my soul for gratitude at this point.)

I had already decided, before entering the building, that I would be jovial no matter what happened. So I smiled, laughed, begged her indulgence and asked for an explanation. As it turns out, I needed to get the title transferred to me without registering it, then get that title (costing $13 for the transfer fee.) If I registered it at that point, without having approval for antique plates, it would cost me about $300 to register due to its weight. If I got the title,. with no registration, then got approval for antique plates, then got a new title with the registration class as antique, I could do it for only the cost of the additional title transfer ($13.) She was kind enough to mention that TXDOT does not consider antique registrations a priority and used to take 6-8 weeks to process a title, their new system does away with this wait, except for some reason in may case. Bewildered, but jovial I thanked her and explained that I was trying to create a web page that explained all this for others attempting to buy an antique fire truck. This elicited a rather stark frown (which I have to say did not work well with her makeup. If you knew you worked at a job where you frowned all day, it might pay off to apply makeup while thinking about unpleasant people or something. Okay, that uses up my tacky ration for this week, sorry.) She stated, 'Well, you could document this, but we're likely to change the procedures at any time.' I recognized this as a great time to leave before she changed the procedure on me right then and there.

So, I'm waiting. How long I don't know. But she did take pity on me and gave me the 'Public Information Number' which goes to, as she described it, the 'basement'. I can call it regularly to determine when my title has moved beyond 'waiting release.' So it goes...

In other news, I got a really great fire coat and fire cape recently retired from the Wernersville Fire Dept. in Pennsylvania. Pix soon to follow. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a fire cape, but now I have one. So it goes... :-)


posted by Tim at 12:04 PM | Link

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Slooooow times....

TXDOT still has my title in limbo so I can't get legal. I've been holding off on a lot of stuff until I can drive the beast to a gas station and get some gas in it. At this point I think I've evaporated more gas out of the tank than I've used.

Meanwhile, I've been enhancing my pumping knowledge. Here's a first pass at a schematic for the truck's pump. It's missing the priming components and the engine cooling, but that will come.

If it's too hard to read, you can go to yahoo by clicking on it and see the full size version.

My birthday is coming up soon and I want to move DeTruck back out in front of DeChurch and string it with Christmas lights. That should be fun and a good precursor to the holiday season where I plan to use DeTruck as a prop for various holiday decorations.


posted by Tim at 10:11 AM | Link

Sunday, September 01, 2002

Decomissioning & Mystery Solved?

I've actually been getting some real work (as opposed to paper-work) done!

I've gotten DeTruck decommissioned. There is no remaining reference to a real fire dept. on the truck. I got the driver's side door sticker off. Lotsa glue remained behind,

but I was able to get it off quickly this time. I sprayed a citrus based extra-strength solvent on it and left it overnight. The next day I really couldn't tell any difference, but it might have helped. I sprayed the glue down with the solvent and applied the 'ten foot rule' to find the perfect scraper. I needed something that would scrape the glue off at least semi-ergonomically in short order without taking any paint off. The ten foot rule is an esthetic that strives to solve every problem with the materials in a ten foot radius. In this case I scored a perfect ten by reaching down and taking the plastic cap off my 20 ounce bottle of Dr. Pepper. A circular motion a la 'Karate Kid' took the goo right off as long as it was kept wet with solvent.

I masked the front of the truck:

and used a red spray paint that matched as close as I have any reason to hope for. I masked in an octagonal pattern with two loooong sides. Four coats of paint and it no longer read 'VFD BUCHANAN VFD'. A moment of silence please...... Now on to the future! The contrast between the two colors is a bit greater than this picture shows, but it's really not too bad.

It'll be a good base to paint some new name on. As a note, it doesn't pay to spray paint, even outside with a light breeze, without a mask. I did the first coat that way and yes, this is the result of blowing my nose:

Hey, it's educational.

My ongoing plan to clean as much rust (including large chunks) out of the tank as possible has been progressing. Despite not succeeding to get the cleanout plug removed:

I did get the screen out of the 2.5" suction inlet which is the next lowest point in the supply side. I hosed out the tank as well as I could, which wasn't really very good due to the internal baffles that block my access. I let this stream run out until it was clean. Then I filled the tank with about 600 gallons and let it rush out through the system. The tank suction (tank to pump) valve is astonishingly stiff,

I have to get under the truck and move it with a 15" crescent wrench. Very difficult. Something is amiss. Penetrating oil hasn't helped yet.

I really need to get the cleanout plug out. It gets sprayed with penetrating oil daily. With the pump and pipe system full of water I got the ability to track down a big leak under the truck. I had thought it might be a fried relief valve, but a bit more effort allowed me to take a guess at why the engine might have been on the sales block.

There is a big 4" inlet on each side of the engine. They meet on the inlet side of the pump. At their top there is a smartly bubbling leak:

I haven't gotten a decent picture of it yet, but it's dead in the center of that pic. I suspect it to be a VERY expensive repair. But it might not matter to me given the small amount of pumping I intend to do. At least that's what I won't stop telling myself.

I bought a bunch of 'rope lights' to put on the engine. I'm going to park it out front this week and string lights on it for a party this coming weekend. Pix forthcoming.

In other news I'm expanding my thread inventory. The gated wye
that I bought a while back for less than $40 has NPSH (forestry style) threads on it's two 1.5" outlets. I either have to buy adapters and keep all my hose NST threaded, or get some NPSH gear. I took the chance that NPSH gear might go cheaper since it's less common. And indeed I scored two 1.5" NPSH nozzles for $9.00 (which is very cheap.) Now I'm waiting to score NSPH hose. I'll have a full set with the wye, hoses and nozzles. That will give me three 1.5" 'attack' hoses and nozzles with a 2.5" 'supply' hose and my hard suction for drafting (almost sounds risque :-)


posted by Tim at 5:38 PM | Link

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Molasses, slow as...

I am locked in a never ending battle for legality. DeTruck's situation is the focus of multiple 'investigations' regarding its status by TXDOT. Nothing is actually happening. I am sad. I wish I had more to say.

In other news, I plan to back the truck into the driveway tomorrow. This is an example of the pathetic level of inactivity regarding DeTruck, but it is rather challenging nonetheless.

More soon, I hope.

posted by Tim at 7:50 AM | Link

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Street Legal (I hope...)

I got my plate!!!!:

Street legal at last!!! At least I hope so.

I got the title in the mail yesterday and took it to the Tax Assessor this afternoon. I lined up my paperwork and explained my history only to get the gimlet eye of the admin. She says 'We'll see how far we can get through this today.' Gulp.

As she proceeds through the system she gets increasingly frustrated. Eventually she shows me the screen and tells me that she keeps getting the message "Registration cannot be purchased in advance." Apparently the system had decided that I was already registered. I confessed that this wasn't the case (imagining getting pulled over by a police officer, plate gets called in, hilarity and legal action ensues,) and got her to verify on her screens that I had never paid for the registration or plates.

By this time she has TXDOT on the phone and a couple of shoulder surfers from the office looking on. They are debating what to do. The consensus emerges that she should just give me the plate and I should leave. Somehow this feels like the seemingly simple compromise in the first chapters of a novel that will result in a crisis in the final chapters, but what can I do?

I took the plate, grabbed my (supposedly okay) title, said 'Thanks!' and left.

Now I just need to get it fixed so that it doesn't jump out of drive and into pump accidentally. But now I can go get gas!


posted by Tim at 11:54 AM | Link

Monday, September 23, 2002

Virgin Drive....

I actually drove DeTruck out on it's first (for me) trip onto busy streets with traffic! What was the lucky destination you may ask... The gas station. The poor truck has run out of gas in my driveway twice now, so I wanted that problem to end. My neighbor, Patrick, was brave enough to go on the ride with me even after I painted the picture of the truck dropping out of gear and sitting dead while blocking three lanes of busy traffic. His job was to jump out and deploy the traffic cones I bought for such an occasion while I crawled under the beast and re-engaged the driveshaft.

I had already spent two hours under the truck on Sunday rebuilding the pump-engage mechanism. I don't think it will actually work now (i.e., I don't think I can use the knob in the cab to engage/disengage the pump) since it took a solid hammer blow to engage it last go round. But the original mechanism serves to keep it from coming out of drive, so that may be good enough. I'm okay with crawling under the truck if I need to engage the pump.

I put 20 gallons into the tank. Using a dipstick, it appears to be almost topped off. I've put 55 gallons into it total. Driven maybe 6 miles, idled for maybe an hour and a half total, pumped water for maybe 20 minutes. I have no idea what size the tank is, but my guess is about 35 gallons. Maybe more. I need to start troubleshooting the gas gauge and sensor. I'd be happy enough with a calibrated dipstick, so that may be an alternative effort. Using my 'safety' calculation of 3 MPG, I can probably go almost a hundred miles on a full tank, plus or minus 50 miles :-)

I'm getting more excited about putting hot rod flames onto DeTruck. I've done a lot of research into vinyl and magnetic flames. I like the idea of peeling them off if I ever manage to get some money by renting DeTruck to a movie company. Here's the link to my 'agent' CoolCarCasting. We'll see. My current thinking is to buy vinyl shelf adhesive and cut my own flames. This would be a good excuse to finish the computerized sign maker project that is in year 4 at my house.

Meanwhile I am not the first to put flames on a fire engine, check out these amazing pix.

I'm really excited about the prospect of taking my 4 year-old on his first ride in DeTruck. I'm a bit hesitant until I get a few miles without breakdown under my belt, but soon soon.


posted by Tim at 10:41 AM | Link

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Ironic Justice...

Having recently turned 40, with a four year old kid and an 11 year old, amazingly stable marriage, it is my just deserves that I should some into possession of a true babe magnet.

Yes, when it comes to DeTruck, it's official. Chicks Dig It.

It's true that in my wild oats days I had a couple of great motorcycles that certainly added an allure that I did not natively enjoy. And a couple of my art cars elicited interest from various 'alternative' women (including my future wife.) But, prior to becoming a fire engine owner, no vehicle in my possession has ever drawn women to leave their cars, come out from behind their counters and generally go out of their way to talk to me. Now, when I am at a time in my life when it's the least useful but perhaps most appropriate, I am in possession of the king of the mid-life crises cars. (I feel so sorry for those pathetic toupee wearing, Miata driving wannabees.)

The experience was driven home to me while I filled the gas tank the other day. I went to the nearest gas station that I felt confident that I could pull in and out of (a serious consideration in my case.) This turned out to be the RaceTrack megastation about a half mile away.

The RaceTrack gas station is the BIGGEST BRIGHTEST thing for miles. It was the subject of a lot of neighborhood council grief when it arrived due to the fact that it was SO BIG and BRIGHT. The towering structure over the rows and rows of gas pumps can be seen for quite some ways, customers are recommended to wear at least an SPF 15 sunblock while pumping to avoid a burn from the glowing lights. There are nearly twenty pumps. In a bizarre attempt to personalize this vast pay-at-the-pump wasteland the owners have created a tape loop of a bored droning voice that systematically greets customers. "...PUMP 11, welcome to RaceTrack, PUMP 12, welcome to RaceTrack, PUMP 13, welcome to RaceTrack,..." and so on through all the pumps ad infinitum. Mind you, this has nothing to do with wether there is anyone at Pump 11 or Pump 12. Every pump gets greeted in rotation. If you're the only customer, there is a hypnotic dread as the sequence approaches your pump.

As Patrick and I were filling the truck, listening to the recitation with half an ear and trying to figure out how full the tank was (dead gauge) we were both startled to hear "PUMP 2, excuse me" booming out in place of the litany of greeting. It took us a moment to realize that we were at Pump 2 and that we should just talk back to the pump. "Yes?" I tentatively replied. The disembodied nature of the conversation was a bit creepy and other customers are anticipating some kind of scene. The voice changes to a syrupy sweet female voice and croons "What year is your fire truck?" I venture a solid "1960". "It's sooooo cute!" booms the flirty voice across the tarmac. It is a surreal moment. But, as each of the other female customers drives away from their pumps, they smile and wave and I think one even winked. The guy in the BMW convertible never had a chance.

So it goes..

posted by Tim at 1:00 PM | Link

Tuesday, October 08, 2002


DeTruck sits in the driveway, awaiting love. I had to pull it farther in than I usually do and park it hard against the fence to try and serve as a sonic barrier to our new neighbors. Yes, a rock band has moved in next door and their practice space is 10 feet from our bedroom. They've tried to soundproof, but those of you who have made this effort know how hard it is to really stop a kick drum from pissing off a neighbor. DeTruck actually helps, but not enough.

I've been spending a lot of time involved with the truck at one remove. It occurred to me that the wonderful Ford C-series front end

with it's flat face, broad glassy forehead and protuberant chrome jaw, is very characteristic of my family profile.

Perhaps this is an example of owners looking like their pets, but I think I look like my firetruck. This has been independently confirmed by a number of utterly biased individuals.

To this end, I decided that I wanted to paint a self portrait. I paint in acrylics (brush and airbrush mixed) and decided that the while the physical medium would be canvas, the conceptual medium would be firetruck. So I have been spending my time painting "Self Portrait in Firetruck". I'll post a snap of it when it's complete. Alas, if only the rest of the work I want to do on DeTruck could be done so quietly at 11:00 at night naked (without mosquitos.)

Well, here it is, but I edited myself out...

In other news I am working on making nice vinyl flames for DeTruck to wear. I'm cutting them out of vinyl adhesive shelf lining material. They should look pretty good. Slow progress on this front and I have a lot of rust picking and painting to do before I can put them on DeTruck.

so it goes,

posted by Tim at 7:46 AM | Link

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Austin Parking Rules:

It shall be unlawful for any person to park or permit or cause to be placed, stored or parked any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight in excess of 9,000 pounds on any public street which has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or less; provided, however, that all public streets in the Central Business District as defined in § 16-2-16(A) shall be exempt from this requirement; provided, further, that all such vehicles actively engaged in service or delivery functions shall be exempt from this requirement for the
period of time actually engaged in such service or delivery activity; provided, further, that all publicly owned or franchised emergency vehicles required by the various municipal, state or publicly franchised utility departments to be taken home by its on-call employees charged with making emergency utility service repairs shall be exempt from this requirement.

('81 Code, § 11-2-170) (Ord. 820826-C; Am. Ord. 920820-H) Penalty, see §

It cost me $20 to learn this lesson.

{Author Note}

Sadly, once street parking became impossible, the truck sat in my driveway for 8 years becoming increasingly decrepit. Despite it being classed as a vintage vehicle that didn't require a CDL to drive, the local Austin police informed me that I would be ticketed unless I got a CDL. I showed them the docs stating that the state of Texas didn't require that and was informed that Austin PD wrote the tickets, not the state. I am not, by nature, litigious, so fighting a series of tickets in court was not an urge for me.

I still took it out once or twice, but managed to knock the electrical meter off my outside wall doing so (it's on the driveway with very little clearance from the truck.) My dream of taking it to the local burn event and using the pump to make a monster slip and slide fell apart when I realized that the only way into the property required crossing a bridge that was rated waaaay below the weight of the truck. I could all too easily visualize collapsing the bridge, having a long line of pissed off burners stuck on the road behind me, unable to get to the event site, forcing them all off the road as a wildly expensive crane came to pull my truck out of the creek, and then having to pay to replace the bridge after ruining Flipside for everyone.

I later learned that the local VFD cut through private property to get to that site. But by then, the truck had become a jungle jim for the local cats and squirrels and an increasingly unmovable fixture in my driveway. I made occasional half-hearted attempts to resuscitate it, but mostly it gathered grime and served as someplace for me to dump my old bad gas.


July, 2010 Sadly, After becoming deeply paranoid that the truck would get a flat tire in my driveway and require a crane to get it out, in 2010 I gave my firetruck away to a metal scrap collector. This is what happened when he showed up to get it...

What a circus. At 11pm last night, the gnarly little redneck dude, Lester, who's been telling me for 3 months that he'll take the firetruck called up and said 'I've got some guys and a truck and we can do it tomorrow morning!' I told him that was too short notice, but he said 'this is it, now or never!'

I was stuck. I told Tracy, who hates Lester because he's always coming around to check that I didn't give the truck to someone else. She had two clients in the morning. Every other morning has been client free, but of course, today she had one old and one brand new client.

Tracy's a psycho-therapist for those who don't know and she sees clients in an office at our house with a separate entrance on the driveway. Right beside the firetruck.

Lester shows up at 8:30 with 5 grungy dudes in a pickup no bigger than mine. I'm highly skeptical since everyone else had said that the required tow truck to pull my firetruck is a BIG one. But they swear that this'll do the job. For some reason they decide to strip off all re-sellable parts (of which there are a million,) while the truck is in the driveway. It was a lot like being an observer during an 18th century pirate raid. They split the booty by arguing about it ("I get the radiator!" "The hell you say, you can have that little brass valve, but the radiator and that Holly carb are mine!" "Screw you guys, I get the Holly and those fancy chrome lights" and so on...) This also involved sawzalls, crowbars and many other heavy power tools and swearing.

They had to drop the gas tank to tow the vehicle as scrap, it's a 50 gallon tank and it was full! Many humorous moments ensued as, one after another, the pirates got soaked in gasoline unbolting, cutting hose lines and jacking the truck up to get the tank out from under. The final release of the gas tank was celebrated by everyone (except me,) leaning up against it as they all lit up cigarettes and had a good smoke. I hid behind the fence for this part to the amusement of all.

Tracy was getting madder and madder and I could see she was getting ready to blow. I determined that the main problem was her new client showing up at noon. This was someone unfamiliar with the eccentricities of our church-house-junkyard and they were paying Tracy's top rate so she wanted to make as good as impression as possible and maintain full client confidentiality.

I tried to soothe her by demanding that the pirate crew either finish by 11:45 or take a break for an hour and a half to be clear of the office and driveway during the critical time. Everyone smiled and assured me that they would be long gone by then.

At 11:15 we finally hooked the chains to the back of the firetruck and attempted to pull it. No go. It's been frozen in place for 6 years. In an amazing show of mechanical skills, the pirates broke into three teams; one to dissassemble the emergency break system, one to jack the axle and soak the suspected locked wheel with wd40 and break it loose with crow bars and one to cut the lines on the hydraulic brake system after hot-wiring a quick solution to release the electric parking lock.

At 11:45 I'm getting ready to get in my truck and drive out of Tracy's blast radius. But they're ready for another try! They hook the chains tight and PULL!!! Amazingly, the truck starts to move. It rolls down the driveway (slightly downhill) towards the street, at which point everyone remembers that they just finished destroying every trace of a braking system on the 18000 lb. firetruck. Hilarity ensues.

Essentialy they use the pickup truck as an impromptu wheel chock by allowing the firetruck to slam into its rear bumper. Tension mounts as the combined mass edges into the street, but lo and behold it stops! Like an Indy pit crew the pirates unmount the one or two pieces of gear now finally exposed that I wanted (a valve here and a hose there.) They pull the firetruck into the street with two guys running alongside tossing wood blocks repeatedly under the wheels (the truck would roll over the chock, slow slightly and the agile pirates would jump in, snatch the block and throw it under the wheel again.)

At this point the firetuck is in the street and off my property for the first time in eight years. Tracy's client shows up and we all pretend that the improv firetuck circus in the street has nothing to do with my house. The pirates unhitch from the back of the firetruck, rechain their pickup to the front and haul the firetuck up the block a few houses. After about an hour, they'd rebuilt a jury-rigged parking brake system and they drove off in the sunset (so to speak,) bound for Bastrop with their new, old firetruck, headed for the scrap yard.