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Hahn Motors FC-170 Fire Engine

J.T. Baker Chemical Co., Phillipsburg NJ


 

FC-170

This 1963 Jeep Forward Control FC-170 truck was ordered new from fire apparatus manufacturer Hahn Motors, Inc. of Hamburg, Pennsylvania. It was built to fight potential chemical fires inside the large J.T. Baker Chemical plant in Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

Thanks to Jack Calderone for this 2003 photo. See below for the complete restoration completed in 2022.
 

History

John Townsend Baker Company founder John Townsend Baker started his business in 1904 after realizing the laboratory chemicals he had been using as a student at Lafayette College were not pure enough to yield accurate results. His objective was to produce chemicals with the highest degree of purity commercially available, and the company became well known for providing just that. Baker was chairman of J.T. Baker Chemical Co. until he died in 1935.

FC-170
 
This May 1922 advertisement in The Journal of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry promoted the company's chemically pure products, whose labels carried an actual analysis of the contents.(1)

In 1970, Baker's reagents were considered so pure that they were used to analyze rock samples brought back from the moon by Apollo 11.(2) On the other hand, the company discovered in 1984 that it had for decades been polluting the Delaware River and groundwater in the Phillipsburg area with hazardous waste.(3)
 

NY Times, 9 July 1931 If Mr. Baker and his company were previously unaware of the danger of fire, that changed suddenly when a major conflagration hit the factory in the summer of 1931. This report on page 25 of the The New York Times of 9 July 1931(4) describes the fire that started in a warehouse in the middle of the night and "was visible for miles around." A watchman reported the fire by telephone, but "by the time the first engines arrived the storehouse was a mass of flames." (See the full article.)

It's not currently known what steps may have been taken to improve fire protection following the 1931 blaze. However, in 1963 J.T. Baker, which had by then become a division of drug company Richardson-Vicks, decided its fire department was due for an upgrade, and ordered a custom Jeep fire engine from Hahn Motors. That firm was known since 1915 for larger apparatus on their own chassis designs, but they had also begun building custom apparatus on various commercial chassis, and they were only about 45 miles away, in Hamburg PA.
 

Right side The single rear wheels configuration was ordered to enable the Forward Control to fit through tight spots inside the facility. The truck was equipped with a 500 GPM pump, a 200-gallon water tank, and a 60-pound Purple-K dry chemical system.
 

Front view Being spec'd out for low clearance within the plant, Hahn incorporated a distinctive front emergency beacon light into its nose, rather than any roof-mounted lights.
 

Left side A medical doctor by the name of Robert Briglia was a physician at the plant and would routinely see the truck around the facility. He recalled that it was kept in a small, dedicated building next to the main plant, and that each morning the garage doors would be swung open in the event the truck needed to be quickly pressed into action. He said that most days it just sat there in the garage, but on certain days it would actually drive through the plant as part of routine fire inspections.
 

Left rear Having always had an affection for the truck, Dr. Briglia bought it from the company in 1983 after they retired it from twenty years of service. He paid $3,600 for it in excellent cosmetic and operational condition with about 3,500 miles on it.

Thanks to rwcar4 for these 2015 photos.
 

Dr. Bob Briglia In September of 2021, at 86 years of age, Dr. Briglia (right) sold the truck to a Texas-based car collector who has a passion for the history and preservation of Jeep Forward Control trucks. The collector had made it clear some twelve years earlier that he wanted to purchase and continue the preservation of the vehicle if it ever became available.

Thanks to Will Hill for this farewell photo.
 

Restoration

Paint

The truck has 100 percent of its original paint and equipment. It will be painstakingly detailed, cleaned and serviced, and be housed with a collection of other Jeep FCs. This photo shows the cab paint restored to its original shine by polishing with an arsenal of buffing products (350K JPEG).

See also an outside mirror (250K JPEG) with the stainless steel buffed and the mirror arms repainted in the original silver.
 

Gold leaf Gold leaf is reapplied to the original lettering -- see also "Fire Brigade" emblazoned on the front of the cab (320K JPEG).

Meanwhile, the ladders undergo an amazing transformation from before to after (370K JPEG) as the wood is stripped, hand sanded, bleached and refinished.
 

Axle parts Here are the front axle parts ready to be reinstalled (160K JPEG), with period-correct Warn hub lockouts added. Three old Warn part sets from eBay were used to make one good set, then polished and the red insert area repainted.
 

Roof The next area for buffing was the roof. It appears the truck was washed over the years with harsh and abrasive chemicals, so the result looks great but a close look reveals fine swirl marks in the paint.
 

Chrome This is a small part of the many chrome parts removed from the truck and re-chromed; some of them had rusted and been repainted in silver.

The spring-loaded handles (160K JPEG) that hold the ladders in place had holes where Hahn had hammered steel rivets into the metal to hold leather pads. The heads of the rivets stuck up above the leather and made impressions in the wood of the ladder. So the holes were tapped for bevel-headed screws to hold the leather, allowing the pads to be changed in the future. Areas around the holes where Hahn had sloppily installed the rivets were filled with solder and then re-faced and tapped! They're now at the chrome shop.
 

Wood The rear wooden deck was removed, and the wood found to be in excellent shape. It was stripped and re-finished just as the ladders were.
 

Tank You can now see the rear deck area without the wood, revealing the 200-gallon water tank. This entire area was too beat-up to save the paint, so it's being stripped and will get repainted.
 

Painting

Righ side buffed The full right side of the truck has had the paint brought back to life, and is ready for the hardware to be remounted. The only thing that had to be painted was the fender flares.

The side plate over the discharge valve (180K JPEG) had rust around it, so a plate was made that was 1/4-inch larger on each side and covers the rusted area.
 

Front end The lower front end has been reassembled after repainting the front skid plate, straightening and repainting the front valence screen, and replacing the main siren relay (130K JPEG).

Meanwhile, the carburetor was removed for a full rebuild. The accelerator pump diaphragm was brittle and had been causing the carb to load up on fuel. The engine idle override control on the drivers side of the bed was lubed and freed up at the same time.
 

Rear view The rear of the truck required the removal of silver paint spattered everywhere when the decking had been repainted.

The taillights and stanchions were bead blasted and repainted as they were pretty tired looking. The brittle rear wiring harness was replaced with period correct wiring and asphalt sheathing.
 

Outside Back outdoors for the first time in a while, headed for the paint shop. The rear deck has been sanded bare so it's ready for primer.
 

Driving The truck runs like a top on the twenty mile drive, straight through downtown Houston.
 

Paint booth And into the paint booth, to deal with the one major area where the paint was unsalvageable and requires repainting.
 

Primer Epoxy primer goes onto the rear deck and water tank. This area had actually never seen primer before, as Hahn Motors had painted it directly over the bare metal. Most of this will be covered by the the wooden deck, but the restoration is not cutting corners.
 

Tank The studs which hold down the water tank covers are taped off. Those covers will be bolted back on with stainless nuts and washers.

The tank apparently had water sitting in it for 60 years, but is not in bad shape, so the decision was made to simply clean the interior well. It will now be stored dry, and filled only for tests or demos.
 

Rear painted The rear deck area is now painted and ready for the tank covers (300K JPEG) to go back. Because the top edge of the bed rails was chipped, the new paint was run up over those, which made a good area to break the paint line.

The bottom of the tank (400K JPEG) is coated with Eastwood Rust Encapsulator due to some pitting down there, and sealant (220K JPEG) is placed under the tank covers.

Final Reassembly

Parts The peripheral parts are ready to go back on.
 

Cab The cab is done and ready for weatherstripping on the doors (230K JPEG). The original seat material and paint has some patina but looks really good.
 

Ladder side The ladder and rear compartment door are in place, diamond plate has been repainted silver, and the fire extinguisher has been added. Reinstallation of intake and discharge valves is waiting on valve seals.
 

Pump controls The restored valves (see the valves before, 80K JPEG) are now installed and the pump is ready for a test, following repair of the primer pump and its electrical circuit.

The little box in front of the rear fender covers the spring hanger, with a hole for the grease fitting. Possibly the stamped rear fenders were not quite large enough because they were pre-made.
 

Pumping On 17 March, a nozzle is strapped to a tree, and the truck put through its paces as per the Hale pump literature. Everything works as it should!
 

Wooden deck The original rear deck wood is now back in place and looks great. The hose reel assembly, chemical powder tank and nitrogen tank that sit atop the rear deck are being restored and will be the last items to bolt on.
 

Suction hose The suction hose rails are on. (The hold-down handles were chromed, versus painted as Hahn had done them, because they seem to be chromed on every FC firetruck, regardless of manufacturer.) The red logo (80K JPEG)in the center of each hose was masked (120K JPEG) and painted red.
 

Hose end The winged connecters on the suction hose ends were rechromed and the countersunk areas of the wings detailed in red as they were originally.
 

Forward controls Ninety-five percent finished, waiting only for the booster reel and dry chemical system to be mounted on the back, the 1963 Hahn is moved into its display spot, next to Wilkes-Barre Pumper 4, the 1965 FC-170 from Valley Fire Truck.
 

Thanks to the new owner for his efforts in refurbishing this unique Jeep. Stay tuned for a further look at the results. Thanks also to the following websites for material related to the history of J.T. Baker Chemical Co. -- Derek Redmond

Footnotes

  1. Period Paper
  2. The Morning Call
  3. Casetext
  4. The New York Times


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Last updated 6 April 2022 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
https://cj3b.info/Fire/FireFCHahn.html
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond