Restoring 1951 fire truck a labor of love for Perry firefighters

PERRY — Bringing a long-abandoned fire truck back to life has been a labor of love for city firefighters Sgt. Kirk Crumpton and Sgt. Jesse Riner.

It’s a love for their profession, for history and for the city they call home.

The two men have spent countless hours during the past two years, mostly on their days off, working to restore Engine 21.

“Just getting to work on something like this is a privilege,” Crumpton said. “This is a piece of history.”

The two firefighters are mostly responsible for restoring the 1951 fire pumper truck that had been abandoned at the city barn where old police cars, garbage trucks and other city vehicles go to die or be sold.

Two years ago, Deputy Chief Joel Gray spotted a glimmer of red through the weeds that had grown up over the forgotten truck when he and two other firefighters were looking at another vehicle.

The old pumper was the city’s third since the department was established in 1910 and was the first the city purchased new. It carried a $16,400 price tag when it was bought Sept. 10, 1952, Gray said.

When it was discovered in 2007, a small tree was growing through the middle of the truck, Crumpton said.

“This is the way it looked when it came out of the weeds,” said Crumpton as he turned the pages of a photo album chronicling the restoration. “We’d take a part off and take a picture, so we’d know right where it went.”

The firefighters first pressure-washed the truck, flushing out wasp, mice and bird nests before they began to take it apart piece by piece.

The truck was taken down to its rails and then built back up.

Finding the parts was difficult at first until the firefighters discovered Chuck Mantiglia, owner of Chuck’s Trucks in Hamden, Conn.

Mantiglia carries a full line of Ford truck parts from 1932 and through 1989 and also does restoration work himself. He said his business grew out of having always wanted to ride in his father’s 1950 Ford truck as a child and later restoring that same truck.

“I found out what an ordeal it was to find parts,” Mantiglia said.

The most recent part the Perry firefighters ordered from Mantiglia was a windshield wiper motor, he said.

Now, Crumpton and Riner are in the final stretch of bringing the pumper back to life, with Perry firefighter Sgt. Dave Minter recently coming aboard to help with the electrical wiring.

The firefighters said they’d like to have the truck ready for the Georgia National Fair parade in October. But the real deadline is having it ready for the Christmas parade, they said, after a challenge from Perry firefighters Lt. Robby Rowell and Lt. Billy Gordons, who said it can’t be done.

The shift supervisors have promised to ride the restored truck in the Christmas parade dressed like little green elves if it’s ready in time, Crumpton said.

Because the refurbished truck will be a showpiece for the department, the area where the 750-gallon pump once rested in the middle of the truck has been remade.

A cushioned bench on each side of the truck provides a comfortable place for dignitaries to sit and wave from, while the middle is open.

While firefighters said they hope it will never happen, should one of their own ever be lost in the line of duty, the opening is large enough for a casket — a fitting funeral and burial honor for a fallen hero.

In addition, firefighters have thought about people they’d like to honor with a ride in the truck, such as long-serving Mayor Jim Worrall, who announced recently he would not seek re-election. Having the truck ready for Worrall to ride in during the Christmas parade is another reason firefighters are pushing to have the truck completed, Crumpton said.

With the department about to celebrate 100 years next year, the restoration of the truck also couldn’t come at a better time, Gray added.

Retired Perry fire Capt. Earl Greene, 64, who drove the open cab truck in its heyday, said the restoration project brought to mind a lot of memories, including traveling to Montezuma to battle blazes at a frozen food plant that caught fire twice.

“An experience you’ll never forget, to operate in the winter time,” he said.

Greene affectionately referred to the truck as “Old Red.” He said the city’s first two fire trucks were painted white. He remembered the gold leaf lettering on the side of Old Red that read: “No. 1 City of Perry Fire Department.” The truck was later renumbered Engine 21, Gray said.

“Believe me, this fire truck will be noticed when it is driven down those streets in the parades, and I’m very proud of what our men have accomplished at the city of Perry Fire Department,” Greene said. “With all the chrome that was added, it looks better than it was when it was new.”

Roger Crumpton, who also drove the truck during a short stint as a Perry firefighter from 1968 to 1971, had another reason to smile about the truck’s restoration.

His son is Kirk Crumpton, one of the two firefighters credited with most of the restoration work.

“I’m just very proud of him,” Roger Crumpton said.

To contact Becky Purser, call 923-3109, extension 243.