By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
John Mazurie turned the key on the 1927 Hale fire truck Monday morning. Without hesitation, the engine kicked in with a throaty roar, just like it did when the truck was brand new nearly 100 years ago.
Mazurie then pushed in the clutch to shift the truck into first gear as he made a right turn onto Landis Avenue for a trip across town at a leisurely speed of 20 mph.
“It’s got a muffler now, so now you can hear yourself talk. The brakes all work now. Before, you were praying that they all worked. But it drives like a dream now,” Mazurie, chief of the Sea Isle City Fire Department, said with a smile.
Motorists and pedestrians waved and gave the thumbs-up sign to Mazurie while marveling over the old truck as it passed through town Monday amid distinctive beep-beeps from its old-fashioned horn.
This piece of history from the Sea Isle Fire Department is back on the road again after a $9,500 restoration that included a mechanical overhaul and cosmetic touches that have given the red paint a gleaming sheen.
“I certainly think it’s worth putting that into it,” Mazurie said of the cost of the restoration, which was paid for by the volunteer fire department.
Mazurie called the fire truck “priceless.” There are no plans to sell it. One of the most valuable parts of the truck is an old strainer made of cast aluminum. It was screwed onto the hoses and filtered out any debris from the water that was sprayed on fires in the old days. The strainer alone has an estimated value of $10,000.
The 500-gallon pumper truck came to Sea Isle as a brand new piece of firefighting equipment in 1927 and has stayed in town since then. Mazurie showed off the truck’s original 1927 title of ownership, a faded document covered in plastic to protect it from the elements.
Overall, the fire truck is in remarkably good condition for something 94 years old. It has 90 percent of the original parts still on it, Mazurie said. The brass touches, chrome radiator, chrome bell, round headlights, wooden ladder, a running board made of oak and old-fashioned lanterns give it its distinctive Roaring Twenties look.
It also has a hand-cranked siren. As the handle is cranked faster, the siren produces a spirited wail, as though it were 1927 all over again. It’s not hard to imagine the truck rushing to a fire.
Although the vintage truck is more of showpiece now, Mazurie noted that it is still a working piece of firefighting equipment.
“It still pumps water,” he said. “That was Homer’s claim to fame. It was still in service. It was never decommissioned.”
The Homer that Mazurie referred to is the late firefighter Homer Miller, who was devoted to the truck, lovingly polishing it and providing mechanical care over the years before he died in 2001. A plaque has been placed on the truck in his honor.
These days, the fire truck has been under the care of John Miller, a mechanic who specializes in restoring antique fire equipment. Miller lives in Pennsburg, Pa., and has a summer home in Sea Isle.
Miller was able to find the parts he needed for the restoration work from his friend, Hal Fillinger, who has a business called Vintage Vehicle Restorations Inc. in Harleysville, Pa.
With Fillinger supplying the parts and Miller doing the work, the truck has been rejuvenated after sitting idle for a few years.
“Everything works now – everything,” Mazurie said.
Previously, the truck seemed all but forgotten while it remained stored inside the Townsends Inlet fire station on 86th Street. However, Mazurie and his late father, John Sr., who had served as chief of the fire department for 40 years before retiring, were determined to get it back on the road again – and back in the public eye.
Mazurie envisions the old truck becoming a focal point of the community again as a historic attraction at parades and other special events. The truck made its first official appearance since its restoration during the city’s Memorial Day ceremony on May 31.
The fire truck is expected to participate in the Skimmer Festival, Sea Isle’s signature summer celebration that will include an antique auto show and parade on the Promenade on Father’s Day, June 20.
Longer-range plans include possibly having the truck put on permanent display under a glass enclosure in front of the main fire station at City Hall, Mazurie noted. He intends to see if any grants would be available to fund such a display.
Mazurie believes that by having the fire truck on permanent display, it would give Sea Isle residents an opportunity to fully appreciate a part of local history.