116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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OXFORD - In 1961, as Clayton "Slick" Mahoney's house caught fire from nearby burning trash, Larry Jiras hopped aboard the Oxford Fire Department's 1928 Studebaker truck to help fight the fire.
"Before I got there, the other trucks were already there," recalls Larry, 73. "They'd put it out."
Needless to say, it was time to retire old faithful, the department's first fire truck, delivered March 11, 1929. It had replaced the hand-pulled/horse-drawn hose cart with a 40-gallon soda/acid tank purchased in 1918 and restored last year.
The old Studebaker had been relegated to the garage for special occasions. In the 1969 Fourth of July parade, its engine overheated and it was towed the rest of the route and back to the station.
"We'd start it every once-in-a-while," Larry says. "The last 20 years we didn't."
Always kept inside, the truck hadn't deteriorated too badly when firefighter John Lovetinsky suggested it be restored. After all, the 83-year-old girl had served admirably and only had 2,010 miles.
"I can't imagine the joy they had when that thing came to town," Larry says.
A fire in 1890 that destroyed 17 buildings had led to formation of the fire department two years later. After such a long time with horses, bucket brigades and the hose cart, the motorized truck was a welcome addition. An Oxford Leader story called it "the finest big city fire fighting equipment" as young firefighters demonstrated its prowess against the old-timers and their bucket brigade.
"I'm sure it was like a circus show back then," says John, 39.
The truck cost $3,170. The fire department had $1,000 with the rest to be raised with $50 or $75 shares from people who would receive fire protection. Others were to be charged, although there's no record of it.
"That's not to say, whoever had a fire didn't make a donation," Larry says.
When John and Larry began restoration in January with other volunteer firefighters, they used their own funds.
"We didn't want any of the town's money to go to this," John says. "We need new gear."
The flat head 6-cylinder engine turned over and was in surprisingly decent shape for a rebuild. A set of chrome accessories, wrapped in paper for 40 years, was purchased for $1,500. Local people donated painting and trim work. The tires, replaced in 1937, were so solid they remain on the truck, their sidewalls freshened with black shoe polish.
As the restoration - John estimates it at $5,000 - took shape, donations came in. One donor, familiar with the truck's history, offered several hundred dollars on one condition - it had to finish this year's July 4 parade.
It did and has since appeared at a celebration in nearby Tiffin. It was also used for the funeral of volunteer firefighter Walker Olson, 18, who helped restore the truck before he died July 9 in an accident at his day job near Frytown.
From his research, John says only two similar ‘28 Studebaker firetrucks exist and one is in a museum. With the mechanicals restored, it could fight a fire, pumping 250 gallons of water per minute at 100 pounds of pressure.
"That felt pretty good," says Larry, who held the nozzle.
"We've got something special," John adds.