At Nanaimo Fire Rescue, a fire truck’s worth doesn’t always devalue with age.
After more than 100 years, Truck No. 2, a 1913 American LaFrance Type 10, nicknamed Shakey by fire rescue staff, still holds an important position in the department’s fleet.
According to city records, Shakey was one of two trucks purchased by Nanaimo in April 1913 when the city signed over $14,740 to A.G. Long – American LaFrance’s distributor in Portland, Ore. – to be paid in cash “within 10 days after delivery, satisfactory test and acceptance of the Combination Chemical Engine and Hose Motor Cars.”
Shakey responded to Nanaimo’s emergencies into the 1940s.
American LaFrance was founded in 1873 and built fire trucks and other emergency vehicles from its plant in Summerville, S.C., until ceasing operations in 2014. In spite of efforts to preserve the truck, which included a frame-up restoration done in the early 1980s, its motor components deteriorated to the point it would no longer run. Shakey earned its nickname from the pulsating vibrations generated by its four-cylinder motor that’s hard-mounted to the truck’s frame. Its transmission transfers power to the rear wheels through two chains instead of a drive shaft. The truck’s suspension consists of four leaf springs and no shock absorbers.
Jack Hawes, the city’s emergency vehicle technician, put the shudder back in Shakey with an engine rebuild, completed in early May at the city yard.
Restoring a 104-year-old truck meant parts had to be sourced from specialty suppliers or custom manufactured. Some motor components were machined in Nanaimo, new pistons manufactured in California, head gaskets cut in Pennsylvania, camshafts machined in Vancouver and its Schebler updraft carburetor rebuilt in North Carolina.
The fire department has the truck’s original operator’s manual and purchase documents. Blueprints for many of the vehicle’s parts still exist, too.
Hawes said it was a good feeling to fire up Shakey’s motor again and see and hear it running properly, almost a full year after it was pulled out of the vehicle.
“The bottom end was still good, but we had quite a bit of play in the piston rings and that, so we had a great opportunity to do it right and make it nice,” Hawes said.
Harry Blackstaff, who owns Truck No. 1, Shakey’s former fleet mate, which has never been restored, said there are techniques to driving and maintaining old vehicles.
“You can go out there and pull up on the crank on the front about three times and it’ll start and it’ll idle and it’ll pull like a son of a gun as long as you keep the revs down,” Blackstaff said.
He maintains Truck No. 1 in running condition as part of his private collection of antique vehicles in Ladysmith, which includes the Züst touring car that successfully completed the 1908 New York to Paris race.
Craig Richardson, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief, hopes to have Shakey ready for the summer festival season and that both trucks will one day be displayed together in Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s fire museum in Station No. 1 at 666 Fitzwilliam St.
He said Shakey represents the notion of embracing innovation while recognizing Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s traditions.