Antique fire trucks in Petersburg get road ready

Petersburg’s fire department has two antique fire trucks in its fleet that are being overhauled. One man is volunteering his time to get the vehicles back on the road in top condition.

Jack Slaght points to the engine he overhauled in the 1928 Model A fire truck. (Photo by Angela Denning, KFSK - Petersburg)
Jack Slaght points to the engine he overhauled in the 1928 Model A fire truck. (Photo by Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg)

An old fashioned siren fills the Scow Bay Fire Hall located a few miles outside of Petersbug. It’s a hand crank siren that sits on the dash of a 1928 Model A Ford fire truck and it’s what you would have heard in the 1930s if there was a fire.

If that didn’t get your attention there’s also a golden bell that hangs behind the seat. Petersburg resident, Jack Slaght, reaches over and gives that a try too.

Slaght is not a firefighter but he is an expert mechanic and he’s volunteered his skills to overhaul this Model A for Petersburg’s fire department.

“So when somebody was driving this truck there would be another person at least in the front seat operating this bell by hand,” Slaght said.

The overhaul project all started with Slaght observing a number of parades in downtown Petersburg. The Model A was in the parade but, “it ran really rough,” he said. “It did not sound good. It popped and backfired. It had no muffler. Anyway, the long and short of it is I volunteered my time in what was going to be just a good complete tune up and maybe minor overhaul turned into a major overhaul.”

Now Slaght stands next to the vehicle housed in its own room at the Scow Bay fire hall just outside of town. The truck’s hood is raised from the side showing off a shiny green motor, which Slaght completely rebuilt. This fire truck is the oldest vehicle in the fire department’s fleet and has no cab.

During the day Slaght is the Chief Engineer for the state’s ferry Malaspina. But on nights and weekends he can often be found here tinkering with tools.

“This truck has a one-piece siren and beacon up on front,” Slaght said. “That’s a pretty interesting unit. So, for 1936-37 I think that’s pretty advanced. Pretty impressive.”In the next room over from the Model A is this other antique fire truck, a 1936 International.

The Model A took more than a year to rebuild but things are moving a lot slower with this truck.

“I think I pulled the engine out of this a good two years ago,” Slaght said.

While it was easy to get parts for the Model A the 1936 International is a different story.

Slaght said they only made this type of engine for about three years.

“I went on a wild goose chase to try to find pistons because two of them were damaged so bad there was no way we were going to use them,” Slaght said. “I found six brand new Zollner truck pistons in a warehouse in Michigan, standard size for that engine. So, this whole thing has been a big adventure.”

Slaght tried some on-line forums on this specific vehicle. But he says the people participating were mostly hobbyists who knew little about real mechanics.

“It’s kind of the blind leading the blind so that did not help me,” Slaght said.

“You know there’s something very unusual about this International that I find fascinating,”

Slaght said. “It’s the ignition system.”

So, he decided to go it alone and teach himself by using, “two really old service manuals.” Two very old books detailing the inner workings of the 1936 vehicle. Slaght was then able to find specific parts throughout the country. It’s a process that he’s found quite interesting.

Apparently, there are two kinds, a spark ignition and one called a Magneto.

“So that means if you’re running down the road to a fire and your ignition cuts out which could happen with these old points distributors, you’d still have a backup,” Slaght said. “How cool is that?”

I ask him how much more work he wants to put into this truck.

“Do I WANT to put into it?” he said, laughing. “Well, I’ve got a lot of other stuff to do but I’m kind of committed.”

Slaght would like to have the International done by the 4th of July parade. That means getting the motor and transmission back in and the wheels back on. The local fire department has recognized his volunteer efforts by naming him an honorary member.