Rare fire trucks on display

When the Waverly Hotel in downtown Minot was destroyed by fire in 1943, the Minot Fire Department’s aerial ladder fire truck was on the scene.

That truck, with its 75-foot ladder, saved several lives, said Jerry Filler, relating history of the department’s fire trucks. Filler retired from the Minot Fire Department as a battalion chief.

Today, the 1927 American LaFrance aerial ladder truck is one of four fire department vehicles displayed in the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot.

The ladder truck, though, has special significance. It is one of only five in existence in the U.S., Filler said.

Besides its lengthy ladder and other equipment, a “life net” is attached to the side of the truck.

“We practiced with it,” Filler said. He said he never saw the life net used at a fire in his 41-year career.

The fire trucks have been at the air museum for about 15 years, Filler said.

The late Oliver “Dutch” Fredrich, a mechanic with the Minot Fire Department, and Filler were instrumental in placing the vehicles in the air museum where the vehicles can be kept and where people can see them.

“They were all driven in when they were brought in,” said Don Larson, air museum president.

Glenn Blackaby, curator at the air museum, said people who visit there ask about the fire trucks. He and Larson said a man recently visited the air museum who is a fire truck history buff and very interested in the Minot vehicles.

Lee Snyder, who works at the air museum, said he remembers when he used to see the vehicles in use or when they were in parades.

Filler said there’s a great deal of history that goes along with the vehicles in the air museum. “All were used for many years,” he said.

For example, the 1919 American LaFrance pumper responded to 7,000 calls during its slightly more than 49 years of service to the city, according to a sign by the vehicle.

Filler said the 1927 ladder truck was at every major fire and didn’t go out of service until the 1960s.

Besides the ladder truck and the 1919 pumper, the other vehicles on display are a 1939 American LaFrance pumper and a 1930 REO Speedwagon fire truck.

Incidentally, the rock band REO Speedwagon was named from the REO Speedwagon. Neal Doughty, one of the band’s members, studied REO Speedwagons at the University of Illinois. The initials are those of its founder Ransom E. Olds. But instead of pronouncing REO as a single word as the motor company did, the band spelled out the name with the individual letters each pronounced.

Filler said the REO Speedwagon had been an airport truck in Minneapolis when the Minot Fire Department acquired it. He said the Minot Fire Department chief and assistant fire chief took the train to Minneapolis to get the truck and drove it back. It did 45 mph tops, he said.

Here’s a few more details about each vehicle:

The 1919 Type 12 truck was delivered to Minot in October 1919. It cost $12,000. During its years of service to the City of Minot, it responded to about 7,000 calls.

The 1927 Type 31, 75-foot aerial ladder truck was delivered to Minot new in 1927. It cost $16,500.

The 1939 pumper Model J was purchased in December 1939. Its price tag was $11,727.50.

The 1930 REO Speedwagon was restored, with funds provided by the Minot Eagles Club.

The Eagles and its auxiliary in Minot donated an extensive amount of money to refurbish the fire trucks, Filler said.

In regard to the 1927 aerial ladder truck during the Waverly Hotel fire, that fire was on Jan. 19, 1943, occurring on one of the coldest nights of the year. According to The Minot Daily News’ edition on Jan. 20, 1943, two of the people who were saved by the ladder truck were a married couple from Berthold who were staying at the hotel when the fire broke out. They were trapped by the fire in their top-story room, couldn’t go into the hall because of the smoke and fire so crawled out the window and onto the ledge.

“They hung there precariously until firemen speedily arrived with the aerial ladder. Fire Chief J.J. O’Leary directed the rescue work and both were brot down to the street,” the newspaper reported.

Another one of Minot’s significant fires was Jan. 27, 1960, when the Grand Hotel in downtown Minot burned. Filler said the Grand Hotel fire was the first major large fire for him. He said two aerial ladder trucks, including the 1927 one, were used for that fire.

To those who take a look at the fire trucks in the air museum, they are seeing a significant part of Minot history.