The 1935 Seagrave on the day it arrived in Lantzville in 1979. Garth Drakeley, who found the truck in Alaska, is surrounded by his son Martin, currently Nanaimo Fire Rescue assistant chief of operations, top, his daughter Susan, Karmen Davies and a fourth unidentified child, lower left. (Photo submitted.)

Lantzville’s 1935 Seagrave fire truck returning to its California home

A piece of firefighting history from Lantzville will make its way back to Alameda, Calif.

An antique fire truck that never fought a fire in Lantzville, but always pulled its weight in parades and ceremonies is returning to its original home.

Lantzville Fire Rescue’s 1935 Seagrave pumper truck is ending its 39-year career with Lantzville and returning to where it began life more than 80 years ago in Alameda, Calif. The City of Alameda purchased the truck earlier this month and Alameda Fire Department will arrive on the weekend to transport the vehicle to California on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

The Seagrave was first spotted in 1978 by Lantzville firefighter, Garth Drakeley, near Ketchikan, Alaska, rusting away under some trees and overgrowth with just its hood and grille visible.

“We were up visiting my uncle in Stewart, B.C., and they went over the border … and on the way back they found this thing backed into somebody’s property,” said Drakeley’s son Martin Drakeley, Nanaimo Fire Rescue assistant chief of operations. “So he took all the information and brought it back because they were looking for a project.”

Lantzville Fire Department bought the nearly complete truck and had it brought to Lantzville in 1979.

“The guy wouldn’t part with the bell or the ladders, so we don’t have a bell and I think that’s a B.C. Tel ladder,” said Thomas Whipps, retired Lantzville fire chief, pointing to an old wooden ladder on the truck’s rack.

Whipps, a former auto body repairman, and several other Lantzville volunteer firefighters restored much of the truck’s body work and paint before it was sent to Harry Blackstaff, who collects and mechanically restores vintage vehicles in Ladysmith.

“Harry fine-tuned everything the way he wanted it and then just put it all together,” Whipps said. “We had it assembled, but he kind of took it apart, painted it and put it back together and made it run. The motor was completely redone by Thompson Machine. We had to have a new exhaust manifold cast … You had to make a wood pattern so you could send it all over to Vancouver to pour another manifold. I think they poured three times before they actually made this one.”

Whipps, said restoring the Seagrave took about 15 years and between $20,000 and $30,000.

“I would give a lot of credit to, for the fundraising, to not only [Lantzville firefighters], but also the ladies auxiliary of the day too. They always were active and very supportive,” Whipps said.

The 83-year-old fire truck has appeared in parades and ceremonies from Victoria to Parksville, including Lantzville’s Mine Town Day celebrations. It also carried teachers retiring from Seaview Elementary School on their last teaching day and the children would line the school’s drive to say farewell.

Capt. Richard Davis, of the Alameda Fire Department, said the truck was purchased from the City of Alameda in a city surplus auction for $1 in 1965, but he doesn’t know who the purchaser was or what happened to it in the years before Garth Drakeley found it in 1978.

Davis said restorers will refer to old photos of the Seagrave to restore it to its original condition and plans are to reveal the truck in Alameda City’s Independence Day Parade this July 4. He said the parade is one of the largest in the U.S. for a city its size.

Alameda Fire Department was formed in 1876 and is the first U.S. city west of the Mississippi that deployed a mechanized a fire apparatus, a steam pumper in the 1890s. The 1935 Seagrave will be stabled with Alameda’s other original firefighting vehicles that includes a 1920 Seagrave with chain drive that was recovered from a railway museum in Suisun City, Calif.

“We’re very excited to get it back,” Davis said. “Soon we’re going to build a new fire station and there’s a real good chance there’s going to be a fire museum and we’ll have three pieces of original equipment to store there and show to the public.”

Davis said there are still a few firefighters living in Alameda who worked with the Seagrave.

“We’ve got two guys in their 90s who are very sharp and they have a couple of stories about it that are really cool,” he said.

Seagrave, founded by Fredric Seagrave in Detroit, Mich., in 1881 is the United States’ oldest fire apparatus manufacturer. The company continues to build fire apparatus under the name FWD Seagrave in Clintonville, Wis.

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