Canmore fire truck rolls again

Craig Douce - photo

By Rob Alexander - Canmore

A significant piece of Canmore's history is back in action, thanks to the dedicated efforts and thousands of hours of a group of diehard volunteers.

And if all goes well, said Mary-Beth Laviolette, Canmore Musuem and Geoscience Centre administrator, the town's very first fire truck, a Second World War-era high-volume water pumper that spent the better part of the last two decades languishing in pieces, should make its first appearance in years at the upcoming Canmore Miner's Day.

The fire truck, resurrected from a pile of parts in an industrial bay to a gleaming icon of bygone days, is awaiting repairs on a leaky brake cylinder and a final safety inspection, but otherwise the truck is running, licensed and insured.

Laviolette said Tuesday (July 3) she is "fairly confident" the truck will appear in the Miner's Day parade scheduled for Saturday, July 14 at 11 a.m.

"My volunteer mechanics have just been working very hard on the vehicle and they've been working many, many hours. I'm confident in their abilities," she said.

Led by long-time local Jim Weisenburger, who did not live long enough to see the project through to completion, the restoration effort has been a labour of love by a group of men who couldn't, and wouldn't, see the vehicle consigned to the scrap heap.

Weisenburger, who served on the truck when he was a volunteer firefighter with the Town of Canmore in the 1950s and '60s, died in February this year at the age of 82, nearly 10 years after he first hauled what was left of the vehicle from the front yard of the old Canmore Museum and set to work.

That was in 1998, several years after another group of well-meaning volunteers had launched and abandoned a previous restoration effort, leaving just the red metal frame atop its wheels, a popular structure for kids to scramble on.

"They decided that they should properly strip this thing down and rebuild it the way you should properly refurbish antique vehicles, which is to strip them right down to the bare bones and fix everything and put it all back together again," said Al Spencer, one of Weisenburger's team of volunteers.

"However, something went wrong and we don't know what went wrong. People's intentions were really good and sound and something went wrong, and so the thing was left in parts all over the place. Some had been sent away to be rebuilt and when they came back nobody knew who they belonged to."

With such major components as the clutch, transmission, fly wheel, brake components, engine parts and even the serial number plate missing, Weisenburger and crew - including Arnold Schulz, Ed Blaeser, Ralph Balcourt and Lloyd Church - had a lot of questions and no answers.

Weisenburger set out to find another truck, while Spencer, a former-heavy duty mechanic instructor at SAIT in Calgary, began tracing the history of the truck. He learned that it was a 1942 K8 International, one of several used by the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War at bases throughout Alberta. The trucks were disposed of after the war in the 1950s as the wartime bases were converted to NATO training bases. Spencer says Canmore picked up its truck, used, at the Penhold Air Base.

It served Canmore from 1954 to 1966, when the newly-incorporated town received infrastructure money to buy a new fire truck. No longer needed, the fire truck was loaned to Rafter Six Ranch Resort so the guest ranch could meet its permit requirements of having fire-fighting equipment on hand. But when it was no longer needed there, the vehicle was parked in the bushes until the Lions Club brought it back to Canmore in the mid-1980s.

It last appeared intact in the 1990 Canada Day parade before being dismantled by the first group of museum volunteers.

While Spencer was researching, so was Weisenburger. He managed to turn up a 1947 International at George Kirkham's Museum in Lethbridge that they could use for parts, and it was hauled to Canmore to join its mate in an Elk Run industrial bay.

One of the biggest hurdles in the process was to get the parts from the 1947 International to fit the 1942, a feat accomplished with more than a little machinist wizardry by Lloyd Carter.

The group spent nine years working on the truck, and finally, last September, they started it, for the first time in more than 15 years.

Laviolette said the museum plans to use the truck as a promotional piece and a reminder of Canmore roots, to "share some of the history of the fire truck and through the fire truck share some of the history of the town.

"Canmore is such a new looking community now and yet it's such an old community with its heritage and old history,

"Canmore is remaking itself new right now that's what it is doing.

But it's a project that would have never happened without the volunteers, she said.

"These people like Lloyd, Jim and Al, they come from a really healthy culture that involved volunteers and that is getting harder and harder to find," she said.

Canmore Sign Co. completed the decal work last week, including a dedication that reads, 'In memory of Jim Weisenburger' - leaving no doubt that instead of calling it Canmore's fire truck, it should really be known as Jim's truck.


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