CJ-2A Fire Engine History


Jeep fire engines were tested as early as 1945, and a small number were sold as "factory" units up until 1961 (with their own series of Willys serial numbers starting in 1955; see Willys-Overland Production Figures 1945-61). Most of the units sold through Willys dealers were apparently converted by Howe Fire Apparatus of Anderson, Indiana, and Boyer Fire Apparatus of Logansport, Indiana.Other companies building fire apparatus on Jeep chassis included:

Chicago 1946

ChicagoThis historically significant photo from the collection of Thomas Engle, was taken on 16 May 1946 by Acme Newspictures for United Press Newspictures. It shows what is certainly one of, if not the earliest, CJ-2A Fire Engine.

It's apparently a delivery photo of a unit built on a very early 1946 CJ-2A Jeep, posed beside a 1940 Mack Model E pumper (40K JPEG) in the Chicago Fire Department's red and black livery.

Jeffrey Smoker points out that the Mack is also a pretty rare piece of apparatus; it's a Type 45U cab-over-engine squad, with a large deck gun. Only 17 were made, and Chicago bought 12 of them including 10 in 1940, as well as some Autocar COE squads.


Luckily another photo, probably from the same photo shoot, has also survived. The Jeep is parked outside Berg Truck & Parts Co., known in Chicago as "The King of Jeeps." Would Berg have supplied the Jeep to the Chicago FD? This shot gives us a better view of the rear of the Jeep.

The Jeep has a Darley Champion pump, but the side-mounted suction hose and the design of the ladder rack and rear storage is similar to the 1945 CJ-2 Fire Jeep built by American Marsh Pumps. Any further details on this Jeep and what company did the conversion, is welcome.

Ohio c.1947

Berkey, Ohio

This photo was taken during a demonstration by Willys in Berkey, Ohio, circa 1947. Richard Janney, now of Michigan, was present as a young boy with his dad, fireman M.H. Janney.

The full photo (230K JPEG) appears to show someone who may be young Richard in the trees to the right, and a close examination reveals "Berkey Fire Dept." painted on the Jeep. An officer monitors the pump and another firefighter beside the Jeep is possibly manning the hand throttle.

Berkey is a village just west of Toledo. The Fire Department in Berkey at the time was housed in the garage of Mr. Janney's store. Thanks to Richard Janney for providing this information.

The Jeep has a narrow overhead rack similar to the Chicago Jeep, but the rack also has brackets for the suction hose. Warning lights appear to be mounted on the front supports for the rack, and a siren on the cowl. Manufacturer is unknown.

The Willys booklet Jeep Operation Data (c. 1949) contains another photo of this event (30K JPEG).

Early Howe Fire Jeeps

Toledo showCarrying suction hose along the sides rather than on an overhead rack, kept the profile low and maximized the Jeep's ability to access brush fires, and the design was used on early Jeeps from Howe Fire Apparatus. The CJ-2A seen here was photographed by Randy Brown at the Jeep Employees Car Show in Toledo in the late 1990's.

Official Introduction 1947

October 1947Bill Norris scanned this brochure at the Detroit Public Library. Titled "A Year's Progress", it was given out during "Institutional Day" on 15 October 1947, when hundreds of VIP's were invited to visit the Willys-Overland plant. One page is a "Calendar of Events" (60K JPEG) listing corporate achievements since October 1946. An entry for 10 March 1947 states "Jeep Fire Engine introduced."

This would indicate that early examples such as the Jeeps above, were actually preproduction models. The March 1947 "introduction" may mark the adoption of the standardized overhead rack and rear hose compartment as seen below.

Standardized Design

1945 CJ-2AArt and Darlene Gloss' Jeep Fire Engine must be one of the first with the later style of overhead rack and enclosed rear storage. It is a 1945 CJ-2A which was apparently converted in 1947 and repainted from Harvest Tan. It's seen here at the 2006 Willys Spring Reunion in Springfield.

UrbanA photo from Jeep Operation Data (c. 1949) shows a later CJ-2A Jeep Fire Engine with the more common type of overhead rack, drafting from an underground cistern or storm sewer. This may be a demonstration by the fire brigade at the Jeep plant in Toledo, since there is no sign of an actual fire. A wider view appears in the booklet Willys-Overland Export Corporation Special Vehicles.

Argentina?Gary Urbanowicz spotted a photo which looks like another angle of the demonstration above, being offered on eBay as a photo from Argentina. There are other Jeep vehicles in the background, but the closer look at the helmet in this photo suggests that maybe it is indeed Argentina; a photo of the Willys factory brigade shows more standard American-style helmets, although that photo would have been possibly 10 years later. More information or larger copies of these photos would be welcome.

Wheeling DownsAnother item from Thomas Engle's collection is this beautiful hand-tinted but undated postcard photo of a CJ-2A at Wheeling Downs racetrack in West Virginia. Photo by Wever-Turfoto, printed by Tichnor Bros, Boston. The caption reads, "Modern Fire Truck Minimizes Fire Hazard, Wheeling Downs, Wheeling, W.Va."

This Jeep has the overhead rack and rear compartment design found on most of the 2A's converted by Boyer Fire Apparatus and Howe Fire Apparatus.

See also a photo of a similar Jeep at Aqueduct Race Track, in Fire Jeeps in New York City

A 1948 newsletter called Jeepers News Review (70K JPEG) from the Willys dealer in Vancouver BC, includes a small news item from Auburn CA, titled Jeep Fire Engine Wins Acclaim (70K JPEG).

Thanks to Thomas Engle, John McClenathen, Gary Urbanowicz, Steve Hagy, Rodger Birchfield and Bill Norris. -- Derek Redmond

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Last updated 21 November 2015 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond