From blazing to grazing: Tisbury's old fire truck is put out to pasture
After spending 46 years fighting fires in Tisbury, the town's old ladder truck has retired to greener pastures. A few weeks ago, Steve Freitag and his partner Karen Maher drove the truck to its new home at a children's camp in the Catskill Mountains, after making a winning bid of $800 for it on eBay.
Mr. Freitag and Ms. Maher operate Camp Chrishaven on the site of a former 250-acre dairy farm in Gilboa, N.Y. Sponsored by the nonprofit Chrishaven Foundation in Phoenix, Mr. Freitag said the camp helps foster and adopted children ages 4 to 13 years overcome attachment disorders, and offers training for their parents, as well.
Like many of today's active retirees, the fire truck will continue to work part-time. Mr. Freitag plans to use the truck to put out fires if needed, perform camp maintenance and repairs, and educate and entertain the children.
What a difference 46 years makes - Tisbury's old and new fire trucks, side by side. Photo by Ralph Stewart
An incident at the camp last summer proved the catalyst for purchasing a working fire truck. Because there is no refuse facility nearby, camp trash is burned in a fire pit. One day, a camper threw an aerosol can into the pit, which exploded and sparked a small grass fire.
Luckily, considering the nearest fire department is an hour away, Mr. Freitag was able to put out the fire with a shovel. After hearing about the incident, a friend suggested he should purchase a used fire truck.
A ladder truck also would prove useful in camp maintenance, Mr. Freitag realized. "We have some barns and silos and couldn't get up on the roofs to make repairs," he said. By last week, he already had fixed a few.
Most importantly, the fire truck could provide educational and entertainment activities for the campers. "Kids are always fascinated with fire trucks," Mr. Freitag said.
As soon as the truck arrived, children at the camp began pretending they were firefighters, running the lights and siren - a pastime not possible in city settings. Soon they will be able to dress the part, with the arrival of six junior firefighter uniforms, including pants, jackets, hats, and boots, which Ms. Maher ordered online.
From left, Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee and ladder truck captain Russ Maciel enjoy a last moment with Tisbury's old fire truck and its new owner, Steve Freitag. Photo by Karen Maher
Tisbury's 1960 Maxim Motor Company 65-foot aerial ladder truck was replaced by a new E-1 rescue platform ladder truck in March. A few days after voters declared the old truck surplus at town meeting in April, town administrator John Bugbee posted it for bids on eBay.
Being somewhat optimistic, Mr. Bugbee listed the "reserve" price, the minimum for the winning bid, at $3,000. No bids came close, even when he lowered the reserve to $2,000 in a second post.
As Kermit the Frog says, "It's not easy being green." Although Tisbury's senior fire truck was up against others of its vintage, it was no match for its red competitors.
As Fire Chief John Schilling explained, "The value of the old truck is just for scrap, because the town had it repainted green. Collectors want authenticity, and there were not green fire trucks in the '60's."
However, after two weeks shopping on eBay, the Tisbury truck's third posting with no reserve met Mr. Freitag's criteria: "It had to have a ladder, be located somewhere within 300 to 400 miles of the camp, and be drivable," he said.
Mr. Bugbee had hoped the town would get more than $800 for the fire truck. However, he was consoled by the fact the truck would not be crushed and sold for scrap metal, and put to good use instead.
When Mr. Freitag and Ms. Maher got in the truck to drive it to the ferry, Mr. Bugbee said their eyes lit up like kids on Christmas.
"It cost me almost as much to drive it back home as it did to buy it," Mr. Freitag joked. He said he filled the tank about three times and spent about $120 on gas for the 257-mile trip. Not surprising, he said, since the truck was driven, at most, 15 minutes at a time to and from fires, and was not designed for highway driving.
"The highest speed we got to was 65, and that was downhill. It drew a lot of looks going down the road," he said. Although the truck had a reputation for leaking power steering fluid, Mr. Freitag said it made the trip with no additions.
Driving the truck was no problem for him, since he still has a commercial license from past employment as a heavy equipment operator. Ms. Maher followed in a car.
Along the way, three people at three different stops who said they were from Tisbury or had visited there, asked about the truck and why it was so far from home. Mr. Freitag said that although he had planned to remove the Tisbury label from the truck, their interest made him change his mind.
"Obviously some people have an association with it and it means something to them, so we'll leave the name," he said.
The truck evoked a more proprietary interest in "Grrr," Mr. Freitag's and Ms. Maher's year-old half-lab, half-husky dog. "She has been renamed Chief Grrr. The fire truck is now her domain. Every time the door opens, she is in the seat and ready to go," Mr. Freitag said. "Every fire truck needs a dog. She's not a Dalmatian, but that doesn't matter - she'll do."
A history of service
For quite some time, the Tisbury selectmen and fire department knew the old truck's days were numbered. Plagued with constant mechanical problems, the fire truck became more difficult to repair, as parts grew impossible to find.
The faithful municipal servant became somewhat of an embarrassment. "We had to carry power steering fluid and Speedy Dry to clean up the puddle of leaked fluid before we left a fire scene," Fire Chief John Schilling recalled. "On the last call we went on, we had trouble getting the old truck started at all."
When Tisbury firefighters test-drove a shiny new E-1 rescue ladder platform truck around Vineyard Haven in August 2003, it was all over for the old truck. The "new kid" dazzled firefighters and Tisbury residents alike with its 100-foot articulating boom, enough that they voted to foot the bill for its $798,000 price tag.
However, out of respect for the old truck's long history of service to the town, its bell was removed and engraved with its years of service, and will be mounted on the new truck.
Mr. Freitag said Chief Schilling and ladder company captain Russ Maciel gave him a "tour" of the new fire truck before he left with the old one. "I jokingly told the chief, put your pictures of the new truck away, and in 20 years, we will come back and buy that one," he said with a laugh.