WILDWOOD – A century ago, Woodrow Wilson became President, the Lincoln Highway, the first road built across the United States specifically for automobile traffic was completed, Ford Motors developed the first moving assembly line reducing auto chassis assembly time from 12.5 hours to 2 hours and 40 minutes. And Holly Beach Fire Department took delivery of a hook and ladder truck that continues to hold its place as the grand dame of the City’s fire department.
Tucked away in the Holly Beach Volunteer Fire Station is a 100 year old, 65-foot tractor-drawn tiller ladder that is much a part of the City’s history as sand and salt water taffy.
“It’s always been with the City of Wildwood,” said firefighter Matt Johnson. “It was one of the first bought by the City. It was delivered in December of 1913.” Johnson added that the truck’s original home was the firehouse at Pacific and Montgomery Avenues.
“It was built in New York in 1913 by American La France. It has a 65-foot wooden ladder on it.” According to Johnson, the City was incorporated in 1912 and the truck was purchased the following year for the princely sum of $17,000 – and that included the purchase of a chemical wagon in addition to the tiller ladder.
The tiller ladder was in service from 1913 until 1941. Upon its retirement, it was replaced with a similar apparatus. “A lot of times, when you get rid of a used fire truck you usually just get rid of it by trading it in or selling it.” But not this beauty. Johnson said he has no idea why the truck was kept, but he is thrilled that the truck continued to be garage kept and in good condition. Throughout the years, the truck has been restored by firefighters several times, including its most recent restoration with the replacement of its six solid rubber tires and wooden rims.
The well-restored truck is virtually intact. Ornate pieces of shiny, red metal connect parts of the chassis. The original bronze plaque attached to the body of the truck instructs firefighters, “There is no hard and fast rule to cover fully the use of ladders. The common-sense judgment and experience of the men handling them must be depended upon.” The plaque then lists several suggestions of what not to do – admonishing users not to use “aerial ladders for circus stunts.” It also reminds firefighters “Don’t neglect to clean and dry ladders carefully after each use” and “Don’t neglect to tighten all bolts and nuts regularly.”
Johnson said the fire company continues to maintain upkeep on the 6-cylinder gasoline engine. As part of its maintenance, the truck is driven to help keep its fluids flowing. “Every week we take it for a spin,” said Johnson. “It still runs fine. We can’t take it too far, but it goes.” The truck will also make an appearance during the parade at the Firemen’s Convention, to be held September 12–14, 2013.
“The vintage truck has no comparison,” said Johnson. “We’re told there are no more like it in the world. They only made a few in 1913 and the rest are gone.” Several weeks ago, the truck took top honors at the Antique Fire Apparatus Muster held in Wheaton Village. The trip netted the truck two prestigious awards, including Oldest Mechanized Fire Apparatus and Best Appearance by a Fire Company.
Maintenance and upkeep for the truck is through contributions to the Holly Beach Volunteer Fire Company. The fire company hopes someday to obtain enough funding to build a museum to showcase their prize. In the meantime, anyone wanting to see the truck may stop by the Holly Beach Volunteer Fire Company the first and second Monday nights of each month between the hours of 7-9.