Restored 1954 fire truck headed to new CF museum

·5 min read

Nov. 24—CHIPPEWA FALLS — A 1954 fire truck that was used by the Chippewa Falls Fire Department until it was sold in 1987 is returning to the city, and when the public gets a chance to see it, the antique vehicle will look shiny new.

The fire truck has been restored and will be on display at the new Chippewa Area History Center that is under construction along Bridgewater Avenue. The building is slated to open next spring or early summer.

Jack Running, Township Fire Department chief, is in the group of area firefighters who acquired the aging truck in 2010 and spent the past decade restoring it.

"We found it sitting in a field in Durand," Running said.

The non-profit group, a chapter of the Society for the Preservation & Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus in America (SPAAMFAA), purchased the machine for $1,500 and began the process of restoring it. The truck has been stored in a number of different places in the past decade as the group has worked on repairing it to its original luster.

"It's been a slow process," Running said. "The biggest problem is, where do we put it? We didn't want to pretty it up, and have no place to put it."

The truck was constructed by Four Wheel Drive Auto Company, based in Clintonville. It has a Darley pump, built in Chippewa Falls. And the engine, which is an original unit, was built in Waukesha.

Retired Chippewa Falls Fire Chief Tom Larson joined the department in 1974, so he drove the truck numerous times until the truck was traded in for a new machine in 1987.

"Back in the 50s, it was common to have an open cab — this doesn't have a roof on it," Larson said. "It was cold to drive in the winter."

The truck is 24 feet long, 8 feet tall, and 8 feet wide.

"We traded it into Darley, and they sold it. It had a few different owners. We didn't think much of it when we traded it in."

Like Running, Larson was looking for an ideal place to put the truck. He pitched the idea to the Chippewa County Historical Society, which is building the new $3.5 million museum at the entrance to Irvine Park.

"I said, 'Wouldn't it be cool to have a real Chippewa Falls fire truck in the center of the room?' It would be a show stopper," Larson said.

The truck is currently at Legacy Painting & Sideblasting in Galesville, where it is getting a brand new paint job. Larson said he expects they will get the truck back in December, and they are going to immediately place it inside the museum that is still under construction. Once it is inside, they plan to keep working on the finishing touches.

"We'll spend the winter putting the lights and chrome bumpers back on," Larson said.

Just like new

Larson said the SPAAMFAA group obtained a 100-page booklet with incredible details of each component of the truck. When they purchased the truck, it was worn out and rusted, but the pieces were there.

"We cleaned it up, power washed it, started taking parts off of it," Larson said. "It didn't lack for parts; we just had to clean it up.We thought it would be done in a year."

While the work wound up taking much longer, Larson said it has been fun to restore the truck to its original condition.

"It is the same engine. The hardest thing to get was an oil filter," Larson said. "We restored the engine. It's a functional truck. It drives. It doesn't pump water anymore."

The chrome lights and the siren also still work.

Running acknowledges it took much longer than he anticipated to restore it.

"We were researching it, trying to find parts," Running said. "It's a long time in the making."

Running said it was important work to preserve the history of the fire department.

"Where is this history going to go?" he said. "If it's not shared, it will be forgotten."

Running is excited to have the public see it once the museum doors open.

I'm anxious to see it on display, where people can see it and enjoy it," Running said. "It is a part of the history of the Chippewa Valley."

As the museum moves exhibits over time, Larson is hopeful the truck can stay in place. If the museum decides it should no longer be on display, Larson said it will go back to the club, which is still the owner of the machine.

Nears completion

Construction on the $3.5 million, two-level Chippewa Area History Center began in August 2020. It is approximately a 19,000-square foot building.

In 2015, the Chippewa County Historical Society purchased the former Dairy Queen restaurant at 12 Bridgewater Ave., which was last used by Piff's Pizza. The site, adjacent to the entrance to Irvine Park and across from the Bernard F. Willi Municipal Pool, was considered an ideal, central location for the building, said Historical Society President Dave Gordon, who has been working on the project for more than a decade. The empty restaurant was razed in April 2016.

After purchasing the lot, the group launched its capital campaign. The group believes with its proximity to the park and to Leinenkugel Brewing Company, it will be a tourism draw to the north side of the city.

The building was designed by Chippewa Falls-based CBS Squared architect firm. It is designed to look just like the old Chippewa Lumber & Boom Company mill. That building boasted it had the largest saw mill under one roof in the world, with up to 175 saws that would be running at a time. However, the mill closed in 1910.

The Chippewa County Historical Society has been operating out of a building at 123 Allen St. on the city's East Hill for nearly 30 years. It has typically only been open on Tuesdays. However, that location hasn't suited their needs, and it lacks wheelchair and handicap accessibility.

The new museum also will be the home of the Chippewa County Genealogical Society.

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