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1946 fire engine breathes new life

TALENT — Jackson County Fire District No. 5 firefighter Brian Bolstad had seen the old, yellow fire engine at the Valley View landfill during his many trips there, but when he finally stopped to investigate it he was amazed to see in outlined letters "Talent Rural" beneath the faded paint.

More than five years and thousands of work hours and dollars later, restoration of the 1946 Chevrolet rig nearly is finished. On Sept. 12, it is scheduled to be part of this year's Harvest Festival parade, rolling along in historically correct white paint.

"It was a wreck," Bolstad recalled. "It has come a long way. It was so rusted from years of use as a fire truck.

"If you look at some of the old photos when it was at the dump, lots of people are shocked now. With every major step people get more excited."

After his discovery, Bolstad did historical research to determine the truck's service to local communities. He got a group together to spearhead restoration, then approached Valley View owner Gary Rigotti about getting the truck, and asked the fire district's board for project approval.

Rigotti donated the truck back to District 5 and the board gave its OK for restoration. Old newspaper photos show the truck in 1963 when voters formed District 5. Prior to that time, Talent had two fire services, one that operated in town with a red engine, and the other that operated on a subscription basis outside town with the white engine and "Talent Rural" lettering.

"One of the goals was to renew the truck with donations and private money versus taxpayers' money," said District 5 Chief Dan Marshall. "Each one of our board members and a lot of our staff have donated personal money to make this happen. It's housed at the headquarters and we allowed the firefighters to work on it there."

Community financial support, reduced prices on parts and services from businesses, and firefighters' hours have yielded an engine that now has taken one run around the district's parking lot.

About $18,000 has been spent on the truck. Body work, which totaled $8,000, was the most expensive item. While that might seem like a lot, Bolstad noted it's considerably less than many restorers spend on car body work.

Along the way, a 1946 Chevy truck was obtained to serve as a donor vehicle for the restoration.

"We took it all the way down to the frame. We redid the brakes and brake lines and all the wheel bearings and rewired the whole thing," said firefighter Vince Lockett, who served as lead mechanic. "It was challenging, getting everything put back together and getting everything right."

Hassell Fabrication rebuilt the beat-up truck bed, said Lockett. The engine and transmission were overhauled and a throttle linkage was created.

"We've got different doors and a few pieces added here and there," said Lockett. "We had some challenges ... just trying to get the stuff lined up and looking right. You still have little gaps here and there. In 1946, that may have been the way she was."

Probably only three or four people will drive the engine, which isn't as easy to operate as a modern rig, said Bolstad. Among older features is the "slam" or "crash" box transmission that lacks synchronizers on all gears.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.

District 5 Capt. Bob Holt walks around the truck, which in the past was operated by Talent Rural. - Jim Craven