1948 “Engine 1” back in Abington for restoration effort

Jane Clockadile remembers the pair of red Seagrave fire engines her grandfather and uncle worked on as members of the Abington Fire Department. 

The pumpers were built in 1942 and 1948. They had open cabs with enough room for just two firefighters up front and some space near the back for additional firefighters to clamber up and hold on tight. After years and years of service to the town, the engines were decommissioned; over the decades they passed through the hands of multiple private owners.  

But Clockadile and her family never forgot those two engines. And following some persistent sleuthing, Engine 1 is back in Abington and the focus of a new private fundraising campaign to restore the antique fire truck to showcase status.

“We thought it would be great if we acquired it and raised funds to renovate it,” said Roger Woods, a former Abington selectman who is helping head up the effort.

The Abington Fire Truck Restoration Fund is hosting a comedy night this Saturday night at Webster Timber Lanes. Tickets are $30. 

“Engine 1 and Engine 2 were always together,” recalled Clockadile, whose grandfather, Bodie Whitman, was fire chief from 1951-1957. Her cousin tasked her with finding out if the engines were still around. “He said if anyone can do it, you can do it,” she said. 

The 1948 Seagrave pumper – Engine 1 – seen outside the Abington Fire Department’s Brighton Avenue station

She believed the engines were originally part of Edaville Railroad’s well-known collection of antique fire equipment, but heard they had been sold off some years ago to a museum in New Hampshire. Clockadile wrote letters to multiple Granite State historical organizations looking for any insight they might have. Only one responded: the Hampton Historical Society. The society didn’t have the engine but gave Clockadile a key source: a New Hampshire-based Facebook page dedicated to old fire engines and ambulances.   

“I am trying to find my grandfather’s truck,” Clockadile wrote in a post to the group in June. “If anyone has any idea where I could look, [it] will be greatly appreciated,”  

Almost immediately, she got a response. Check Ernie’s Garage in Windham, NH, Adam Frederick wrote. “They have a 40’s open cab Seagrave sitting there,” he said.  

Weeds had overgrown the vehicle, and its red paint had largely been replaced by rust. But “Engine 1” and “Abington Fire Dept.” was still clearly visible on the sides. 

Frederick, who is a firefighter in NH, told Abington News that both the 1942 and 1948 engines sat together outside a barn in Derry, NH for years. At some point the engines were split up and the 1948 engine would up outside the Windham garage. 

Frederick, who said he’s been into fire engines since a little kid, estimates he’s passed by the engine “probably hundreds of times.”

“Early model Seagraves are very unique in their appearance and it is not very hard to spot one,” he said.

Clockadile, who currently lives in Maine, but still owns a home on Walnut Street in Abington, asked around town for anyone who could help bring the engine back home. She turned to Woods, whose father was a call firefighter for many years alongside Clockadile’s father, Thomas Maloney.     

“I asked him and he got right on the phone,” she said. 

Woods said he made a couple trips up to Windham and bought the truck from the garage owner for $1,000. 

“Ernie’s was very receptive to selling it once they found out why,” Woods said. “They thought it was a wonderful idea.”

Engine 1 as found at a garage in Windham, NH. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Gerrior)

Lynch’s Towing, of Brockton, pulled the old engine out from the weeds and transported it back down south to the parking lot of Wood’s business, Old Town Real Estate – at no charge. 

“We’re going to spend the next couple years raising money to get it refurbished. We’ve already started acquiring a few parts,” Woods said. “What we’re hoping is that it will coincide with the opening of the new fire station and then we’ll donate it back, and display it and use it for parades.” 

Woods said part of the plan is to have students at South Shore Technical High School help with the fix up. 

Despite sitting exposed to the elements for years, the vehicle still has good bones, according to Woods.

“It’s not a rot box. There are a few areas of surface rot but it’s pretty solid,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get it running and get it mobile.”

The fire truck came with the original operator’s manual – signed by then Fire Chief John Casey – as well as the actual purchase order. The cost of ordering the state-of-art fire truck in 1947? $12,500.  

Clockadile, who graduated from Abington High School in 1968, remembers watching her father run out the door with his firefighting gear on, and an Abington fire engine slowing down just enough on Walnut Street to let him jump on. She hopes the restored 1948 engine will bring back memories for others who grew up in post-war Abington. 

“I’d like to try and get it running and maybe have it in local parades and show what the old antique fire trucks could do,” she said. 

Frederick is happy he could jumpstart this project. 

“I think it is a great idea to preserve the history of the fire service,” he said. “To find a truck like that intact is not very common.  A lot of older fire trucks are sold off to private collectors when they are retired, but many times the upkeep is just too much and they end up either being sold for scrap or sitting outside rusting away like this one was.  

“It is great when a group comes together to preserve these old trucks and restore them as close to their original working order as possible. There are very few industries out there where people are so passionate about a vehicle. 

“When you think back and look at this trucks, try to imagine the calls for service and fires that these vehicles responded to.  Each and every one of these old trucks has a story to tell.”

Donations can be made out to the Town of Abington, with Fire Truck Restoration in the memo line.