City’s antique fire truck still providing service 85 years after purchase
The Graham Brothers fire truck Baldwin City bought new off the assembly line more than eight decades ago is still serving the city.
Baldwin City Fire Chief Allen Craig said he was preparing the truck for its annual appearance in the community’s Dec. 7 Festival of Lights Parade. He’s given it a mechanical tune-up and getting ready to put on the electrical converter that will supply power to the Christmas lights strung on the truck for the parade.
The truck also is a yearly entry in the Maple Leaf Festival Parade. Craig said he didn’t know if more miles were put on the fire truck answering fires back in its heyday or as a popular parade vehicle since it was restored in 1973.
“It’s been in a lot of them,” Craig said. “We used to take it to parades in Ottawa and Gardner. I’ve driven the truck in every Festival of Lights Parade since it replaced the old Christmas Parade about 20 years ago.”
Craig has traced the purchase of the truck through fire department ledgers he saved from the scrap heap when the city converted to electronic records. The Graham truck with four-cylinder Dodge motor was purchased in May 1928 from local car dealer Perry Stover for $800. The total cost of its conversion to a fire truck with a bed and chemical soda-acid activated water tanks was $3,580, although the city was credited for a trade in of the city’s older Ford truck, the records show.
The truck was the city’s primary defense against fires until a new truck was purchased in 1949. At that time it was given to the city’s public works department for its use.
Archie Carlson said he was at the last fire the Graham was called to help fight. The volunteers with the city department brought the truck to the scene of a small fire in a Baker University sorority house because they didn’t know how to operate the tanks or hoses on its replacement, Carlson said.
As a spectator at the fire, he helped get the new truck in operation, Carlson said.
“I said, ‘Heck, you better let me join the department so I can come down and run it (the new truck) for you,’” said Carlson, who stayed on the department for 54 years and was its longtime chief.
The truck was in pretty rough shape when the fire department got it back from public works, Craig said. But with extensive restoration work, it’s now a show piece. Its entry in the parade is popular with children, because it always carries Santa Claus in the back. Playing that role in the parade, as he has for the past 33 years, will be Craig’s old friend Gary Browne.
“I gave him the chance once to ride our new Quint (fire truck) instead,” Craig said. “He chose the Graham.”
Craig and Browne put the truck is service one last time about a decade back when Craig answered a fire call as the Christmas parade activities were ending in the truck.
“I asked Gary if he wanted to go, and he said, ‘Heck yeah,’” Craig said. “It turned out to be nothing, but I turned on the old siren the last couple of blocks. The guys at the scene were all smiles when I pulled up.”