Maryville Fire Department engineer/paramedic Randell Moore knows all about the power steering mechanism for the 1926 American LaFrance fire engine.
“It’s got two power steering pumps,” he said as he flexed his biceps after manhandling the truck off a rollback in the parking lot of the Blount County Historical Museum on March 27.
The Maryville Fire Department gave the truck to the museum on permanent loan, and the museum had the antique fire engine glassed in soon after it was pushed into place.
Assistant Chief David Hodge has driven the truck and knew how hard Moore was having to strain to steer it. “You had to get it moving to ever steer it. Every time I drove it, I thought, the guys who drove this all the time were unbelievable,” Hodge said.
Museum executive director Ken Cornett was excited about the donation, in part because of the history the truck had seen. “When the tannery burned in Townsend, it was there to fight the fire, and, when the Montvale Hotel burned, it was there to fight that fire,” he said.
Chief Ed Mitchell said the truck was delivered in 1927 by flat rail car to downtown Maryville. “It was a big event. Most of the city turned out to see this truck come into the city,’ he said.
The chief said the first week it was in service, it was used to extinguish a vehicle fire downtown that could have burned down much of the city. “It did a phenomenal job. News reports said it paid for itself the first week they had it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the donation was important to the department. “It ensures that a big part of our history is going to be kept safe. It’s in a location where it will be appreciated,” he said.
City manager Greg McClain said it was sad the truck was kept in storage and not appreciated except on special occasions like the Christmas parade or Special Olympics. “Now it’s going to be where it will be seen and appreciated,” he said.
According to facts about the truck, it was ordered in 1925, delivered Feb. 4, 1927, and cost, at the time, $12,500. “That was a lot of money back then,” Mitchell said. “Today this truck would cost $300,000 to $400,000.”
The truck, with a 6-cylinder engine, had a 750-gallon chemical tank on the back. After Maryville Fire Department decommissioned it, the Friendsville Fire Department volunteers used it until 1968. “It’s fought fires all over this county,” Mitchell said.
Susan Jones with the museum was enthusiastic about the donation. “It’s not just exciting because it’s so old. It’s 82 years old,” she said. “It’s still in perfect shape. This one has been maintained.”