October 21, 2014

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Vintage truck heads back to the fire house

AVON LAKE — A 1938 American LaFrance fire truck will be restored by the Fire Department after a local family with multiple generations of firefighters returned it to the city’s possession.

In service from 1938 to 1967, the small vehicle was purchased by the city for about $4,100, and later acquired by Bud and Ron Novotny for $100, according to Avon Lake fire Lt. Jeff Moore.

The family’s interest in the truck stemmed from the fact that the men’s father, Joseph Novotny, served for nearly 50 years on the Fire Department, and was its first assistant chief, being appointed in 1939.

Bud and Ron Novotny were also longtime members of the Fire Department, working part time during years when firefighters were paid per call.

“My grandfather helped buy it, so my dad (Ron) and Uncle Bud decided when the city was going to retire that truck that they were going to buy it for my grandfather,” Bob Novotny said.

That was in 1970.

The vintage truck has been stored for years at Novotny Movers, an Avon company that operates large cranes for construction projects and maintenance work, according to Bob Novotny.

“It went out on a few parades but had been stored inside otherwise,” Bob Novotny said. “It never saw any weather.”
“It’s in incredibly good shape, all things considered,” Moore said.

Because of recent changes in the business, it was decided to donate the truck back to the city.

“I thought that was what my grandfather, uncle and dad would have wanted to do,” Novotny said.

The vehicle was one of only a couple of pieces of equipment the department, which formed in 1928, had in its early days, according to Moore.

Built by American LaFrance — at one time the pre-eminent builder of fire vehicles — the truck has a Dodge chassis.

Dwarfed by today’s much-larger, better-equipped and costlier fire trucks and rescue vehicles, the 1938 American LaFrance sits at the rear of the Fire Department’s large vehicle bay.

“It still has the old (hose) nozzles and equipment, including spanner wrenches,” Moore said as he pointed out items on the faded red truck.

Outfitted with a 300-gallon water tank, the truck displays one unusual piece of equipment — a butterfly net.
“They used those for bats, which were often found at chimney fires,” Moore said.

Moore said plans are in the works to have a nonprofit accept donations toward the restoration costs. They aren’t finalized yet.

The work won’t be cheap.

“We figure it will cost $30,000 to $50,000 to rehab it,” Moore said. “It will be mostly a weekend gig.”

The work will probably be performed by city workers, including mechanics who may be advised by restoration experts at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum of the Western Reserve Historical Society.

Once the truck is spruced up, it will likely be used in parades and put on display during special events.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.