Kent firefighters work to restore 1938 ladder truck

By Jeremy Nobile | Staff Writer Published:

A few months ago, a couple locals visited the Kent Fire Department to show Chief Dave Manthey some photos.

The men were the children of Kent's first full-time firefighter, Glenn Marxen, and the antique photos were of the department's then-new 1938 American LaFrance fire engine.

Some of the photos showed the Marxen relatives as youths, riding in the vehicle.

"They would come in with (their father) and hangout at the fire station," Manthey said. "If a fire call came, they'd hop in the truck and go to the fire with him."

Those procedures wouldn't fly nowadays.

"We sort of frown on that now," said Manthey with a laugh.

Kent Firefighters Association Local 721 owns the truck and has been helping to refurbish the now 75-year-old vehicle for the past four years.

Having that truck means preserving history.

"One of the purposes of saving and displaying art like this is to trigger people's memories," said Thomas Hatch, director of the Kent Historical Society. "This effort the fire department is putting forth to save this truck is going to mean a lot to a lot of people who remember that. It'll trigger a lot of stories."

And Manthey said such connections to the past are key for an American institution steeped in centuries of heritage as he gestured to his station's "barn doors."

"This job has changed so much over time and it's kind of neat to look back at the 'Leave it to Beaver' and Andy and 'Mayberry' kind of stuff," Manthey said, referencing the changing appearance of downtown and feeling nostalgic. "What Kent is going through now is tremendous, but to hold on to some of the history of this town is important."

Firefighter Todd Gavriloff agrees. Leading a bulk of efforts to restore the vehicle, the 16-year veteran of the Kent Fire Department often spends his off-duty time working on the truck.

His work tuning up the 12-cylinder engine has enabled the truck to run. A smile lights up his face as the engine turns over in a noisy clamoring of deeply toned whirs and grinds.

"This is part of Kent's history. Where else are you going to go out and find this? It's not something you can find everyday," Gavriloff said. "And we just want to get it out there so people can see it."

Some of the truck's story is lost to history. Manthey and Gavriloff believe the engine, which was the city's first "big" ladder truck, was used until approximately 1968 when it was replaced.

They postulate the vehicle was sold at some point shortly afterward. About four years ago, the artifact resurfaced when an antique collector in the Mantua/Shalersville area asked the local fire union if anyone wanted to take the truck off his hands for free so long as they picked it up.

When not making appearances in parades or car shows, the truck rests at Fire Station No. 1 on DePeyster Street among a fleet of its modern-day counterparts.

Designed without power steering or hydraulic brakes, Gavriloff said the truck would be difficult to control if it needed driven anywhere in a hurry.

The roof-less vehicle still has many of its original accoutrements that serve as reminders of the past.

A single combined light and siren remains on the hood while three original spotlights rest in back. Chrome and nickel-plated features adorn a variety of old instruments and gauges on the side of the truck, not far from an antique bumper Gavriloff suspects is made of brass.

The original 60-foot wooden ladder, which has "American LaFrance" burned into its sides, is still intact. Without power steering or hydraulic brakes, "Just imagine the stories this thing could tell," Manthey said.

The Kent Historical Society recently helped acquire a $6,000 grant for the truck that will help offset an estimated $12,000 in costs just to repaint the truck. Local 721 has helped contribute thousands itself to get the vehicle running. And local business like Klaben Ford and Quick Service Welding and Machine have donated some work to the cause.

However, a long list of work will still need to be done.

Anyone interested in donation toward the vehicle's restoration efforts is directed to call the fire department at 330-676-7393 and ask for Local 721 Treasurer Brock Murphy.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or jnobile@recordpub.com

Facebook: Jeremy Nobile, Record-Courier

Twitter: @jnobile_RPC

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