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Austintown fired up over new vehicle

October 3, 2012
By J.T. Whitehouse , Town Crier

At last week's Austintown Township meeting, fire Chief Andrew Frost III, reported a recent donation of a fire truck to his department. The new truck was actually a 1917 Model T American LaFrance fire truck.

The vintage fire truck was donated by the daughters of Mike Lehman, who passed away in 2010. Lehman operated a family dairy farm and Lehman's Country Wood Craft in New Wilmington, Pa., since 1987. He was formerly a salesman for Hearn Paper Company in Youngstown and was a member of the Mercer County Model Railroad Club and the Lawrence County Agricultural and Preservation Board of Directors.

"He bought it before I was born," said daughter Lisa Callahan of Austintown. "No one knows why he decided to buy it."

Article Photos

Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Austintown firefighter John Fritz volunteers a little time to shine the brass on his department’s newest addition, a 1917 Ford fire truck.

Nehman was not a car collector. In fact, the vintage fire truck was the only classic vehicle he ever owned.

The history of the truck, according to information provided to Frost, dated back to 1920. The 1917 fire truck started as a Model T Ford chassis that was made for American LaFrance, builder of fire trucks. The builder constructed a wooden frame over the original Ford frame, which was constructed to carry two water tanks.

"The spinning tanks held a mixed soda ash that served as a fire suppressant," Frost said.

Records show the first fire department to use the vintage truck was the Bessemer, Pa., fire department that originally purchased the vehicle in 1920. It was later sold to the Neshannock, Pa., fire department and was eventually taken out of use. Lehman bought it in the late 1950s and over the next decade he restored it to its original look.

The restoration included new wood frames and paint and repair to the metal as well as the brass. It was re-lettered as the "Lehman Fire Department." Lehman used to take it to car shows and parades.

When Lehman passed away, he left the truck to his daughters Callahan and Linda Toth, who lives in North Carolina. The women decided to donate the fire truck to the Austintown Fire Department.

"Neither of us could drive it," she said.

The operational set up for the vintage truck is a chore to handle. The throttle is on the steering column and the floor board houses three foot pedals. The left pedal controls the forward gears, the middle pedal is the reverse gear, and the right pedal is the brake. Frost said depressing all three pedals is the "Oh shoot!" control, which is supposed to stop the vehicle immediately in an emergency.

In any case, the firefighters in Austintown hope to get used to its operation, including the hand-cranked siren. They took possession of the truck over a week ago have already restored some of the brass fixtures on the truck to a showroom shine.

At the present time the vehicle doesn't run, but Frost said a Model-T engine expert in the area has offered to restore the engine at no charge. The one thing that the vehicle is missing are the leather water buckets that hung on the side.

"I have a pattern to make them," Frost said.

When the engine is fully restored and operational, Frost said it will be used for public relations, like school visits and parades. When asked if it would ever respond to a fire, Frost said, "Wouldn't that be neat?"

As for Callahan, she feels donating it to Austintown was a good move. She looks forward to the date it is started up.

"I am waiting to see it put to use again," she said. "I told Chief Frost and wanted to be called when it is started up."

Frost said the vintage truck will be re-lettered for the Austintown Fire Department, but it will include a tribute to Mike Lehman.



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