Many Willys trucks released by the factory as pickups or "stripped chassis" trucks (see Willys-Overland Production Figures) were converted into fire engines by individual departments and by apparatus manufacturers including the list below. Trucks built by Howe and General were sold through Willys dealers as the Willys "Commando".
The Saco-Lowell Shops was one of the largest textile machine manufacturers in the United States, formed in a 1912 merger of the Lowell Machine Shop in Massachusetts and the Saco-Pettee Machine Company in Maine. This 1951 Willys Jeep was purchased to protect the Saco-Lowell complex in Biddeford, Maine.
It was photographed at the 2019 Maine State Firefighter's Conventionby Jim Topham. See also a left side photo (100K JPEG).
The truck is now in the collection of the Biddeford Fire Department Museum. Mike Tremblay, Curator of the Museum, says there is nothing on the truck to identify the builder, so he believes it was built at the Saco-Lowell Shops. As a large machinery manufacturer, the company was certainly well equipped to do the conversion.
When a major fire did finally strike the Saco-Lowell buildings in Biddeford on 20 March 1963, the firm had already moved out, so whether having the truck on site would have made any difference is only a matter of speculation. The premises were occupied by a steel company and a lumber company, and firefighters from a number of area departments were hampered by strong winds, falling brick walls, and the steel company's oxygen and acetylene tanks. It took two days to extinguish the blaze. A South Portland firefighter commented to the Biddeford Daily Journal, "That damned thing just burned and burned and there wasn't a thing we could do. I thought for sure that the whole neighborhood was going to go." (Biddeford History & Heritage Project)
Photo by John James for the Portland Press Herald, courtesy of the McArthur Public Library and Maine Memory Network.
Towers Fire Apparatus in Freeburg, Illinois, built apparatus from 1946 to the late 1990s, and this Willys was built by them in 1961. Mike Yurgic told me, "In the fall of 1960, the management of Emerson Electric looked for a manufacturer to build a fire engine small enough to go inside the plants and warehouses of the company's campus in St. Louis, Missouri. Towers Fire Apparatus came to the table with a vehicle that met their needs! The side compartments are true Towers body work with the sloping rear and beveled doors."
The photo is courtesy of the National Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, where the truck is now preserved.
It has a 500 gpm Barton American front mount pump and carries 200 gallons of water. A rear view shows the "bucket brigade" tank filler box with a cast brass Shield & T (90K JPEG) company emblem. These photos are courtesy 55lincoln on YouTube.
This 1958 Willys for Lewiston Fire Co. No.1, near Niagara Falls NY, was built by Young Fire Equipment in Buffalo, following the end of Young's deal with Blitz Buggy to build the Little Mo foam trucks. The backpack pumps indicate this one was intended primarily as a brushfire unit. Thanks to Michael Pierce for the photo.
This truck built by Valley Fire Truck in Bay City, Michigan has been sold several times since its retirement, and is now back in Michigan, complete with original owner's manual and pump documentation, in the collection of Ron Hattner. Ron says it was originally in service in Riverton, Wyoming where the 500 GPM Darley front mount pump once pumped 13 days straight while fighting a major wildfire.
See more examples of the Champion Willys from Valley Fire Truck.
This 1956 unit produced by W.S. Darley & Company of Chicago is a fairly basic conversion of a Willys truck, without the more specialized body work found on the Willys Commando trucks. It has a 500 GPM pump and 150 gallon booster tank. The spare tire suggests it might have been intended for a rural department, although it does not appear to have suction hose mounted in this factory photo supplied by Steve Hagy. Steve reports that the rig was in fact delivered to A.C.F. Industries of Buffalo, New York.
The right side photo (50K JPEG) shows ladder and pike mounted in the usual location.
This 1954 Darley with 6,800 original miles now belongs to Lynn Krodel in Indiana. It was originally in service with the fire department in Lake Villa, Illinois. Thanks to Jeff Rudolph for the photo.
As of 2007, Lynn says, "I am adding more restorations to this honorable fire engine. When finished it will be fully restored, fully equipped and operational to respond to a fire alarm! I have used it at Patoka Lake Reservoir here in Dubois County, Indiana three times. I am a Firefighter for the Indiana DNR. One of my responsibilities is a Public Relations Officer. This Engine is used as part of Wildland Firefighting displays at the Wickcliffe Recreation Area of the Reservoir, and was available for fire suppression when I had it at the Lake for my public relations assignments."
See also a right side photo (120K JPEG) taken while the Willys was part of the Historic Civilian Jeeps Collection in Colorado.
Darley started using the Willys truck platform pretty early; here's a late-40s pickup turned into a front-mount pumper with overhead ladder rack for Landisburg PA. As of 2023 it is still kept in the firehouse. Thanks to Tom Welker for the photo.
See also a builder's photo (130K JPEG) from Joe Raymond's collection. The truck has hardly changed at all during its seven decades of service!
The Oren Roanoke Corporation of Roanoke, Virginia built fire apparatus from 1940 to 1980 when it was absorbed by Grumman, according to information from the Virginia Museum of Transportation, where this 1955 pumper is displayed. One of two manufactured for General Electric, it was delivered to the GE plant in Salem, Virginia in December 1955. It has a Ven Pelt pump that delivers 400 GPM at 120 pounds pressure, and reportedly carried six CO2 extinguishers on each side of the truck. See also a rear view (140K JPEG). Thanks to Dick Williams for the photos.
A beautiful little pumper once used by the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company in Baltimore County MD as their Brush 304, was built by Oren Roanoke on a mid-50s Willys 6-226 Cargo-Personnel Carrier.
This photo is courtesy Jim Fairweather. I would love to find additional examples of this design.
Photographer Steve Hagy says, "This photo was taken in the late 70's, and I haven't seen this one since! It's really sharp."
Thornville, Ohio No. 3 was a 1956 Willys with a 500 GPM pump from American Fire Apparatus of Battle Creek, Michigan (also referred to as Barton-American Fire Pump Co.) The design with overhead ladder and hose rack resembles the Universal Jeep Fire Engines more than most of the Willys truck configurations.
This truck is marked "Kingston Fire District". According to the National Geographic atlas, there are 16 places named Kingston in the United States, and several more in Canada, the U.K. and elsewhere around the world. But this may be Kingston, Ohio -- the design shows some similarities to the Thornville OH unit above, and Ken Buchanan who found this photo, says this truck was "built either by American Marsh in Stratford, Ontario or by Barton American in the USA."
Newport Township Fire Protection District in Wadsworth IL bought its first fire truck from W.S. Darley & Co. in 1947, but when they added a new 1955 Willys Jeep truck for brushfire protection (above, left) it was apparently bought from Harris Motors in Winthrop Harbor IL and converted by a company called Grayslake Fire Truck Company in Grayslake IL.
In response to an inquiry about that company from CJ3B.info, the Grayslake Historical Society provided this information: "Kenneth Poehler, a blacksmith in Grayslake, made two fire trucks for the Grayslake Fire Department. He was in business from 1945 to probably the late 1950s. The Grayslake Municipal Historical Museum has one of the two fire trucks. It was built in 1954 and was built on a Chevy chassis."
Newport's Willys brush truck was later replaced by a 1969 Dodge Power Wagon, but has been restored for use in parades (50K JPEG).
Trucks built by Howe and General were sold through Willys dealers as the Willys Commando. Although brochures showed open-cab versions, closed cabs such as on this 1957 truck owned by Willys America were more common. See more Willys "Commando" Fire Trucks.
Bill Myers in New York owns a truck built by the Blitz Buggy company in Old Forge NY. He says, "The information that I have shows that there were 11 Willys trucks built by the Blitz Buggy company. Mine is #7 of the first 8 early generation."
See more examples of the Blitz Buggy Fire Fighter.
I haven't identified the truck with rear-mounted pump in this undated photo. The only recognizable feature is the streamlined Trippe revolving beacon (70K JPEG) also seen on some General and Valley conversions.
Here's a mystery truck at Willys America with an overhead equipment rack like the American Fire Apparatus conversions above, and a rear body that appears homemade, but carrying Howe serial number 9691 on the dash.
Paul Barry of Willys America told me, "The truck served at Falls Fire Department in Farmington, Maine. I think the Howe number comes back to a CJ, and they must have wrecked the CJ or wanted something that could carry water and hose, so they dismantled the CJ and transferred the overhead rack, the tailboard and the pump to a 1952 truck, then screwed the Howe build plate to the dash. The dual rear wheels were definitely 'home built' as they welded two rims together."
A 1954 Willys truck with a 250 GPM gas-powered pump and suction hose served as Jeep 33 of the Toronto Islands. Photo by Ken Buchanan.
A 1950 Willys pickup (70K JPEG), photographed by Jim Allen in the Historic Civilian Jeeps Collection, was one of the first Willys vehicles to be fitted with the new F-head engine. This gray pickup with only 1600 miles on the odometer belonged to the La Veta Fire Protection District in Colorado and is now part of the Marski collection.
See also a photo of the volunteer fire brigade at the Schaefer Brewing Co. in Brooklyn, NY, carrying hose and extinguishers in a Utility Wagon (70K JPEG), from a 1954 Willys Advertisement in Fortune Magazine.
Thanks to Steve Hagy, Mike Winchester, Ted Robinette, Bill Brennan, Rodger Birchfield, Adriaan Kriek and Gary Dreyer. -- Derek Redmond
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