Independence Day has arrived, and in Pittsfield, MA, the holiday begins with the traditional Fourth of July Parade.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the day's celebrations also included events at Wahconah Park such as the Firemen's Muster and band competitions, the Gillette brothers' carnival and, of course, fireworks at night.
One of my favorite parts of the parades was the many firetrucks that came from all over Berkshire County and at least three surrounding states. The antique trucks with flashing lights, blaring sirens and loud horns were the best. As a youngster, I once counted the vehicles and there were 36 of them.
My favorite firetruck appearing in the parade was one of Pittsfield's very first motorized vehicles, a 1916 Seagrave firetruck. A few years back I learned this truck was actually built near my home in Columbus, OH. This Seagrave was still used to fight fires in the early 1960s, when I was in high school. A few times, it broke down and had to be towed back to the firehouse on Allen Street.
The firetruck was one of two identical trucks that the city purchased over 100 years ago to fight fires using chemicals held in tanks in the back. It was also initially used to replace horses that towed steam pumper wagons to the fires. By 1935, Pittsfield had a greater need for gas-powered pumpers than it did for chemical tank trucks. However, the $25,000 price tag for these new trucks was beyond the city's budget.
The Pittsfield Fire Department's skilled mechanic, F. Harold Prentiss, was able to retool the two chemical trucks and create pumpers/nozzle trucks for a cost of $2,200 apiece. Totally tearing the trucks apart, Prentiss rebuilt the engines and redesigned the bodies, adding new fenders, running boards, hoods and many other parts.
On the truck, which made it to the 1960s, he built a large elevated deck with a powerful nozzle that could shoot water to upper floors of the city's downtown buildings. The Pittsfield Fire Department used this truck for another 30 years before selling it in 1965 to a firetruck collector in Glastonbury, CT.