Top News

All fired up in North River

John MacKay, chief of the North River and District Fire Brigade, takes a short cruise in the 1939 International fire truck pumper recently given to him by a relative. The pumper was in service with the Trenton, N.S. Fire Department from 1939 to 1962. Seen with MacKay are his sons, Lucas (in front seat), and Brisin.
John MacKay, chief of the North River and District Fire Brigade, takes a short cruise in the 1939 International fire truck pumper recently given to him by a relative. The pumper was in service with the Trenton, N.S. Fire Department from 1939 to 1962. Seen with MacKay are his sons, Lucas (in front seat), and Brisin. - Harry Sullivan

Antique pumper still has spark

UPPER NORTH RIVER, N.S. —

It takes a little coaxing but after a couple of minutes, the old pumper fires up, growls and coughs a bit, then idles away as pretty as you please.

John MacKay ignores the cantankerous mood of the 80-year-old rig, stands back like a proud parent and simply smiles.

“It’s just not happy,” his son, Lucas, says.

The object at hand is a 1939, International D30, one-and-a-half-ton fire truck pumper with a six-cylinder, flat-head engine. Its red paint is faded now, bubbled in places and etched with natural patina from bumper to bumper but any rust is confined to the surface and the metal itself is still sound.

“Yeah, that’s quite an old truck,” MacKay says. “We’re going to have a lot of fun with that.”

Both the Trenton name, on each side of the hood along with some cab decals, are painted with gold flake. They too are showing their age but other than spraying them with a shot of clear coat, MacKay will be leaving them as is.

“My plans are to try to get back as original as possible other than the paint. The paint I’m not touching because it’s original paint,” he says. “We’ll do a few touchups here and there but my intention is to leave the Trenton name right on it because it was a Trenton fire truck.”

The odometer, which still works, shows the former fire truck has only travelled 4,088 miles in its lifetime, for an average of 51.1 miles per year. Not much wonder, then, that the original bias-ply tires are hardly showing any wear and do not bear any sun cracks, testament to the fact the pumper has spent almost its entire life indoors.

“The old thing is in great shape. It’s all original underneath. The only thing they added was an electric fuel pump,” MacKay says. “In its day this was a Cadillac. This was cutting-edge technology.”

From 1939 until 1962 the truck was in service with the Trenton Fire Department after which it was purchased by MacKay’s grandfather, Raymond MacKay of Willowdale, Pictou County. His grandfather used to have blueberry land and MacKay figures he used it as a way to extinguish the fires when burning the fields.

“I can remember as a kid going on it, they used to do

Canada Day parades in East River St. Marys and this was always one of the big things, to go in the parade. You’d pile as many kids on it as you could,” he says, while watching Lucas, 9, and younger brother Brisin, 4, clamber around the rig.

“You be careful up there,” MacKay warns.

His grandfather ran the truck until 1991 when he put it into storage. Upon his passing in 1999, the pumper went to MacKay’s uncle, Robert Livingston of McPhersons Mills.

“It’s funny, because I have some old stuff here for this truck and I’ve always been after Robbie, ‘do you want this stuff for the truck?’” MacKay says. “He called out of the blue, almost a month ago now. I said, ‘you must be ready for that stuff are you?’ He said, ‘no, I want you to have that truck.’ I was just floored, just absolutely floored.”

Besides being in his family for the past 57 years, the truck has special meaning to MacKay because of his own firefighting connections. He has been a firefighter for almost 20 years and currently serves as chief of the North River and District Fire Brigade. His wife Adrienne is a captain with the brigade with about 15 years of experience while her father Leroy Hansen and brother Evan are also longtime members.

“And I’ve got some future ones (firefighters) coming up so this is a big deal for us,” MacKay says, of his sons, including the eldest, Robert.

Plans are to get the truck in proper working order so it can be licensed as an antique vehicle and used in future parades, such as the upcoming Labour Day festivities in Tatamagouche.

But while the truck will soon be registered in his name, MacKay looks upon himself more as a caretaker for the old rig, as opposed to an owner.

“It will be a neat little project. And, then something for the kids too, after I’m gone. Something like this, I don’t think anybody really owns it, just a little piece of history, right. You can look after it but I don’t think you really own it,” he says.

“So, we’re not giving it away?” the ever-inquisitive Lucas asks.

“No,” his father chuckles. “We’re not giving it away.”

Do you know this truck?

John MacKay would like to learn more about the history of the retired pumper, especially of when it was still with the Trenton Fire Department.

“I’d love to get my hands on some old pictures of when it was in service,” he said.

Anyone with information is asked to email him at:  johnmac615@gmail.com .

Recent Stories