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Linden VFD to restore 1949 fire truck

Chief James Creel sees more than a piece of machinery when he looks at the antique fire engine that is being restored for the Linden Volunteer Fire Department.

“It’s a piece of history,” Creel said about the 1949 Ford open-cab pumper truck. “We believe this was likely Linden’s first fire engine — at least it was their first pumper trucker.”

With the No. 1 proudly painted on its side, the truck was used by the Linden firefighters from the late ’40s until 1975, when it was loaned to the Calvary community.

“The city allowed Therman Gills to take the truck and use it there to help relieve some of the pressure from the fire department in covering the south of town,” said Creel.

Before being returned to Linden about 10 years ago, it also served a brief stint as the parade show vehicle for Demopolis Shriners.

“Since it was brought back to Linden, I have been wanting to restore it,” Creel said. “We tried two years ago, but we just couldn’t get it running.”

That was until Wallace Walker took a crack at fixing the truck’s motor. As the city’s mechanic, Walker went to work repairing the engine and was able to get it running again last week.

“I knew if anyone could get it running, he could,” said Creel. “We also have a firefighter whose job is painting at the Mercedes plant. He has offered to lend us a hand in this. So, we have a combined effort from several people to get the truck going again.”

“It actually runs pretty good for a ’49 truck,” said Scott McClure, Linden’s director of public safety. “It’s a great sight to see it running down the road again.”

Creel said the fire department plans to use the truck for parades as an ambassador for the city, but his number one goal is to use the truck for fire prevention week at the schools. “We usually allow the lower grades to take a quick ride on the fire trucks,” Creel said. “I want to take the old fire truck and let the kids ride on it and explain some of the history of the old 1949 truck, and of the men who served Linden as firefighters. When it is restored, it will be a great way for generations to come to enjoy it and see the past.”

Once complete, Creel hopes to take a picture of the city’s three oldest firefighters, John Echols, Earl Pritchett and Creel’s father Bobby Creel, with an unveiling of the restored fire engine.

Bobby Creel served the city for 18 years, many of those as the fire chief.

“These three would have spent a lot of time in the 50’s and 60’s answering fire calls in Linden on the old truck,” said Creel. “As a boy I went to some of the fires with my dad on the old truck. I was pretty young at the time and, of course, would not have any firefighting roles. I would help roll the hoses up after a fire. As I got older I would help my dad answer fire calls.”

Mr. Creel, now in his 80’s, still goes on fire calls today.

“Roles have reversed over the years though. He now helps me roll the hoses up after we’re done,” said Creel, who has been the fire chief at Linden for 15 years. “He is a great asset for us. He knows firefighting better than anyone and can just look at a fire and immediately tell you what needs to be done.”

Creel said the restored truck would be a reminder of the sacrifices volunteer firefighters make.

“They respond in freezing cold or hot weather — regardless of what else is happening,” said Creel. “They do it to help their neighbors.”