As Japanese planes descended on Pearl Harbor early on the morning of December 7, 1941, they had a curious early target: the fire trucks.
Painted bright red, the trucks were easy prey and the only means to put out fires on the island. The Japanese destroyed them before setting much of the harbor, and the US naval fleet, ablaze. The infamous attack thrust the United States into World War II, mobilizing the entire nation into supporting the war effort.
One of the first measures at home was to repaint all fire trucks green in order to help prevent any sort of easy attack such as Pearl Harbor. And one of those fire trucks, a beautiful 1943 Ford-American LaFrance Fire Truck, is being restored by The National WWII Museum’s Curatorial Services team. The project is also the focus of this year’s Drafts for Crafts, an annual fund-raiser organized by the Museum’s Young Benefactors to support ongoing restoration projects at the Museum.
The fire truck, donated to the Museum in April 2009 by Steve Owen of Pell City, Alabama, will be restored as an Army fire engine and repainted wartime green. This is a general-purpose model built for the US Army that could have been used at an airfield, a military post, or a defense plant. Owen purchased the Truck from Dallas-Selfville Volunteer Fire Department in Trafford, Alabama, in 1985. The Truck’s engine is a Ford flathead V-8, specifically a 239-cubic-inch displacement engine. The flathead V-8 was one of the first V-8 engines produced for the mass market, and is still popular today for use in hot rods.
Museum Senior Curator and Restoration Manager Tom Czekanski, who is leading the restoration effort, said the LaFrance was the most common fire truck used on the Home Front during the war and was intended to put out structural fires. Once restored, it will be displayed on the Museum’s main campus to help visitors interpret the broad range of occupations and tasks on the Home Front needed to win the war.
“This truck came to us as a donation offer,” Czekanski said. “After researching WWII fire trucks, we saw that this was a Home Front artifact. That had a certain appeal, and it was accepted into the collection for future restoration. It has been on the waiting list since 2009.”
Czekanski has already acquired many parts for the Truck’s restoration from all over the country.
“All restoration projects present their own unique challenges,” Czekanski said. “To some extent, the 1943 Ford Fire Truck is easier because the basic vehicle is a civilian model truck that was in production from 1942 to 1947, so original and replacement parts are well represented.”
The efforts are fully underway—and the action will start at Drafts for Crafts on March 16.