El Cajon firefighters continue parade fire engine restoration efforts with a boost form local Elks Lodge

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Persistence pays. Sometimes persistence is the key factor in successful completion of a project.

Persistence pays. Sometimes persistence is the key factor in successful completion of a project.

A case in point is the ongoing story of the El Cajon firefighters’ restoration of a beautiful, shiny, bright red fire engine. Over one year ago, the El Cajon Professional Firefighters Foundation requested community help in getting the parade fire engine on the road again. The firefighters had hoped to get the vehicle fully restored and in running condition last year, in time for an appearance as an entry in the 2016 Mother Goose Parade. The firefighter nonprofit asked East County neighbors and friends for help.

That goal was not met. But the El Cajon firefighters are getting closer to completion of the fire engine restoration, according to Ryan Abell, a member of the El Cajon firefighter foundation board who is overseeing the fire engine’s restoration.

“We’re so close, so close,” Abell said.

And El Cajon Elks Lodge #1812 delivered some help, giving Abell a check for $500 on Monday, February 13, during their general meeting. Patty Hamilton, Past Exalted Ruler at the Lodge, said that Abell had contacted her during the fall of 2015, requesting financial aid. “We just couldn’t make it happen then out of our community service funds. Due to our members’ generosity, we are able to now,” she stated.

The firefighters group received the fire engine as a gift in April 2014. Meg Buxton donated her late husband’s prized but disabled parade vehicle to the foundation. 

Gil Buxton, a longtime East County businessman and community leader, served as president for the Mother Goose Parade. He was a sheet metal worker by trade, with a passion for rebuilding classic cars. 

Buxton had lovingly restored an original 1950 El Cajon Fire Department firefighting engine, purchased from an acquaintance in 2002. He rebuilt most of the American LaFrance truck, down to its Lincoln flathead twin V12 engine and its dual stage centrifugal fire pump, first driving the refurbished fire engine in the 2005 Mother Goose Parade, and then again in the 2006 parade.

But somewhere along the road, the engine’s radiator failed, which in turn damaged the motor, rendering the vehicle inoperable. 

The fire engine sat idle for a time, as Gil Buxton battled illness. Pancreatic cancer took him from his family and the community over four years ago. And by mid-2014, the El Cajon Professional Firefighters Foundation had taken possession of his donated fire engine. Abell and his associates began requesting donations for the fire engine restoration project. The overall estimate was that a total of $12,000 would finish the repairs and put the beautiful parade vehicle back on the road.

Abell, an East County firefighter-paramedic for seven years, assisted with logistics and coordination in towing and transferring the donated Buxton fire engine around to the underground garage at the El Cajon Police Department building, where repairs on the vehicle were started. 

The foundation had paid out $5,200 from their funds as 2015 ended. Most of that money went for purchase of a replicated motor, which was found at Andy Swift’s Firefly Restoration in Hope, Maine. “It’s an exact match to the original motor,” Abell declared at the time. That replacement reached El Cajon in November 2015.

During 2016, the water pump was rebuilt. Currently the fire engine’s radiator is being rebuilt. The motor assembly is in progress. Abell said after receiving the Elks donation that about $6,000 was still needed to complete the restoration efforts. 

The nonprofit is making a specific, special appeal, asking whether a local tire shop will donate four new tires for the fire engine. The firefighters group has offered to provide special acknowledgment to anyone giving $1,000 or more, with an engraved plaque noting the contribution to be permanently affixed to the fire engine.

Abell explained what the project is all about. The El Cajon Professional Firefighters Foundation was established as a 501(c)3 organization four years ago, in order to facilitate support for local charitable efforts. As much as they do in their work at Heartland Fire & Rescue, these firefighters still want to do more. Charities the group has helped include the Burn Institute, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Octoberstache, and the Challenged Athletes Foundation. “We’ve been very successful with that. The foundation is a part of the community,” Abell said. “But we want a larger community presence, to bring more attention to needs and to have a presence at most of the large events around here.” The restored El Cajon fire engine will play a key part in the foundation’s expanded charitable and community service outreach.

After all, who can resist turning out to admire a beautiful fire engine? East County residents may soon get a chance to view the restored classic fire truck at parades and local events.

Abell has also collected information on the truck’s history.

Although the history of the American LaFrance fire engine is still sketchy, Abell has learned that the truck arrived at the ECFD on June 7, 1950. He has been unable to discover where it resided after its retirement from service. He believes the vehicle was sold at auction sometime during the 1970’s.

Abell singled out for mention both to Dwight Brinkerhoff of Horizon Automotive in Lakeside and to Kirk’s Radiator at the borderline between Santee and El Cajon. These two auto repair shops have given important assistance and donation of time to the project to date. Retired firefighters have been donating their labor, free of charge, to repair damage to the vehicle.

Besides paying for the ongoing repairs, contributions for the fire engine will go toward maintenance, insurance, fuel and routine vehicle care, which is projected to cost about $1,000 every year. All donations are tax deductible, and any financial aid can be sent by check, payable to El Cajon Professional Firefighters Foundation, addressed to 100 E. Lexington Avenue, El Cajon, CA 92020.

The revised goal is to get the vehicle ready for appearances during this fall’s Octoberstache. “We’re very excited about Octoberstache,” Abell declared. He noted that last year’s Octoberstache collected $31,000. “There are Octoberstache charity events throughout San Diego County, and Octoberstache continues to grow each year. We believe the restored fire engine will draw larger crowds.”

The firefighters would also like to continue the Buxton family legacy and have Gil’s family riding in the fire engine at the 2017 Mother Goose Parade.

Abell said, “We want to restore this vehicle back to the streets of El Cajon, where it belongs. We think that is our duty too.”

Ryan Abell can be contacted for more information about the project at Rabell@HeartlandFire.net or at (619) 247-6139. Heartland Fire & Rescue serves the East County communities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove.

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