Old Mandan fire truck found
By Brian L. Gray
You never really know when an old treasure may be found.
And sometimes, you never really know where.
A fire truck once used by the Mandan Fire Department in the 1920s was discovered in a junkyard, after more than 40 years of sitting unused in the sun.
What makes this even more strange is that the fire truck was found in a junkyard in Southern California.
An email was sent out of the blue to Mandan Fire Chief Steve Nardello and the Mandan Historical Society. It was sent by a group called the Crown Firecoach Enthusiasts, who said the group had found the fire engine in a junkyard.
The group is composed of volunteers, mostly retired firefighters, who restore and maintain antique fire department-related equipment and tools in the San Bernardino Valley, Calif., area. They were visiting an old junkyard in the town of Fontana, located about 30 miles west of Redlands, searching for some parts to complete a restoration project.
The yard they were in contained vehicles mainly from the 1910s to the 1950s. But what stood out was a very unusual fire engine, which had been getting hit by the California sun for over four decades.
On the radiator was the brand name “Twin Cities,” and the pump was labeled Northern Rotary.
And on the side of the fire truck, members were able to read out the mostly faded out lettering, but still legible, “MANDAN FIRE DEPT.”
“I became curious about this old pumper and began researching it on the web,” said Mike Britt, webmaster for the Crown Firecoach Enthusiasts.
He learned that Twin City trucks were made by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company from about 1908 to the mid-1920s. The company also produced the Corliss steam engine, which served as a power unit for many flour mills in the Dakotas.
In 1908 MSM produced a tractor under the Twin City name. By World War I, MSM was one of the largest tractor producers in the nation, and in 1929, the company merged with Moline to become the Minneapolis-Moline Company.
The Northern Pump Company sold kits that allowed small fire departments on tight budgets to build their own fire engines on the chassis of their choice.
Then he learned about the city of Mandan, and soon after contacted Nardello and the historical society.
The story as to how the fire truck happened to make its way to California still remains a mystery. What else remains unknown is whether the Mandan Historical Society will decide to restore the truck and bring it back home.
If the plan moves forward to restore it, the historical society could call upon the Crown Firecoach Enthusiasts to help out, who have offered their assistance.
Kathye Spilman, member of the Mandan Historical Society, said with so many unknowns related to the condition of the fire truck, and limited resources in this area, that it’s hard to determine at this point what will happen.
“Our big problem, of course, would be that we do not have access to junkyards that might contain spare parts,” Spilman said. “In addition, we would need a place to store the vehicle while the work is being completed.”
Britt, of the Crown Firecoach Enthusiasts, said restoration costs could vary greatly – anywhere from $15,000 to $80,000.
A major money factor rests upon the engine, whether it can be fixed or, at the small chance, if it still runs.
The frame of the truck would require what is called a frame up restoration, Britt said, “which means it has been sitting in the elements for so long it will need to be taken completely apart down to the frame and restored and put together piece by piece. It is very labor and time intensive, and probably would take a year or two to complete.”
Britt said many of the parts are no longer connected to the truck, but have not been lost, as they are laying in the hose bed in the back.
But some objects are needed, like headlights and a bell. Britt said objects like this, from the ’20s, can be hard to track down. Other work required would be woodworking, upholstery, electrical, painting and metal work, in addition to the cost of hauling the truck back to Mandan.
If the project is done professionally, it could run as high as $500,000.
There are people in town that are able to restore tractors, but fire trucks could be an intimidating challenge. Spilman said if anyone has any expertise or resources they could offer in this effort, the historical society is interested to hear them. You can email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few historical society board members have expressed an interest in discussing the possibility of planning a restoration project. The idea will be a matter of discussion at the group’s next board meeting, which will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Mandan Beanery Conference Room.
A lot of questions will be brought up and explored in the future as to what could be done with the fire truck currently sitting in the California junkyard, but at this moment, one fact is known – one town’s junk is another town’s treasure.