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Fire enthusiasts visit Transportation Museum for Fire Truck Festival

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SPENCER — Leroy Burch isn’t fond of museums, but that’s where he thought his son and family were taking him on Saturday — some place stuffy. Instead Burch, 73, got a surprise family outing at the N.C. Transportation Museum during its annual Fire Truck Festival.

Burch, who lives in Baltimore County, Maryland, where he’s been a firefighter there for 55 years, was right at home among the 100 fire trucks and apparatuses. His son is a firefighter in Kernersville with the Beeson Crossroads Fire Department. Burch drives the fire truck at his station.

“This is amazing,” he said eating shaved ice in the sweltering heat.

He said there is a similar truck festival in Baltimore, but not as big as the one in Spencer. He joined the fire service at the age of 16, but would’ve joined sooner, if allowed. When he was 15, he witnessed a firefighter/medic render care to his sick father and right then he discovered his passion.

This year’s fire truck festival included a Jaws-of-Life demonstration with Ellis Cross Country Fire Department, the smoke house from the city of Salisbury Fire Department, Ol’ Sue, a 1902 Charlotte Fire Department steam pumper, an obstacle course, crafts, cornhole, miniature golf, tours of the Roundhouse, train rides and a display of the Salisbury Fire Department’s renovated 1941 American La France ladder truck.

“It’s just a great way to honor the guys who risk their lives for people they don’t know,” said event co-organizer Michelle Comer.

The event also gives firefighters local interaction with other firefighters during a time when they aren’t fighting fires, she said.

The 1941 American La France from the Salisbury Fire Department was on display publicly for the first time since undergoing an extensive renovation.

The truck had been sold as surplus by the city years ago and was bought by a local man who needed the truck’s tall ladder to do work on the barn. The truck was in the barn since the mid-1980s until the city purchased it for $2,000. Chief Bob Parnell said a lot of the firefighters passed the hat around and collected much of the money and they also received some private donations to buy the truck.

Much of the renovations were the result of work put in by Ellis Cross Country Fire Chief Jeff Whitley, who, along with local firefighters, did the rehab on the truck.

There’s still some work needed that includes buying cables so the ladder can be fully extended and gold leaf lettering can be placed on the truck. This year, the Salisbury Fire Department celebrates its 200th anniversary.

It was the first time to the fire truck festival for 7-year-old Asa Lapping and his family. Asa and his little brother, Eli, 4, posed for pictures in a vintage fire truck from the High Point Fire Department. Eli recently broke his leg and was treated to a tour to the Huntersville Fire Department, which was shared with a local television news station. Asa was a little disappointed that he wasn’t featured in the same story. Asa happily posed for pictures for the Salisbury Post and wanted everyone to know his favorite color was orange.

“It’s awesome,” Asa said of the fire truck festival.

Christian Miller, his wife and three children were at the event, where his two boys — William, 3, and Jackson, 5, wore their Halloween firefighter costumes.

William, who probably was the most serious about his exploration of the fire trucks, even brought a mitt (his fire glove) to protect his hand from fires, he said, and a cloth tool apron that he wore around his neck for his fire gear. This is the third year attending the event for the Winston-Salem family.

“It’s so the fire won’t get on my hand,” William said softly when his mother, Jessie Lee asked him the reason he carried a glove in his pocket.

“We are known for trains, but there’s so many forms of transportation,” said Executive Director Kelly Alexander.

She said the event is not only great for Spencer but the county as well by bringing with it an economic impact on the area.

There are families who stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants while in town for the event, Alexander said.

She said the goal is to make the museum a success and help drive the local economy.

Alexander said it’s great to see the firefighters be so hands on with letting the children and their families sit in the trucks and explain how they work.

The Charlotte Fire Department has attended in previous years with their fire apparatuses, but this year was the first for Ol’ Sue, a 1902 American Metropolitan Steam pumper. Some older fire trucks have changed owners over the years, but Ol’ Sue has remained in the hands of the Charlotte Fire Department, said Battalion Chief Robby Myers.

Sue, a horse-drawn fire engine, has always been maintained by the department and over the years been part of parades and public demonstrations. It had been in a glass case at Charlotte’s Freedom Park, had cosmetic refurbishing in the 1990s and in 2005 had mechanical refurbishing. In its early days, the pumper served from 1902 to 1914, Myers said.

In May, the engine went through the certification process and does meet current safety standards, meaning the engine can be used to currently fight fires.

The truck is now housed at the fire department’s administration building along with an 1866 hand pumper.

Fire Chief Jon Hannan was instrumental in keeping the antique truck operational and preserve history, Myers said.

The engine uses coal as fuel to heat water to steam that powers a piston engine. Myers, along with the other two caretakers, firefighters Matt Brown and Jimmy Thompson, make sure the pumper is pristine. After the demonstration, the oil from the valves usually spews and has to be cleaned before it returns to the trailer. Once they get to the station in Charlotte, they’ll clean and polish the stainless steel-covered parts.

This year, more than 5,500 people attended the event, drawing people from 23 countries, including Australia, and five states as far away as Texas. Last year, museum officials said there were over 3,000 people in attendance.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker a 704-797-4253.

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