Preserving an important piece of Tamaqua's firefighting history, members of the Tamaqua Historical Society are arranging to transport a 91-year old Tamaqua fire truck exactly 999 miles from Ocala, Fla. to Tamaqua.
The historical society will bring the 1922 Seagraves 6WT pumper fire engine back to Tamaqua as soon as arrangements for shipping are finalized.
"This is the oldest surviving motorized fire truck from Tamaqua," said Dale Freudenberger, president, Tamaqua Historical Society. "We are very fortunate to be able to bring this truck back home."
The society made the hasty decision recently to purchase the truck, after hearing other buyers were interested.
In 1922, the Citizen's Fire Company of Tamaqua purchased the 750-gallon Seagraves pumper truck at cost of $23,000. The 1922 Seagraves, which replaced their 1916 Boyd fire truck, was the second motorized fire truck purchased by the company.
The 1922 Seagraves truck, built to carry 12 men and pump 750 gallons per minute, was also the first year that Seagraves added a shaft drive to replace the older style chain drive. The new model also featured a Mercedes style rounded hood and artillery or disc brakes.
"The truck was purchased when selling, making or drinking alcohol of any type was illegal," said Freudenberger. "Knowing this, officials from the fire company and police department drove around the streets of Tamaqua selling illegal five-gallon containers of canned beer off the back of the truck to local residents."
Eventually, in 1959, the company retired the 37-year-old Seagraves Pumper from service.
Freudenberger added that an unknown antique dealer from the Allentown area purchased the truck and stored it in a barn for 35 years. Some time later, Tom Sheppard of Allentown purchased the truck, along with another truck in the barn.
"Sheppard, only interested in the one truck and not the Tamaqua truck, later advertised the truck for sale in a magazine," said Freudenberger. "Michael and Deborah Zeak of Ocala, Fla., saw the magazine ad and decided to purchase the truck for $1,200 in November 1991."
"We always wanted a truck, and we just happened on to this one," said Zeak to Freudenberger. "We didn't know anything about Tamaqua. We just bought the truck and took it to Florida."
The Zeaks added that the truck was in poor condition when they purchased it. After taking it to Florida, they began calling people in Tamaqua to learn the truck's history. They reached Russell Hodgkins of the Citizens Fire Company, who supplied them with a lot of history about the truck. The Zeaks put a great deal of effort into restoring it to its original splendor.
In 1994, the Zeaks loaded their restored Tamaqua fire truck on a flat-bed truck and drove from Florida to Tamaqua to show it off during the 4th Annual Citizens Fire Company Bazaar and firemen's parade. During the event, Hodgkins was given the opportunity to ride in the truck along with the Zeaks in the Tamaqua parade. Following its visit to Tamaqua, the 1922 Seagraves Pumper returned home to Florida.
At some point thereafter, the Zeaks sold the antique Seagraves truck to the nearby Silver Springs Nature Theme Park near Ocala. It is believed the Tamaqua fire truck was used for a number of years to give rides in the nature park, but in recent years, the truck sat idle for unknown reasons.
The Silver Springs Park property expects to close in the near future and will be merged as part of the nearby Homosassa Springs State Park, owned by the state of Florida. With the planned closing of Silver Springs, word got out that the Tamaqua fire truck was no longer needed.
Florida residents Bob Dampman, his family and parents, all natives of Tamaqua, knew that several interested parties in Florida were interested in acquiring the truck. That is when he contacted the Tamaqua Historical Society about the sale. Dampman serves as the assistant park manager at Homosassa Springs State Park and was aware of the plans to merge the two parks.
Freudenberger, who coordinated the purchase, began communicating with Dampman immediately and expressed interest in seeing the truck returned to Tamaqua. Dampman was pleased to learn that the society was interested. Communications intensified as Freudenberger and Dampman stayed in close contact about what was going on with the closing of Silver Springs Park, as well as what was planned for the future of the antique fire truck.
Eventually Dampman suggested that it was time for Freudenberger to directly contact officials at the park to express interest in the truck.
"Silver Springs, who welcomed the interest of our historical society, made us aware that several other parties locally were also interested in acquiring the fire truck," said Freudenberger.
From that point on, Freudenberger continued his case to the park as to why the society would be the best future owner of the truck, stressing that it would be best appreciated, preserved and displayed back home in Tamaqua.
A little over a week ago, Freudenberger contacted Silver Springs officials to see if they had made their decision yet. It was during the conversation that the Tamaqua Historical Society learned that Silver Springs had accepted their offer of $5,000.
Freudenberger and other members of the Tamaqua Historical Society expressed their excitement about recovering the truck for long-term preservation.
What started as a phone call from Dampman to the Tamaqua Historical Society about the fire truck, ended successfully with the society purchasing and returning the historic fire truck to Tamaqua.
"We are extremely proud to have this opportunity to bring back and cherish a large piece of our local history," said society member Linda Yulanavage.
Members of the Citizen's Fire Company also expressed their excitement over the endeavor and plan on helping as much as they can.
Meanwhile, society members are actively looking at options for garage and display space in town for the truck once it gets back to Tamaqua.
Freudenberger expressed the society's gratitude to Dampman for his efforts on their behalf and also to Silver Springs Nature Theme Park for choosing the Tamaqua Historical Society as the best future home for this important part of Tamaqua history.
Anyone interested in helping the society with the purchase, restoration and garage space for the truck is encouraged to call Freudenberger at (610) 597-6722.