Antique fire engine joins Los Osos volunteers

Posted by David Middlecamp on August 21, 2014 

Los Osos Fire Department was the proud owner of a 1925 American La France pumper. The 20-year-old antique was bought to augment the volunteer fire department.


Los Osos has a history of trying to find low-budget solutions to problems, not limited to the long fight to avoid building a sewer.

For example: In spring of 1963, Sunnyside Elementary School had 45 students in a single first-grade classroom; the principal was teaching a combined fifth- and sixth-grade class of 42 students. He was also answering the school phone.

The community failed to pass a bond, and even the school bus had been sold.

To be fair, for many decades rural San Luis Obispo County had few high-paying jobs, so frugality was a way of life. At the time, the construction of the Morro Bay Power Plant was taking shape.

On Feb. 21, 1955, Telegram-Tribune reporter Don Sarten wrote about another low-budget solution:

Old Pumper Goes to Work for Baywood Firemen

Old Number 3-7 was retired from the Glendale fire department last July, but she's once again roaring happily to and from fires, this time as a representative of the Baywood Park volunteer fire department.

"She's just what we needed," fire chief Robert Williams said.

"We have a little 250-gallon pumper, but we were always afraid of running out of water at crucial times. Now this baby can tide us over while the other is getting refilled."

Glendale firefighters wouldn't recognize their old truck today.

She's been given a new look by engineer Bill Larkin. Under his direction, the American La France pumper's seat and windshield has been lowered. A 620-gallon water tank has been fashioned by utilizing the original sides and bottom of the body and welding on two ends and a top. The ladder hooks have also been lowered, giving the truck a longer, lower look. But she still has the huge head lamps, and the long powerful looking motor, with the huge tires.

"That motor not only looks powerful, but is," Williams explained.

To prove it he took everybody for a ride, pointing out over the roar of the motor that it "can take all the hills around here in high gear."

"She only has 5,000 miles on her," Williams said proudly. "But of course the motor has more time on it than that. She's had to run maybe 10 and 12 hours at a stretch, while pumping water at fires."

The truck was driven from Glendale to Baywood Park by two members of the volunteer fire department, Ronnie Zion and Harry Truse.

"It was a slow trip," they admitted, "mostly because water in the gas tank kept conking out our engine. We had to stop at nearly every gas station, and attendants kept asking us if we were collectors," they related.

The two men also said that state police stopped them once.

"They thought we were going to an antique show in San Francisco," the two recalled. And when we went past the huge Lockheed plant, it was just as workers were starting in the gates for the day shift, everybody just stared."

The two men started driving the 250-mile trip about 7 o'clock in the morning, arriving in Baywood Park at 6 o'clock that night.

Captain McKay, the retired fireman from Glendale fire department who arranged the sale of the engine, said that "she wasn't built for long trips or comfort. But she was built for fighting fires and will be roaring up and down the streets and hills of Baywood Park for a long time," he promised.

A sidebar story said that the 1925 American La France pumper truck was bought a month or two after Robert L. McKay joined the Glendale Fire Department. The truck had stayed with him for 30 years of service until he retired July 1, 1954, and later both moved to Baywood Park.

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