Bob McMahon, a retired University of Southern Maine economics professor living in the Villages, Fla., on his 1928 Ahrens-Fox N-S-4 firetruck, as told to A.J. Baime.
When my wife, Linda, and I retired some years ago, we joined the volunteer fire department in Pownal, Maine. That’s when I got into old firetrucks. I have always loved mechanical things. At one time, I owned a 65-foot steam tugboat. I collected old sawmill machinery for a while, and my wife and I once had five firetrucks. The 1928 Ahrens-Fox is the last of those, and the best. [Ahrens-Fox firetrucks were built in Cincinnati, Ohio. A newer iteration of this company, HME Ahrens-Fox, still exists, headquartered in Wyoming, Mich.] Today the old ones are true classics, and the most collectible of American firetrucks.
I got this one in 2004. What happened was, there is this fellow named Andy Swift in Maine, who owns a company called Firefly Restoration. He does museum-quality firetruck restorations. I dealt with him on another truck, and one day he called me and said, “I got this truck you should have.” He specializes in Ahrens-Fox trucks, and for some reason he did not want to tackle this project. The truck was missing a lot of parts and it wasn’t running. I bought it, poked at it for a while, and when we moved to Florida, I had it shipped here so I could continue working on it.
Over the years, some 30 different people helped me restore this truck. It is not terribly expensive entertainment because I did most of the work myself, and I can eventually sell it. Today, it runs beautifully and it pumps water. It is an amazing machine. There are really two kinds of old firetrucks, the kind that carry a lot of water because they were intended for rural areas where there were no hydrants, and trucks used in cities and towns that could connect to hydrants. This one is a city truck. It has a four-piston pump cast out of bronze—a beautiful casting—and it was built to pump a thousand gallons a minute.