Gold Leaf and Old Paint

Hockessin Fire Company earned the moniker “Home of the Autocar” when it specified famed truck maker’s chassis for its first new fire engine in 1938. The tradition continued until practicality forced the fire company to start standardizing its fleet with Spartan chassis in 1991. Hockessin’s last responding Autocar was a 1976 heavy rescue truck that was taken out of service in 2002. The company retained one of the distinctive chrome-grilled behemoths for its “funeral and parade” piece, a 1967 pumper with a howling Detroit 6-71 diesel and 10-speed Road Ranger transmission (yes, you use them all, in quick succession). This apparatus kept its 19-2 designation (Station 19, Engine 2) upon retirement.

As the soon to be former Hockessin Fire Company webmaster, “blind” messages to the default company email address come to me. Once such email was from a fire protection instructor from a small North Carolina community college looking for information on Autocar fire engines. It seems that “Home of the Autocar” came up on a Google search and he thought that we might be able to shed some light of the lineage of the 1961 Autocar pumper he was about to list on eBay. As I studied the attached photo of the auction-bound apparatus, a single gold-leaf beacon in the form of “19 4” stood out against a weather beaten background. A few phone calls to some Hockessin old-timers confirmed the identity of this beast as the “sister” of engine 19-2 mentioned in the previous paragraph.

With a few emotional appeals and a barter of surplus hydraulic extrication equipment, Engine 19-4 found itself limping the 500-odd miles up I-95 to rejoin its sibling. The fire house sits on Hockessin’s main thoroughfare, and it didn’t take long for word to get around town that an old friend and faithful firefighting partner had returned home. As long-time fire company members stopped by the station to pay their respects, 19-4’s weathered chrome grille seemed to reflect the years of heat, stress, heartache, humor, flames, flashovers and sweat in their faces.

Boy am I glad that my fire company predecessors had the foresight to hire a professional letterer and gilder!

Posted by on May 11, 2008