The 'Prohibition fire truck' Tamaqua's oldest surviving motorized fire apparatus, is back home safe and sound after a 54-year absence.
The 1922 Seagrave pumper weathered a 999-mile trip from Ocala, Fla., which went off without a glitch, although it was intercepted by state police at one point in the journey.
"I was pulled over and put onto a scale," said Tom Martonick on Friday morning at 9:30 when arrived at Wal-Mart Supercenter, Hometown, a transfer point.
"But it checked out. It wasn't overweight," he said. Martonick was completing a five-day trip. He had left Florida on Monday and stayed overnight at Kenly, N.C., en route to Pennsylvania.
Martonick, of First Choice Group, a Drums transport service, coordinated the return of the piece of history, a project supervised by Dale Freudenberger, president, Tamaqua Historical Society. Former Tamaqua resident Bob Dampman and his family, now of Florida, also were key players in the return of the truck.
At the Wal-Mart parking lot, a crew from Hope's Collision and Towing loaded the truck onto a flatbed and secured it for the trip down the Hometown Hill and into town.
The truck was purchased by the society for $5,000 and is being housed by Citizens Fire Company, the truck's home base.
"Many times we tried to get it back in the borough and preserve a piece of history," said Lt. Jason Green, CFC.
The truck's history is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
It was purchased during Prohibition from funds earned through the illegal sale of five-gallon containers of canned beer. Those funds were raised in cooperation with the fire department and police department, who drove around town pitching the illegal libation to the citizenry.
The 750-gallon Seagrave pumper cost of $23,000 when ordered in 1921. It arrived in Tamaqua in 1922 and replaced a 1916 Boyd fire truck. It was only the second motorized fire truck purchased by the company. By 1959, it was put out of service and left town.
At that point, it was sold to a private collector in Allentown who stored it in a barn for 32 years, before selling it to a Florida couple, Mike and Debbie Zeak, in 1991.
The truck had been featured at the Silver Springs Nature Theme Park near Ocala, where it is believed the truck was used for park rides. In recent years, however, it sat idle.
The Silver Springs Park property will be merged with adjacent Homosassa Springs State Park, owned by the state of Florida. That transaction provided the opportunity for the truck to return to its hometown. Bob Dampman works for Homosassa Springs State Park and knew of plans for the merger. He kept in touch with the Tamaqua Historical Society, knowing that other parties also were interested in acquiring the vehicle.
In fact, Dampman also helped by prepping the truck last week for its travel home to Tamaqua, said Freudenberger. Dampman secured all of the small components attached to the truck. He also removed key items like the bell, spotlight and ladder so they could be packed inside the back of the truck.
CFC volunteers are excited to see the truck back on their premises and Tamaqua Historical Society volunteers are delighted to bring a significant piece of early firefighting back home. The society and Tamaqua Fire Department maintain a close relationship as the society houses the 1800s CFC hose reel and the American Hose Company hose cart.
Citizens Fire Co. volunteers will pitch in to clean up and fix up the fire truck. Matt Hope has offered assistance as well.
Wooden ladders mounted on the side of the truck are rotting and in need of replacement. But onlookers marveled at the overall condition of the truck.
"It should be kept under glass," said Richard Ritter, Tamaqua, who watched the event along with Phil Moeller and Steve Woodward.
"This is awesome," said Moeller.
The men were interviewed by television news media as the truck rolled off the flatbed.
All parties are grateful for the safe return of the Prohibition truck, a feat to be toasted by raising a glass of root beer.
Anyone interested in helping the historical society with restoration of the truck is encouraged to call Freudenberger at (610) 597-6722