by John A. Holley Jr.
The town of Erie needed a new fire truck. It was just shortly after the close of WWII and all the servicemen and women were coming home. It didn't take long for the military to realize that there was a lot of unused and unwanted wartime equipment that needed to be either scrapped or disposed of in some way. Much of this "stuff" ended up in the Army Surplus stores that quickly became regular retail outlets across the country. There weren't too many families that didn't have something purchased from these stores. In fact, I remember my scout troop bought a few pup tents for our camping use. The only sobering thing about this was that several of them had sewn up bullet holes, which reminded us that their previous use might not have been as pleasant as camping out on a beautiful summer night down by Boulder Creek. The Surplus store took care of a lot of the soft stuff, coats, shirts, etc. But what to do with the jeeps, trucks, and other heavy equipment that wasn't dumped into the ocean, yes a lot of this equipment ended up in the deep waters of the Pacific because it was just too expensive to do anything else with it. The stateside military vehicles ended up in surplus depots around the country. This equipment was offered for sale to the public, with used jeeps being one of the most popular, and yet there was much more available.
The Erie town board and the Erie Volunteer Fire department soon realized after hearing reports of all the "Army" surplus equipment and seeing a few Erie folks riding around in Army jeeps that were for the most part in pretty good condition, their fire truck need could be solved with a surplus vehicle. The discussion quickly moved to action and it was decided to send someone up to the depot in Utah and buy a surplus fire truck for the town. With the realization that it had to be someone who knew mechanics and could look over all the available trucks and pick out a good one or at least one that could be brought up to service levels, it was decided to send two men to Utah.
I clearly remember the day when my dad, John Holley came home and told us that he was going to Utah to bring back a surplus fire truck for the town. He said that James "Jimmy" Harris was going with him and it would take about a week to get up there and back with the new fire truck. The selection of these two men was not that difficult, both were well known in Erie because they ran a small car repair business in a garage in the back of Jimmy Harris's house. It was a fledgling business as both men worked at other jobs. Jimmy worked at the Kuner-Empson vegetable canning plant in Brighton and John was a coal miner. Since both jobs were seasonal, they felt that if they could make it in the auto repair business it would be better for both of them. There was no question that these two could fix & repair the automobiles of the time. John was the main mechanic and Jimmy was a master at body work and painting of cars. They were kept very busy working on a most of the old beat up cars in town and their customers appreciated their work.
The trip to Utah to pick out and bring back a suitable fire truck was completed and the new truck was quickly put out of sight in Jimmy's garage. The two men started work on the truck and it did require quite a bit of attention. Mechanical repairs and new paint and re-chroming of some trim were in order.
I remember going with my dad over to Longmont to drop off trim to be re-chromed. Quite often one of the townsfolk would stop at the garage and get a quick look at the progress. It seemed like these two guys were taking an awful lot of time to get this truck ready. Jimmy and John were determined to do a good job and present a fire truck that everyone could be proud of having in the fire station. Of course, I had a front row seat to all the progress. I still marvel to this day, at seeing Jimmy with his paint gun putting on that bright red paint. He was certainly as good as they come and it showed in the final product.
This is a description of the fire truck taken from the 1948 Sanborn Map in which the truck is described as: "Ford Triple combination truck with 300 GPM pump. A 300 gal. water tank. 1- 35 ft. extension ladder and three hoses, 700 feet, 300 feet and a 100 ft. hose in reserve".
The fire department was described as having one volunteer chief, one assistant chief, and 13 men. The fire alarm was by telephone and a bell on the fire station.
Finally, the big day arrived to present the new fire truck to the Erie Fire Department. Everyone knew that the fire alarm sounding meant that a fire meeting was about to start. (There were basically three alarms that sounded, one alarm that was continuous meant a fire, one with three short repeating bursts meant a fire department meeting and one last one different from the other two meant that the water in town was going to be shut off, which was all too often because of breaks and repairs to Erie's aging water system.)
John and Jimmy proudly drove the new truck up to the fire station and everyone was quite impressed. Since they had worked so hard on this piece of equipment and knew just about every inch of the vehicle, it was time to pass all the "tricks and features" over to the fire department volunteers. What followed was a display of how the water pump worked. The pump was turned on and the water shot out onto the street. It was pretty impressive to those who had not seen these truck pumps working. Erie now had a very efficient way of handling the weed fires that broke out quite frequently in town. Can't say that a lot of these little weed fires where actually started by kids in town messing around with matches, but just maybe? The Fire Chief, Don Zaruba quickly took control and all the volunteers where climbing around the truck and examining all the parts and features. It was just a good time all around. Several of John and Jimmy's friends suggested that it was time to take them over to the Miner's Tavern and buy them a beer. About that time, the fire chief thought it was time to back the new engine into the fire station. Just before John left with his friends, he cautioned Don to make sure that the two spotlights on top of the truck were angled down so that they would clear the top of the station door.
Not surprising, someone soon came over to the Tavern and told John and Jimmy that as the truck was backed into the station and of course in the excitement of doing just that, they forgot to angle the spotlights down and both of them were broken off. Needless to say, John was quite upset and it was a good thing that he was not present when the event occurred. It took him quite a while to get over it and he never offered to repair them. But all-in-all having a good dependable fire truck was a relief for the town. Over the years, it served the town well, except when a brush fire broke out and the firemen rushed to the station only to find that the truck would not start because the battery was dead! However, that is another story for another day.
Above is a photo of fire truck similar to the one that was brought to Erie to be restored and put into service. I do not have a photo of the actual Erie Fire Department fire truck. If there is one around, it would be a welcome addition to this memory. JAH
Postscript: James "Jimmy" Harris was the son of Thomas H. Harris and Ada Fletcher. They were married in 1917 and divorced in 1934. Jimmy lived with his mother at 410 Pierce St in Erie most of his life. He never married and was content to live in Erie with his mother. Ada Fletcher Harris was the daughter of William and Lucy Fletcher longtime residents of Erie.