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Published September 11, 2013, 08:15 PM

New life for classic fire truck

A piece of Grand Forks history is being restored. It’s a rare 1928 American LaFrance combination 1,000-gallon-per-minute fire truck the Grand Forks Fire Department used for 38 years.

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

A piece of Grand Forks history is being restored.

It’s a rare 1928 American LaFrance combination 1,000-gallon-per-minute fire truck the Grand Forks Fire Department used for 38 years.

“It’s 85 years old,” said Gary Walding, a Texas collector and restorer of antique fire equipment. “There’s a lot of history there. There’s still a lot of people alive in Grand Forks who know this fire truck.”

Walding, who operates Walding and Sons Classic Cars in League City, Texas, recently purchased the fire truck from a private party in California.

The truck, complete with most of its original equipment, including ladders, still sports the name “Grand Forks Fire Department” in fading letters.

“What really makes it unique is that it is one of only three in the country with a windshield,” Walding said in a telephone interview.

He plans to restore the lettering, too, keeping its connection to Grand Forks.

Walding is searching for old photographs, preferably of the firefighting apparatus at the scene of a fire in Grand Forks, and other memorabilia.

Mike Sandry, a battalion chief at the Grand Forks Fire Department, is trying to find records, photographs or other bits of history of the truck, even though he doesn’t remember the classic piece of firefighting equipment. Sandry has been with the department for 23 years.

“We’ve gone through all our old pictures,” he said. “So far, I’ve found one. It’s a stand-alone picture. But there’s a whole crew of guys standing in front of it.”

Series of owners

Walding knows the truck’s lineage.

“I’m the sixth owner,” he said.

The city of Grand Forks paid almost $9,000 for the brand new fire truck.

“That year, a 1928 Model A Ford cost $380,” he said.

The Grand Forks Fire Department kept it in service until 1966, before selling it at an auction for $800 to William “Bill” Cox, Grand Forks, according to Walding.

“A couple years later while out partying with some Shriner friends, Cox donated the truck to the Shriners,” Walding writes on his company website.

Cox died in 2000 at the age of 95.

Later, the Shriners sold the truck to a man by the name of Dan Patterson, who lived in Auburn, Colo., according to Walding. Patterson later sold it to Randall Courts, a retired captain with the San Jose (Calif.) Fire Department.

Walding bought it from Courts this summer, taking possession in August.

Long restoration

The fire truck already has gone through about 300 hours of restoration, he said, with two people working on it nearly full time. The engine is being completely rebuilt.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” he said. “I have the resources, the time and the energy to do it.”

It’ll take 3,000 to 4,000 hours, and at least $60,000 to $65,000 to complete the job. When finished, he estimates it will be worth $100,000.

“The steel is just beautiful,” he said, “but it sat outside for so long, some things went bad. But we have everything we need to put the fire truck back to what it once was.”

Walding has no plans to sell the antique fire truck. Rather, he plans to put it on display and to enter it in parades.

He hopes to have it in good enough shape by December to be part of the annual League City Christmas parade. He said it will be available for other parades, too.

“I’d love to see it go back to Grand Forks for a special event,” he said.

But he has no intention of letting it go permanently.

Walding recently bought a 19,000-square-foot building that he will convert to a mini-museum.

“I’m going to enjoy it,” he said. “I like antiques and antique cars. I like American LaFrance fire trucks. I bought it because it’s rare and it’s in good shape. It’s all there. It’s really solid. It’s going to be a national treasure when we’re through with it.”

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