First, the numbers.
It’s 30 feet long and weighs about 12,000 pounds.
It has a six cylinder engine and can travel up to 40 mph. It gets 2.7 miles to the gallon.
When it was new, in 1947, it cost $11,802.20.
Engine No. 4 has been a mainstay in the Flossmoor Fire Department since then. The venerable fire truck was retired from active service in 1979 but it remains on view as a centerpiece of Flossmoor’s yearly 4th of July children’s parade. And it’s an important part of the village’s heritage.
Fire Chief Chris Sewell says he’s been told that Engine No. 4, first delivered by the Mack Truck Co. to Flossmoor 69 years ago, is one of a handful of such trucks still in existence in the United States.
“And I’m sure it’s the only one that’s still in its original condition,” he said. “It has the same motor, same chassis, same transmission, same axles, same everything.”
Lately, the truck has been showing signs of age, so it is undergoing extensive renovation work. Engine No. 4’s current owner, the Flossmoor Volunteer Fire Corporation, recently decided to go ahead with the repairs, which are being completed as part of a cable television program that regularly shows the restoration of classic vehicles.
The corporation — a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charitable agency commonly known as the Volunteer Association — started an online fundraising campaign to help cover the restoration costs, estimated at between $40,000 and $50,000. Sewell says the price tag is worth it.
“It’s a showpiece and we want it to be here for years to come,” he said. “We want kids to be able to ride in it every year on the 4th of July. It’s a piece of Flossmoor’s history.”
He’s hoping that the restoration will be finished in time for this year’s Independence Day celebration. After that, it will be used strictly for parades and other ceremonial events. Most of the year it will be stored in a warehouse owned by a former firefighter.
Interested persons can make donations here.
Restoration work includes extensive engine repairs, braking, steering, interior trim and paint, gauges and the electrical system.
Sewell said he is bound by a confidentiality agreement with the television show and cannot give any details on where the work is taking place. He would only say that it is a well-respected restoration company outside Illinois.
Engine No. 4 was transported by flatbed truck to the restoration site.
“When we got it there, it wouldn’t start,” he said. “Then it started leaking all kinds of fluid.”
There was more. The head gasket was shot and the carburetor was no good. The electrical wiring system – all original – needed extensive renovation. There was dry rot in the door wells. A crank windshield, installed in the era before air conditioning as a way to cool the cab, was no longer functional.
Sewell said the engine’s pumping mechanism will not be replaced but that he plans to contact the company that originally built it to see if it can be repaired.
The fire truck was originally purchased by members of the Flossmoor Volunteer Fire Department. It was the second motorized engine in the history of the department.
The original purchase price, in excess of $11,000, “was actually quite a bit of money back then,” Sewell said. He speculated that department members raised funds through a number of activities, such as a yearly fireman’s ball and going door-to-door to solicit donations.
After the truck was delivered, the volunteers sold it to the village for $1. It remained in operation for 32 years. When Engine No. 4 was retired, the village sold it back to the Volunteer Association, also for $1. At that point, the group performed some exterior restoration work, mostly body work and painting, so that it looked like it did in 1947.
Some of the restoration is designed to bring Engine No. 4 into the modern age. Power steering is being added, as well as state-of-the-art brakes.
Engine No. 4, until now, has been “a beast to drive,” Sewell said.
“It’s got 1947 technology,” he said. “That’s what was available in the World War II era.”
With no power steering, the truck has a giant turning radius. There are hydraulic brakes but they’re very tricky and drivers need to start their stop far in advance. It’s got manual transmission and five forward gears but drivers must also know how to double clutch.
Still, Sewell said Engine No. 4 did its job well for many years and, even in retirement, deserves to remain part of the Flossmoor Fire Department.
“It’s been a very good fire truck,” he said.