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Vintage Fire Truck Collection

Brian Beard has had a passion for fire engines and firefighting his whole life. As a kid he would visit the local firehall and talk to the heroes that worked there. Later on, he became a volunteer firefighter before pursuing a career as a civil engineer. Now retired, Brian pursues his passion for firefighting with his collection of vintage fire trucks which he keeps housed in his very own fire hall. He has turned his property into one of Canada's best private fire engine collections complete with an operating Gamewell alarm system and two fire hall buildings. Brian also co-authored The History of the Edmonton Fire Department.


Somehow, the lights, the siren, the men hanging on the back. They used to wave at you, you know, as they're going down the road, right.

They just gave you a feeling of...that they were important. And I guess I recognized that they're special.

Hi folks and welcome to Center Lane. I'm Bruce Hitchen. Well, today we're at the home of Brian Beard. Now, Brian has a beautiful collection of vintage fire trucks. Brian was a volunteer firefighter when he was younger and he's always had a love for these beautiful machines. Brian's collected them, he's restored them, and he houses them in his very own fire hall. Let's talk to Brian about the collection.

Well I think it had to do a little bit with my mother because when I was young she said, I only wanted to go two places, the fire hall or the train station. So that's when I first started to get an interest in fire trucks and the men who operated them because I looked at them kind of as important people, right. They they were life savers, they were special men. I used to watch, you know, watch them go out of the fire...I'd sit down there when i was little and wait till they got a fire, an alarm and watch them go. In those days they had the doors open, you know, you'd walk in and you'd look at a fire truck and somebody would come over to you and say, can we, you know, what would you like, can we help you? You know, what do you want to know, let me show you the stuff inside. So they made you feel like, I knew they were important kind of people and they were willing to spend time with a little kid like me, right.

I was going to be a fireman but everybody talked me out of it. You know, you're not going to make any money, you're going to be this, you're going to be that, but and and the fire chief told me at the time. I went when I finished grade 12 and talked to him. And said I want to come, I'm gonna be a fireman. He said, I'm not gonna let you be a fireman he said, you're gonna go to university and you're gonna become whatever you become. He said, after you graduate come and see me if you think it's what you want to be. Well of course I never went back, right.

Edmonton had four of these and they're considered to be the classic Seagrave because their art deco design. They got the chrome strips on them, the big race car fenders, all that stuff.

This is, in my mind, just kind of like a big race car. You know it's got sloping fenders, the hood has actually got four compound angles, it slopes down, comes back. It's amazing the technology that went into building this thing, right. So this truck when, it was city unit 44 and all of the equipment on this truck is stamped 44. You'll see 44 stamped right here. So all the stuff that's on this truck came from the factory with this stuff on it.

It has a water tank, small water tank, 250 gallon tank, and lots of hose, and a big pump.

Well people ask me what to what's, what's your favourite fire truck, right. And that one is right up at the top but they're all my favourite. So that becomes a real issue when people ask you that question, which is your favourite fire truck. That truck means to me something from my childhood, my history that is very important to me. I just...when I look at that truck I just smile.

So this is the oldest truck in the collection. It's a 1922 it was ordered by Saint Paul, as the order of four. They bought four at the same time. Their story was that their horses were dying and they needed to get motorized equipment because as fast as they could. So Ahrens-Fox rushed four of these trucks in about four months to them. This is their smaller six-cylinder, about 671 cubic inches. This is a piston pump on this one which is Ahrens-Fox kind of signature thing. Came from the days that they had the steam fire engines. They all were piston pumps and Ahrens-Fox made piston pumpers so that's why they made their trucks this way. The Ahrens-Fox is considered the Rolls-Royce of fire engines and it's it's a beautiful piece of equipment. It served the Saint Paul Fire Department for almost 40 years. The thing that makes that truck also very special is, that truck was first manned by black firefighters. Most fire departments in the States, anyways, had a black fire hall. They were segregated fire halls back then so this was a black fire hall. And that truck, this this brand new Ahrens-Fox, which was considered to be the very top of the line fire truck you could get, went to this black group. And the really sad thing is, by 1940 there were no black firefighters nor black policemen in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, they were gone. It kind of kept the memory of all those black firefighters who didn't survive the fire department. And it's here. So I consider that truck kind of very interesting from that point of view. This is a 1929. This is the rarest truck here. It's the only one in existence. Every other one that was made has long been to the junkyard. This one survived because in 1970 or so, a Vancouver cop bought it and put it in his shed for a long time and was always going to fix it up but never did. He phoned me a few years ago and said, I'm moving to the Island. You're the only person I know that would fix this or restore it so I'll sell it to you. So that's how I got this truck.

This is the original delivery pump test by the underwriters of Canada for all the engine speeds and pump pressures. There's a picture of it sitting at a house fire here in the west end, right downtown here. This is this is kind of how I found it.

These pictures here are kind of how it came to me.

These are Ahrens-Fox fenders, it has an Ahrens-Fox engine. It's just, it is truly a work of art too.

Well this one is a kind of your typical fire engine of American LaFrance design. They made this from about 1914 all the way to '26, '27. Well this truck was bought in 1924 by a small town in upstate New York, Port Henry. This is a chemical tank. It's called a chemical tank and it had a vile of soda and a vile of acid in it. And when they got to the fire, they'd just shake it up and it would give them about 120 pounds pressure, just like a big fire extinguisher.

The truck behind me is a 1947 American LaFrance, so this is the first year they built this cab over. They designed it just towards the end of the war and they came out with it in '47. So this is an original '47, has the original v12 which is the Auburn v12. So if you ever go to a car show and see a big fancy Auburn with a v12, it's identical to the engine in this truck, except it's dual ignition.

So and this, which makes this truck special to me too...this is the first truck I ever drove to a fire. Fort St. John had a 700 series American LaFrance just like this, and it's the first truck I drove to a fire. Sirens and lights and everything going through.

This box here was on every street corner and I'll show you the inside of this box here. So this is an old box, this is from the '20s. It's a brass box and it's very simple. So there's a coded key, coded reel in here, wheel, sorry. And that wheel, when you pull this box, comes across the alarm system four times. And so I'm gonna, I'm gonna do that for you. I don't know how much of it you'll listen to but...

when you pull this box...

[bells ringing]

Always somebody on the watch desk. He would go and pull this card here. Box 3252 and it would say which engines, which ladders, which hose wagons, which chiefs responded. And then the bottom part of this was who covered off. So if you had a first alarm that's who, a second alarm, third alarm, fourth alarm, fifth alarm. Then these engine truck companies changed headquarters to back it up so they were always moving in. Very simple, well-organized system.

This engine, this Seagrave v12 came out of the truck at the gate. It wasn't its original engine. New Westminster bought this engine brand new in 1966 and when I found that out, then I knew that truck was valuable.

[Engine starting]

So it had this big v12 in it, bigger than it came with and uh, so it's called a 531.

[Engine running]

People don't expect to see what they see here. I think anybody will, that's here very long, will tell me that, you know, I didn't expect this, how did you do this, why would you do this? Kind of thing, right. So it's a...I love it! It's a, I look upon this as is me keeping history alive which I really, I love history. And and I think that when people come and talk about this stuff with me, it gives me a a chance for them to understand how valuable these things were. I mean most fire departments get these trucks for at least 20 years so the trucks were there, and and they allowed the men to do their job. They saved lives. I mean, I'm sure...this was Toronto's aerial ladder, I'm sure this aerial ladder saved lives. It had to. All these trucks worked at doing something important

Old fire trucks have a soul, the men appreciated their equipment all their stuff was special to them, right. And being able to operate it and work it, they were proud of that they were they had a real pride in what they did.

And I think that kind of washed over onto me, and the way that they felt about them.

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