Reliance Fire Museum
Some kids get over that feeling, and some never do. When Estes Park’s Doug Klink was nine years old, his family moved into a home across the street from the Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin fire station. The station housed three 1950s fire engines, all manufactured by the Seagrave Company of Columbus, Ohio. The two pumpers and one ladder truck provided fire protection for the 17,000 residents of the suburb of Milwaukee.
The firemen became a second family for Doug, and he spent time polishing and helping with the mechanical upkeep of the trucks. In 1979, while in college, he joined the volunteer fire department in Charlottesville, Virginia and has been a volunteer firefighter ever since, including volunteering in Estes Park since 2002.
After Doug and his family moved away from Whitefish Bay, the trucks were sold off one by one. In 1989, Doug was living in Kansas City, Missouri when he got a call from his Mother, who still lived in Whitefish Bay. She told Doug that an ad in the Whitefish Bay paper announced that the Village was auctioning off the last of the three Seagrave fire trucks, including the 1956 1000 gallon per minute pumper. Doug recalls the sale: “They asked for a minimum bid of $3,000 but I thought that was too much, so I bid $1,500”.
A few weeks passed and Doug forgot about the bid. Then the phone rang and he was informed that he was the only bidder and that the truck was his. Doug remembers: “I flew to Milwaukee with some tools in a suitcase. I installed 100 feet of new spark plug wire, changed the oil and was ready to drive it the 600 miles to Kansas City.” The only problem was that it was July and temperatures were 100 degrees across Iowa. Regardless, the truck performed flawlessly at its top speed of 55 mph. With frequent stops to cool off the crew, the trip took Doug and a friend almost 20 hours!
Seagrave used V-12 engines in their fire trucks and this one sports a 531 cubic inch gas V-12 originally made by Pierce Arrow for their cars. The engine design and manufacturing materials were purchased by Seagrave after Pierce Arrow went bankrupt in 1937 and the engines were used in Seagrave fire engines through the 60s. The transmission is a Fuller 5 speed overdrive. “It drives very smoothly and the steering and clutch effort are very light. It’s much like driving a car.” …except that your average car doesn’t weigh 15,000 pounds and have a 1000 gallon per minute pump behind the front seat!
The bronze pump was cast by Seagrave in their own foundry. It is a two stage design, basically two pumps in one housing that can be operated in parallel for high volume, or in series for high pressure. The pump is equipped with four 2 1/2” discharges for hoses. In addition to the pump, the truck carried up to 1200 feet of 2 1/2” hose and a hose reel on top with 1” rubber hose for small fires.
The design of the truck is known as the “70th Anniversary Series” as it was displayed to the press on the 70th anniversary of the Seagrave company, in 1951. The wide horizontal grille bars and the siren in the nose provided a look that said “fire truck” for many years. The last of this body style were built in 1970. The Seagrave Company still manufactures fire trucks at its facility in Clintonville, Wisconsin where they moved in 1961.
Doug founded the Reliance Fire Museum, which is located in Estes Park at 460 Elm Road. The Museum is open for public tours on the third Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. – noon, and by appointment. Admission is free.
You can also visit the museum website at RelianceFireMuseum.org. Watch for more stories about the great trucks of the Reliance Fire Museum in the Estes Park News.