Howe Fire Apparatus in Anderson, Indiana was the usual builder of the factory-authorized Willys Commando fire truck in the 1950s and 60's. Based on the 4WD L-6 226 Jeep truck, the Commando was usually shown in advertising (170K JPEG) in the traditional North American open cab apparatus style. But certainly by the 1960s, the trend was away from the easy access and visibility of the open cabs, to the safety and comfort of closed cabs, and the Willys was most often sold in a closed-cab version.
Owner Paul Barry of Willys America says this open-cab truck "was a W-O factory demonstrator vehicle, then sold to Michiana Shores VFD, a lake resort town on the border of Michigan and Indiana. It was painted the lime green emergency vehicle color, and I repainted it red."
See the right side of the truck (100K JPEG), at the Willys America 2011 Open House, with the Civil Defense Rescue Truck.
Paul and Jane Barry also own this closed-cab 1957 truck, Willys serial no. 55168 14942. Howe designated it as model HRS F, serial no. 10063. It shows 3309 miles and has a Waterous CF-3 500 GPM pump, but its history is unknown.
Mark Smazik of Lockport IL restored Howe engine 10313, originally sold to Woodville State Hospital in Pennsylvania in 1958 (see the Howe Jeep Production List.)
Mark says, "I purchased the Willys in October of '03 from a private collector in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. The engine originally served at Woodville, an insane asylum. It was later was sent to Western and Haverford State Hospitals. I was undecided on how to name it, but I did want my daughter's name on it somehow; hence her name Melanie plus Woodville became Melville.
"The engine was in decent condition but did need some T.L.C. My initial plan was a quick buff and detail. After getting deeper into the fire engine it became apparent that I would do more than my first plans. The motor was removed and freshened. Engine compartment painted and detailed, and the entire body was stripped to bare metal. Epoxy primer was applied and body work done. The vast majority of the work was done by me in my home shop. I did hire a two-man painting crew to apply the single stage Valspar urethane to the exterior.
"On the right front fender is a Mars DL wagger light (see a right front view, 60K JPEG.) A friend of mine had them laying in his shop and sent them my way. After restoration I felt the WL siren on the left fender looked lonely. The DL was too neat to leave on the shelf. The photo was taken at the American Truck Historical Society convention in Auburn, Indiana in June of '05. The 1949 Diamond T coal truck seen in the background belongs to my Father -- I consider him one of the finest restorers around."
The Howe emblem is riveted to the deluxe bodywork of their Willys trucks behind the driver's door. It identifies them as being built in Anderson, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis.
Almost as distinctive on the Howe trucks is the diamond-plate skirting connecting the front fenders to the pump platform, which differentiates them from similar trucks by other makers also sold through Willys dealerships as Commando fire trucks.
The Howe Commandos were built on a Jeep truck chassis with the 6-226 engine, produced by Willys starting in 1954. This unit was photographed in the 1990's in Ogden, Utah.
Standard features on the Commando were 150-gallon water tank, 42-cu.ft. hose compartment, 150-ft. booster reel capacity, remote pump control, and heat exchanger cooling for continuous pump operation.
Modifications by Howe include diamond-plate front fender skirts and platform for the pump, typically 400 or 500 GPM capacity.
This sheet from a "Jeep Approved Equipment" binder (exact date unknown), shows both the closed-top and less-common open-top version of the Commando.
The first item in the "List of Uses" reads: "For first run calls in larger cities thus eliminating the necessity to make runs with heavier, more costly equipment." But Willys did not have a great deal of success with this intended market; I have the impression that big city departments were cautious and firefighters' union locals were often opposed to the idea of smaller first-line pumpers with less manpower.
The reverse side of the sheet lists "Basic Specifications" and includes a photo showing "Howe Commando lifting water 15 feet perpendicularly from river and discharging 500 GPM at 150 lbs. pressure." It also lists "Suggested Extra Equipment" (at extra cost) including the utility compartments with hinged doors behind and in front of the rear fenders, and "standard 3-man closed cab altered to form open 3-man semi cab."
Thanks to Mark Smazik, Paul Barry, and Jolly Goodfellow for the photos taken in Utah.
See also Howe fire trucks in Yellowstone Park.
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