The 1929 Peter Pirsch and Sons fire truck looks almost like it did decades ago when it was a functional vehicle for the Edgerton Fire Department.
Two original ladders are fastened to the right side. The leather strap used to ring the bell is intact. An ax is attached loosely to the floor. And the bench seat inside the cramped open-air cabin likely features original leather, said Jason Russ, deputy chief of operations for the Edgerton Fire Department.
The truck has called the city home for nearly 90 years. Now the fire department has ensured it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.
The department bought the vehicle, which still reads “Edgerton Fire Department” in chipped white paint, for $5,000 at an auction last month. The truck needs restoration work to be functional again, but it’s in fairly good condition considering its age, Russ said.
The truck’s journey back to department ownership started with a phone call.
A man named Brian Kelley called the fire department after his uncle Tom Uncapher died. He was clearing out Uncapher’s warehouse full of possessions and thought one item might be of interest to the department, Russ said Kelley told him.
“I had heard there was an old Edgerton fire truck floating around here somewhere,” Russ said. “I said, ‘It wouldn’t happen to be an old fire truck, would it?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’”
Uncapher’s neighbor Mike Hart had acquired the truck about five years ago, but it never really left Uncapher’s jam-packed warehouse on Highway 59, Hart said.
He said Uncapher bought it straight from the department around 1970.
Hart wanted to clean up the vehicle and get it running so he could drive it around Edgerton a few times. Those plans fell through, but he was happy to see the truck return to the department, he said.
The Edgerton Volunteer Firemen’s Association, a separate fundraising arm for the department, pooled money together for the purchase. Everything is in relatively good condition except for the engine, and the department wants to restore the truck so it can be driven again, Russ said.
Restoration could be difficult considering the scarcity of spare parts from the era, he said.
Hart thinks a restoration project could get expensive, but he believes it’s doable. He remembers seeing the truck drive through the city.
“I would think that motor would run relatively easy. I saw it run those many years ago,” Hart said. “But it’s been five, six years sitting in (the warehouse), so who knows. The right guy could get it going.”
Compared to a modern fire truck, the 1929 vehicle is much smaller, slower and has substantially less water-pumping capacity. It has one red siren light on its front and a couple of smaller ones in back.
And to start the engine, firefighters needed a hand crank. Like other period accessories still affixed to the truck, the crank is stored in the bed.
The fire department is still trying to fill in missing information about the truck’s history and its working days. Russ suspects some retired firefighters in the area might have stories to share.
“We have it, but we don’t have all the information,” he said. “One of the things we’re hoping, as people hear that we have this back, if they have anything to share it with us.”
Edgerton has a 1922 fire engine and an 1886 hook-and-ladder wagon at the Hall of Flame Fire Museum in Phoenix. The Fire Museum of Greater Chicago offered to help refurbish the department’s most recent acquisition, Russ said.
But this one will likely stay in town, Russ said.
Many fire stations across the country will feature an old vehicle to showcase department history. Edgerton has a room inside its station that is full of old photos, but it’s missing a fire truck centerpiece.
“Fire departments are all about tradition and history,” Russ said. “To have something like that around is unique.”