A group of spirited Oak Bluffs retired firefighters, friends of firefighters and firefighters are trying to bring Engine No. 2 home.
The old 1929 Mack fire truck has wandered New England roads for years, staying in different communities. Wherever it has gone, the little truck has earned favor, appearing in plenty of Fourth of July parades. Compared to the big pumpers that roll to fires these days, this one is small.
Donald R. Billings, 77, of Oak Bluffs has fond memories of the truck. He and another retired firefighter William D. (Bill) Norton, a former fire captain on the truck, have launched a $10,000 campaign to purchase her and bring her back on the Island before the end of summer.
Mr. Billings knows the truck well, having served on her with others. He believes the Engine No. 2 has done enough traveling on the mainland and needs to return to where she served until 1956.
The list of firemen who served on the truck is long. The late Anthony (Tubby) Rebello, who went on to become a selectman, served on her.
The late Dick Morris, who is celebrated on New York avenue in the name of Dick’s Bait and Tackle Shop, was a captain on the engine.
Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd, who runs a tackle shop in Edgartown, remembers his father serving on her. There are plenty more, including Jimmy Maseda.
Mr. Billings was a junior in high school when he served on her. He remembers the fire truck responding to the Oak Bluffs School fire in 1949 and the list of fires the truck fought goes on.
When the town bought the truck, it replaced a horse and buggy. The truck resided at the fire station that today is called Cottagers’ Corner, in the heart of town on Pequot avenue.
Mr. Billings recently learned the truck was up for sale. He and others have made a pitch to purchase the vehicle from its owner, Bob DiPoli of Medfield. He is a retired Needham fire chief and a firefighting enthusiast.
Mr. Dipoli is willing to sell the truck to the Oak Bluffs firemen at a third of what he has been offered by other fire truck enthusiasts.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Dipoli talked about the life of the truck. Mr. Dipoli’s decision to sell it to the Oak Bluffs firefighters is not just a tribute to this Island town but to the man who restored her.
Mr. Dipoli received the truck from an owner who restored her from scratch. For many years, the truck resided in a garage in Moultonborough, N.H.
“I have a vacation home in New Hampshire,” Mr. Dipoli said. “I saw this fire truck sitting in a neighbor’s garage. I went over and knocked on the door. It was Arthur Finnigan. He worked in public safety for the state and was retired.”
The details are sketchy, but Mr. Dipoli said Mr. Finnigan had acquired the truck when it was falling apart in the 1960s. The vehicle then was at Tufts University.
“It was a basket case when it was at the university,” Mr. DiPoli said. “He restored it himself. He had it restored to mint condition.”
Mr. Dipoli said the truck’s owner was concerned in his old age that the truck receive the care it deserved. The two men became friends.
“I bought it in the mid-1980s. I don’t recall what I paid for it. It could have been between $5,000 and $10,000,” Mr. Dipoli said.
While the truck spent much of its life in New Hampshire, Mr. Dipoli has more recently been storing it at his home in Milton.
The truck has gotten around.
In 1997 and again in 1998, the truck was featured in the lobby of the Sheraton Springfield Hotel for the New England Association of Fire Chiefs show and conference.
“Everyone is in awe of that truck. It is a conversation piece,” Mr. DiPoli said.
Mr. Dipoli said he recalled from his meeting with Mr. Finnigan a few stories about the truck.
“He put a lot of care and pride into that truck. I am sure, if he could speak from heaven, he would like to see the fire truck in a museum, someplace special, or back in the hands of the people who owned it.
“Fire trucks are a part of history of their communities,” Mr. DiPoli said. “For me this is not about the dollars, it is about doing the right thing with that engine.”
And that is why he has chosen to sell it to the firemen back on the Vineyard.
Reflecting back on Mr. Finnigan, Mr. DiPoli said, “He was concerned about selling the truck. I now know how he feels. He said to me: ‘If I sell it to one of my friends, I will have three or four of my other friends mad at me.’”
Mr. Billings said they have big plans for the truck when they get it. The actual acquisition is coming through the Oak Bluffs Civic Association, an organization responsible for putting on the fireworks in Oak Bluffs each August. The nonprofit association is a highly spirited group of firemen.
The firemen also would like to build a little garage that would function as a public museum on the grounds of the present Nelson W. Amaral Fire Station on the corner of Wing and County roads.
Mr. Billings said the full price of the project, without taxpayer help, is $25,000. The money would cover the purchase of the fire truck and construction of a tiny museum firehouse.
Plenty of people, he said, carry memories of the way firemen once fought fires. Honoring that memory is what owning the old fire truck is all about.
The truck fought many fires, including the Oak Bluffs School blaze in September 1949.
A Vineyard Gazette article on the fire said: “In one of the stubbornest fires of recent years, the Oak Bluffs grammar school was badly damaged about noon on Wednesday, the roof being virtually destroyed, the attic floor gutted and the entire building damaged greatly by the vast quantities of water which had to be poured on the flames.”
In January of 1946, a huge Circuit avenue fire brought down the Metropolitan Hotel and required fire departments from three towns to extinguish it.
Mr. Billings said having a little museum to pay tribute to the firemen who served starts with the truck.
The truck ran on a gas engine and had mechanical brakes. Today’s trucks operate on diesel and hydraulics.
Mr. Gilkes of Edgartown remembers growing up in Oak Bluffs and watching his father’s involvement in the fire department. That involvement centered on the little engine. He has an even more personal memory of the Engine No. 2.
“I polished it backwards and forwards,” said Mr. Gilkes. “If I ever crossed the line a bit, Dad would send me over to polish the truck. I remember polishing it with my cousin John Silvia. We were kids.”
“I am excited they are trying to bring the truck back to the Vineyard,” Mr. Gilkes said.
The Vineyard already has a small fire engine museum, but it is in Edgartown. Capt. Richard Kelly is the curator of the museum.
Captain Kelly said: “We have a 1927 Mack Pumper, Hose Company No. 1, the first truck the town has ever purchased. We have a 1952 Mack pumper, Engine No. 1. Our fire museum holds two trucks and it was opened in 1997.
“Our museum is supported by the Edgartown Firemen’s Association,” Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Kelly said he knows the Oak Bluffs old pumper: “I remember seeing it in Springfield. It is a good truck. I’d love to get it back on the Vineyard.
“People care about fire trucks, especially the families of firefighters around the world,” he said. “I have people come to our little museum from France, New Zealand. Firemen from all over the world swap patches.”
In the weeks ahead, Mr. Billings and Mr. Norton plan to go door to door to collect contributions to purchase the truck.
Contributions can be made out to the Oak Bluffs Firemen’s Civic Association and mailed to Mr. Billings at P.O. Box 143, Oak Bluffs MA 02557. Mr. Billings said he is collecting the names on the checks so a special roster of contributors can be kept as a tribute to the effort.