Save the Seagrave campaign saved the Seagrave

Becky Campbell • Nov 27, 2019 at 12:00 AM

It once nearly went on the auction block for $1.

But on Thursday, people attending the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot can get a sneak peek at the Johnson City Fire Department’s now-fully refurbished and restored 1928 Seagrave fire truck.

“It’ll be roped off and on display at Station 3 where the Turkey Trot starts,” said Fire Engineer Shane Malone. He and many others helped lead the charge to save the Seagrave after it was pulled from under a tarp at the city’s impound lot last year.

What should have been a three- to five-year project, in Malone’s opinion, was nothing less than a five-month miracle as firefighters and city garage workers spent hundreds of man hours, mostly on their own time, to get the job done.

The 1751 firefighter’s union took charge of the project, using the phrase “Save the Seagrave,” and held numerous fundraising events to help pay for the restoration.

To say the restoration was a success is an understatement, and photos do not do the truck justice. Its fire-engine red paint job, polished chrome and brass shine like a new penny. 

Earlier this week, when the truck was driven from the city garage to Station 3, where firefighters put the restored wooden ladders back in place, a group of on- and off-duty firefighters, the chief and a couple of city leaders gathered to watch Fleet Manager Chris Whitaker drive it onto the property.

Chief Jim Stables, who was hired after the truck was discovered in the impound lot, got on board immediately with the restoration project, and he’s proud of the final product.

“We have a beautiful truck that’s been restored through the hard work of the community and the firefighters,” Stables said. “I couldn’t be prouder of what I’ve seen since I’ve been here. The amount of elbow grease that went into making this truck look like it did when it rolled off the assembly line in 1928 is something we’ll be proud of for a very long time.”

Mayor Jenny Brock said “my heart is about this big today,” holding her hands about a foot apart. “When it first turned the corner and I saw the chrome, the detail and the paint job ... just knowing the history of this vehicle ... the fire station behind us was opened in 1929 ... it was a pretty big year for Johnson City. What a great thing it is to be able to (have this restored) in the same year we’re celebrating our city.”

The city was also recognized by the East Tennessee Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus in America, which  presented the department with a Certificate of Recognition for its “dedication and outstanding achievement” in restoring and preserving the antique fire truck.

Ron Von Essen, vice president of the East Tennessee Fire Historical Society, said he and others with the group have assisted with the project to help preserve its history for years to come by giving their insight on the mechanics and parts based on their previous restoration projects.

The public will get its first up-close glimpse of the truck on Thursday and will also see it in the Christmas parade carrying Santa Claus through town.

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