Lanesborough Fire Hoping To Restore Town's First Engine

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The 1937 GMC was the first new fire engine the town ever purchased.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Sitting in the back of the Fire Department's garage is the first "new" engine the town ever bought.

Firefighters are hoping that someday the antique fire truck will be back on the road. But it won't be easy — the truck's been retired longer than it was in service.

The department has been stashing aside money each year in hopes to fully restore the 1937 GMC engine. The engine's seen a lot of fires and was used on the front line until taken out of service in 1972.

While the vehicle does run, it's going to take a lot of work to get the rusty truck back up to snuff.

"She's an old girl," said firefighter PJ Pannesco, who remembers the truck being deployed to major fires and the pump on the front bumper being buried into ponds in areas without hydrants during his first years on the department. "It was one of the front-line pumpers."

Pannesco has researched the truck's history and has been "fighting the battle" to make sure the truck stays in the town's hands.

Prior to the town mustering up $1,800 during the Great Depression to purchase it, firefighters had used "hand-me-down" equipment. Ownership of a new truck was a big step for both the town and the department.

"The purchase price was $1,800 and that wouldn't buy the tires now. But it was a big step for the town to have something new," Pannesco said. "To think they were able to come up with any amount of money to purchase it is remarkable."

The two-seater truck would rumble off with firefighters hanging off the sides,  flying to fires for more than 30 years before being decommissioned. But its life wasn't over. The American Legion borrowed the retired pumper for more than a decade for parades throughout the nation. But Legion kept the truck outside for a number of years and it began to rust.

The engine was returned to the Fire Department in the 1980s and today the ignition is still fired up regularly to help preserve the piece of history.

"Although it's not in the greatest shape, we have it tucked away in a safe place so someday she will rise again," Pannesco said. "My goal is to pass on that desire to get it refurbished."

The 75-year-old pumper needs body work estimated at $10,000.

The Firemen's Association owns the station and the land and the funds they raise go for maintenance. But at the end of each year, if anything is left, the department has been tucking it away for the refurbishment.

"A new roof, if we need a new electrical system, maintaining the building and grounds, all of those things have to come first before restoring an old truck," Pannesco said.

There is somewhere between $6,000 and $7,000 dedicated to the project, Pannesco said, but the body work alone is expected to cost more than $10,000. The engine also needs work and hoses and ladders, which were removed from the truck at some point, are will need to be replaced.

"You'd have to have a lot of pancake breakfasts to come up with that kind of money," he said.

But while some departments have let go old trucks, then had to search them out to buy them back, Lanesborough's already a step ahead by retaining its vintage "first."

"It's sort of a pride thing if you can hold onto that first pumper," Pannesco said.

Tags: antiques,   fire truck,   restoration,   

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