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Donation gets antique pumper truck restoration fired up

Cathy Dobson A rare antique fire truck that’s been in Sarnia-Lambton for nearly 100 years is being restored by the Corunna Firefighters Association.
Fire Truck
This 1925 American LaFrance pumper truck has an important place in local fire history. Submitted Photo

Cathy Dobson

A rare antique fire truck that’s been in Sarnia-Lambton for nearly 100 years is being restored by the Corunna Firefighters Association.

“We took this on to honour the firefighters that used that engine,” says Tom Mitchell, Corunna’s district fire chief and co-chair of the restoration committee.

“We want to preserve a piece of local history.”

Though fundraising has lagged through the pandemic a recent Creative County grant of $10,000 is finally moving the project along.

The truck, a 1925 American LaFrance pumper, started out with the Sarnia Fire Department, which purchased it in 1926 for $15,750.

It was one of the city’s first motorized fire trucks and went into service after Sarnia’s last two firewagon horses, Barney and Mike, were retired.

The LaFrance was used to fight some noteworthy fires in its day, including a high-profile blaze that raced through the luxury passenger steamer Hamonic in the early morning of July 17, 1945.

Sarnia firefighters rushed to the Point Edward waterfront to help extinguish the flames quickly consuming the “Hammy.”

The 1925 LaFrance had a 120 horsepower, six-cylinder, T-shaped engine and was able to shoot water to the top of the ship’s high deck. She helped battle the fire for more than two hours, but the S.S. Hamonic was destroyed.

It’s believed the pumper was retired soon after.

The truck was used strictly in parades and shows until 1967 when the Chemical Valley Region of the Antique & Classic Car Club of Canada purchased her from Sarnia for $1, plus a $50 donation toward the development of Centennial Park.

Another decade passed, and the Corunna Volunteer Firemen decided the LaFrance had an important place in the region’s fire history and bought it from the Car Club.

Their intention was to restore the truck, but fundraising was slow.

Ultimately, the antique pumper was loaned for display purposes to the Moore Museum in St. Clair Township, where she sat for another 30 years.

Unfortunately, the truck developed mechanical problems and began to rust while at the museum, said Mitchell.

The Corunna Firefighters Association decided to take on the restoration project in 2016 and chipped in $10,000 to get the work started.

Meanwhile, Sarnia Fire Rescue Services took on restoration of another early fire truck, a 1921 American LaFrance, which is considered the sister truck of the 1925 model. Faded photographs taken outside the old George Street fire hall in Sarnia show the 1921 and 1925 pumpers side-by-side.

“We took our pumper to RM Auto Restoration in Blenheim where they do a lot of classic cars and asked for an assessment,” said Mitchell.

The news was good. With a little coaxing, the motor of the 1925 LaFrance started up and the truck was deemed salvageable.

“Everything is intact and solid,” said Mitchell.

The truck is now stripped down and scheduled for sandblasting and bodywork this winter. The engine and the water pump are also being restored.

About $21,000 has been raised so far, including the county’s recent grant. Mitchell estimates it will take another $45,000 to get the truck ready for the parade circuit. As much work as possible is being done by the volunteer firefighters themselves.

“You’ll never see another truck just like this one,” said Mitchell, noting the original brass bell has a beaver on it. “It’s a classic and we want it to look good and run well.

“It’s history and it’s worth preserving.”

The firefighters hope to have the restoration complete before 2025, in time for the truck’s 100th anniversary.

Anyone looking for more information or to donate can email Mitchell at [email protected] or committee co-chair Joe Rodrigues at [email protected].

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