Though there were no fire fighters in Rene Rojas family, he has long desired to buy a fire truck of his very own. One day he spotted a well-worn 1957 Ford F-600 parked behind a Shell gasoline station in Greenbelt, Md.
"I first saw it right after September 11, 2001." Rojas says.
At that time the vehicle was only a cab and chassis. "It had formerly been a fire truck," according to Rojas.
After months of agonizing debate, Rojas eventually followed his heart and bought the old Ford fire fighter. That's when the fun began. Rojas had his truck taken to a trusted mechanic who gave the vehicle a complete physical examination -- a physical that took three years to complete.
"When you restore a vehicle," Rojas says, "you need to be patient."
In the glove compartment Rojas found an insurance card from the Edgecomb, Maine fire department. He contacted the original owners who said the old truck had been traded years ago in exchange for a new roof on the fire house.
The Ford still has the original 272-cubic-inch V-8 engine that was designed to pump water with the 171-horsepower engine. A four-barrel carburetor feeds fuel to the engine. At the front of the truck, which rides on a 154-inch wheelbase, are a pair of red lights on the bumper, flanking an antique, chrome-plated, siren.
The four-speed synchromesh transmission is controlled by the floor-mounted shifter. The shift pattern is the familiar "H" pattern with reverse off to the right and forward.
He chose to have his 1957 Ford fire truck painted Vermillion red. The wheels, front bumper and grille are covered with white paint. Rojas has installed a perforated fiberboard headliner in the cab and mounted a four-blade fan on top of the dashboard near the three-spoke steering wheel.
"It's been a chore finding 1957 parts," Rojas explains.
During the years of restoration Rojas located several needed parts in Philadelphia. He found rubber floor mats in New York and a new bumper in California. Rojas discovered a new grille from Iowa to replace the one on his truck, which had holes drilled into it by the fire department that had owned the truck. Easier, he admits, was the "skid unit" that was designed to be mounted onto the rear of his truck.
"This skid unit was manufactured to my specifications by Vigilant Brush Equipment of Port Washington, N.Y.," Rojas says.
Among other equipment the skid unit has 100-feet of forestry hose, 100-feet of attack hose, Darley nozzles, Hannay electric reel and Hale pumps. Rojas bought the skid unit about a decade after he bought the truck. During those years he replaced all six wheels, the 9.00x22-inch tires, axe, emergency lights, sirens, and then even more lights with wig-wag controls.
A standard exhaust system could not be located so Rojas had a custom built exhaust system fabricated and installed. Mounted behind the bench seat in the cab is the 18-gallon gasoline tank.
The otherwise spacious cab does feature 59.5 inches of shoulder room. The old fire engine also features electric wipers to keep the one-piece wraparound windshield clear. On the back of the truck is a 500-gallon water tank. Instruments on the dashboard include a 100-mph speedometer.
"Coasting down hill," Rojas admits, "I've had it up to 75."
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