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The Firehouse 5 band in the 2017 Ashland July 4th parade. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Knox)

Four former fire-fighting vehicles to take part in 4th of July Parade

Fire engines and parades go together like peanut butter and jelly. When that big red rig rides by sounding sirens and flashing lights, the crowds cheer! The 2018 Ashland parade will have four (count’em, 4) Rogue Valley fire trucks dating from 1926 through 2015, a lineup reflecting a heritage of firefighters’ courage and a community’s sense of history.

A highlight of the 2018 Ashland 4th of July parade will be the city’s 1946 1-½ ton Ford fire truck now held by the Southern Oregon Historical Society and completely restored by SOHS and Rogue Valley A’s Club volunteers.

Battalion Chief Steve Boyersmith can’t imagine an Ashland July 4th parade without a fire truck, and leading the lineup will be Ashland’s 2015 Pierce Pumper.

“Fire trucks have always been part of our history and we’ve always been part of the community,” Boyersmith says.

Once horse and wagon, leather buckets and helmets, Ashland’s earliest fire brigades were all volunteer and centered on the downtown Plaza area. Ashland’s earliest existing fire truck is a 1913 American LaFrance that’s on exhibit at the downtown Fire Station.

It’s the 1926 REO Speed Wagon housed in Ashland’s Fire Station 2 that longtime Ashlanders will remember, as it’s been a highlight of parades for more than 40 years, complete with the Firehouse Five band in the back.

Ashland Fire Department engineer Jack Tate, has worked on the 1926 REO for almost 40 years. For the last 25 years, he’s been driving the engine in the 4th of July parades. “It’s very tricky because of the makeup of the clutch assembly and if you’re not careful, it takes off with leap — it’s hard on the band members, especially if they’re playing!”

“I’m the second generation of the Firehouse Five,” says Mike Knox, the band leader. “The original group was attorney Dick Cottle on trumpet, Dave Fortmiller who ran the department store on Main Street, Dave Wight, clarinetist, Chris Hald on tuba and a drummer. Jack Tate drove the REO.”

“It’s just one heck of a lot of fun, a unique Ashland type thing for the 4th. On occasion we’ve been known to go through the parade twice.”

Ashland’s 1938 American LaFrance fire truck now rides in the Eagle Point and Central Point parades. “We received it probably 20 years ago,” says Dustin Hoffman, Facilities Logistics Manager for Jackson Fire District 3. “It’s painted red and has Fire Company No. 1 on it.”

Ashland’s 1946 Ford fire truck is known as the “Amphibious Fire Engine” according to local historian, Ben Truwe — not because it can float but because it toppled into Ashland Creek during a 1948 flood. Ashland sold the truck at auction in the 1970s and for a time was used for farm work and then was abandoned in a field along the Rogue River for almost 20 years. Once again a brilliant red with polished chrome, the truck was custom built for Ashland by the Howard Cooper Factory in Portland.

A big white fire truck, a restored 1946 Chevrolet engine housed at Fire District 5’s Station 2 out on Neil Creek, will also be in Ashland’s July 4th parade.

“The engine was part of the original Talent Rural Fire Department which over time became Fire District 5,” Station 2 Capt. Brian Bolstad says. Bolstad found the truck at the Ashland transfer station, covered in blackberry bushes and painted yellow. He says he could just see the early lettering under the paint.

The Ashland July 4th parade begins at 10 a.m. at Triangle Park. Following the parade, Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteers will park the 1946 Ford fire engine on Ashland Plaza where the public can climb on the engine, honk the horn, ring the bell, operate the siren and try on a real fireman’s helmet.

Email Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

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