By Ron Heal
When Shannon Clark read John Croesman’s October 2015 feature in the DuQuoin Evening Call on an old fire truck that had served the DuQuoin (IL) Fire Department as being for sale by bid, he knew he had to place a bid and preserve a piece of history that had been a part of his life.
DuQuoin, Illinois, is a community of some 6,600 residents in southern Illinois and located on U.S. Route 51, south and east of St. Louis, Missouri. Well known for hosting the annual DuQuoin State Fair, the area was once heavily involved in the coal mining industry. The DuQuoin Fire Department is a combination fire department. Shannon Clark grew up in DuQuoin and served as a volunteer member of the department for a few years. His memories of the 1954 Ford-Towers pumper featured in Croesman’s article went back to his kindergarten days and followed up until his volunteer years.
It turns out that the Ford-Towers pumper was the first piece of motorized fire apparatus purchased new by the department. Earlier motorized apparatus had all been purchased used. In 1953, then fire chief Augie Schneider had Towers Fire Apparatus, located in nearby Freeburg, Illinois, build a 750-gpm pumper with a 750-gallon water tank. To fit the pumper under the header on the fire station door in the old city hall building, the roof on a 1953 Ford F800 Big Job cab had to be removed and a lower windshield installed, making the rig one of only two “convertibles” built that year by Towers. The pumper would remain in front-line service well into the 1980s and then become a spare engine. In later years, the department would modify the hosebed on the pumper to make the unit rider-friendly for school children for parades and fire prevention activities in the fall. It was this rig that Shannon remembered from a kindergarten ride and later the rig still being on the department roster when he was a volunteer.
Clark’s career would bring him to the Peoria area in central Illinois, but he maintained his DuQuoin roots through the DuQuoin Evening Call. It was a good thing he did as the newspaper article would give him his chance to own and preserve that piece of DuQuoin history.
The pumper was built by Towers Fire Equipment. Towers was a regional manufacturer of fire apparatus including pumpers, tankers, brush units, and rescue squads. Apparatus was built in Freeburg from 1946 until the late 1990s. Most of its customers were smaller fire departments in southern Illinois and eastern Missouri. The interesting point on the DuQuoin pumper is that it never left the department from 1954 until 2015. Modifications were minimal, and for the age of the pumper, the mechanicals were in very good repair. Even better, none of the equipment was missing—including the bell!
When a piece of vintage fire apparatus is offered for sale by sealed bid, nobody knows for sure how that process will turn out. The seller hopes for big dollars while bidders hope their offer is just enough to fend off any other bids. Having a feature story with a good picture in the local newspaper can often spark added interest. For Clark, a volunteer firefighter with DuQuoin from 2006 to 2009, his bid of just over $2,000.00 was the successful bid! In January 2016, Shannon was the new owner of a vintage fire engine. Soon he would be on his way down to DuQuoin to claim h