Sudlersville Fire Engine Returns Home

From the Volunteer Trumpet

the newsletter of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association

Sudlersville Fire Engine No. 1, a 1927 American LaFrance, has occupied practically every corner of the Chesapeake Bay region over the course of 90 years.  But now this well-traveled firefighting machine has returned home, Christmas arrived early for members of the Sudlersville Volunteer Fire Company.  The sturdy unit made its return on October 14, 2017, as MSFA 2nd VP Mike Faust, Chief Joseph Apple and Asst Chiefs Robert Nicholson and Chris Stant rolled their original engine “Francie” back into station 6.

Sudlersville Volunteer Fire Company Engine 1

Sudlersville’s Engine No. 1 in front of the fire station on March 18, 1939. The Driver is Edgar Maule.

Here’s the story of how the engine that has been away from home for 55-years returned to the community it protected for generations.  When the Sudlersville Volunteer Fire Company was organized in 1927, the members purchased their first engine, the 1927 American LaFrance.    Once the Elmire NY factory finished building it, the company shipped it by railroad to Sudlersville.  It was an exciting day at the town depot when the local freight train pulled in with the machine.  This tireless unit outlasted many newer vehicles, but finally the time came to relieve it of duty so it was put up for sale in 1962.

Lyle Smith, a member of the Old Dominion Historical Fire Society (ODHFS), discovered the rusty, timeworn vehicle in Rising Sun in 1985.  He bought the aging truck, hauling it to his home in Hampton VA, where he began restoration work.  After Mr. Smith passed away in 1991, Michael French, purchased it from Mrs. Smith.  While making the arrangements, she showed Mike “the factory delivery photo,’ which initiated the reconnection with the Sudlersville company.

Shortly after that, Mr. French called the Sudlersville firehouse located in Queen Anne’s County, seeking historical information on the unit.  He spoke with a member Kurt Wise who was “momentarily taken aback that the vehicle was still in existence and undergoing restoration in Hampton,” he recalled.  Mr. Wise expressed a great interest, saying the members would want it back at the Sudlersville Station if there was ever an opportunity.

Restoration continued over the years until the work was practically done.  At that point, Mr. French concluded that “Even a beautiful fire engine, in a garage makes for very dull company after restoration. It’s the sharing with people through parades, car shows, church events, and even terrorizing the neighborhood that brings the fire engine to life.”

In September 2017, Mr. French was contacted by a Past President of Sudlersville and the current 2nd VP of the MSFA Michael Faust about the truck.  He had been looking for the truck hoping to reconnect with the current owner to discuss having the truck available for special events and the company’s 100th Anniversary in 1927.

The first stop was to speak with Mr. Wise but he had lost the owners contact information due to a computer issue.  The only lead VP Faust had was from two younger members, William Davis and Justin Skinner.  They were looking for the vehicle and had located a picture of the truck from a 2006 car show in Hampton, VA but they did not know how to go about locating the owner.  VP Faust used this information and some new facts he found to track down Mr. French through a contact he had with the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA).  The AACA held the event in 2006 and luckily had a way to contact Mr. French.

Sudlersville Fire Company's American La France

Francie participated in the 2002 Fort Monroe Care Show.

When the two men spoke, Mr. French explained that “Francie” was currently in his garage being semi-retired.  VP Faust then told him that he could not officially speak for the fire company but he and several members would love to have our first engine back and if he ever decided to sell it please put Sudlersville at the top of the list.  Mr. French simply asked if we would take as good of care of her as he did to which VP Faust replied “probably better.”  VP Faust explained that he was a fourth generation firefighter in Sudlersville and that his Great Grandfather was the town’s first Chief and it was very important to him personally that the truck find its way home.

Sudlersville Fire Company Engine Returns Home.

Pictured left to right- Chief Joseph Apple, Asst Chief (and head mechanic) Chris Stant, (our hero) Michael French, Past President Michael Faust, and Asst Chief Robert Nicholson III

Mr. French, after reading in fire engine magazines “heart-warming stories of how beloved fire engines made dramatic reunions years later with stations that they proudly served as the veteran firemen remember caring for these vehicles,” decided the time had arrived to now have this rich opportunity and donated the engine back to Sudlersville.  “The realization hit like a ton of bricks that Lyle Smith and I were entrusted as temporary caretakers of a very special piece of antique motor fire apparatus that must be shared with others,” Mr. French remarked.

Thus, after 90 years, Sudlersville # 1, known as Francie, was reunited at station 6.  VP Faust noted that nearly 70 people were on hand for the grand reunion including several members that were members when it was in service.   Plans now are for a little more “spiffing up for the station’s 100th anniversary in 2027,” VP Faust notes.  It is also expected to lead the Maryland State Firemen’s Association Convention Parade in 2019 when Mike Faust becomes the first member of the Sudlersville Fire Company to serve as the president of the MSFA.

“I’ll be eternally grateful for a 25 year “love affair and caretaker calling” with this 1927 American LaFrance Fire Engine from Elmira, New York, # 7445, that I affectionately named “Francie.”  I’ve heard the quote that one antique fire engine is too much but three are not enough.  Francie was “just right”  and will always be a forever friend.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the “deep dive” into the exciting realm of antique fire engines and especially the wonderful friendships with the people who also love, care for, and appreciate them,” Mr. French concluded.

Editor’s Note — This article is from the Dec. Issue of the Volunteer Trumpet, the official newsletter of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association.  Information for this piece was provided by Mike French and Mike Faust.

Sudlersville Fire Company American LaFrance

Pictured left to right are three life members that were active when Francie was in service and they are still active today- Henry Engrem, Dickie Walls, and Theodore Kimble

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Wilmington was once the place for quick marriages

A History Program for Valentine’s Day
Getting Hitched in a Hurry in Days Gone By
Old State House — First State Heritage Park
Fri., Feb. 10, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. – Free

The Friends of Old Dover is sponsoring this talk by Mike Dixon that explores stories about getting hitched in a hurry in days gone by.

Eloping couples once came to Wilmington for a licenses and a quick ceremony, but just before World War I, Delaware passed more restrictive laws. A city newspaper, proclaiming that Wilmington was no longer a “mecca” for marriages, remarked that “Wilmington’s Days as a Gretna Green has gone glimmering.”

Since the “honeymoon express” was no longer able to deliver cupid’s hurried business to the City, passenger trains steamed on down the tracks, stopping at the first county seat beyond the Mason Dixon Line.

There the marrying parsons picked up the trade as the marrying parsons worked overtime completing a ceremony every 15 minutes. Quirky marrying parsons, humorous occurrences, and an international incident involving Iran, are part of this colorful narrative.

The program will also sketch out marriage practices and customs and how they have changed over the longer period.


When Wilmington was the place for elopements and quick marriages

Photos: Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives



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Mike Dixon’s Lectures Available from the Delaware Humanities Forum

The Delaware Humanities Speakers program sends scholars, authors, and experts to community groups, organizations, businesses and schools around the state. They provide a broad array of thought-provoking presentations that make culture and Delaware history and community available and accessible to all audiences. Speakers programs make it possible for your organization to access the cultural heritage and diverse history of Delaware, and help us all deepen our understanding of who we are, where we come from, and the many connections that unite us.

Here is a link to the lectures I do for the Delaware Humanities Forum

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Saving an Old Home Movie: Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s Funeral Train

Late in the afternoon of June 8, 1968, the long-delayed funeral train carrying the body of Senator Robert F. Kennedy to Washington passed through Elkton. It was around 6 p.m. and the train was about 4-hours late. Larry Beers, a teenager, took his 8-mm home movie camera and captured the scene that hot June afternoon so long ago. Recently the footage, which had been unseen for nearly 50 years, was retrieved and Professor Rein Jelle Terpestra digitized the film. Here is Larry’s 3-minute film with some introductory comments and a few additional photos


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11,000 Likes on Delmarva History

Thank You for Following Delmarva History on Facebook, as we Pass a New Milestone 9,000 Likes.

We want to say thanks to everyone for stopping by to spend a little time on the Delmarva History space on Facebook as we hit a new milestone, 11,000 likes.  Your visits to the page and your participation in the social conversations taking place here makes our effort worthwhile.

We also value the larger, open dialogue about yesteryear that takes place on a number of other valuable Facebook pages. Our region has a large, virtual community of formal and informal groups and individuals contributing narratives and images about the past. And while we enjoy contributing a little content to this daily conversation, the full array of social channels allows us to learn lots more from the work of others.

This daily hum of conversations involving the posting of an enormous amount of heritage-related content encourages collaboration and sharing.  On these public spaces, we are all able to share and comment on each other’s work, thus more broadly enhancing the study and appreciation of the past.

We learned a lot as we created this site by watching experienced social media pros (early adopters) from the area before we launched our FB page on Aug. 29, 2014. Eventually jumping into the mix on what was a new platform for us, we were delighted to join a fine group of colleagues who enjoy the heritage of this great region, creating a daily hum of conversation.

This contact with a vast array of informative material is enhanced by freely sharing resources, collectively producing via this larger platform what has become a public history commons, a place to learn, share and talk about the past.

Thank you for liking Delmarva History, as it makes our effort worthwhile. And thank you to every contributor and page administrator who works to make the past more accessible through various channels on Delmarva as the technology allows us to easily deliver content.

Delmarva History

Thank you for 11,000 likes on Delmarva History on FB.

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Sassafras River History: A Community Discussion Hosted by the Sassafras River Association

The Kitty Knight House in Georgetown on the Sassafras River

The Kitty Knight House in Georgetown on the Sassafras River

The Sassafras River Association invites you to participate in a program that examines the history of the scenic tributary that rises in the marshy areas along the Delaware line and flows some 20 miles to the Chesapeake Bay.  Historian Mike Dixon will share narratives from the colonial era to the 20th century, while facilitating a dialogue with area residents for an engaging community conversation.

The Sassafras watershed’s past is captivating and encompasses the sweep of time.  This expansive narrative begins with Native-Americans and the arrival of Europeans who established fine plantations on its shores, many of which still overlook the rich fields being farmed today as part of Kent and Cecil Counties’ thriving, and important, agricultural economy. The tranquility of the river was interrupted during the War of 1812, British guns firing, but Kitty Knight stood her ground.  The colonial era port of entry grew, becoming important stops for vessels hauling freight and transporting travelers in the 19th century.  In time, sprawling summer resorts brought visitors by steamboat and later by automobile, and in the 20th century the Adams Floating Theatre arrived, bringing lively plays to Fredericktown and Georgetown.  Of course, the days of the steamboat gave way to the 20th century and the automobile age, which brought new dynamics that shaped the region. We will explore these accounts and more.

This type of colloquy creates greater understanding of our ties to the land and water and each other as we consider the intersection of the past with the present and the future, with stakeholders contributing accounts that have been handed down over the generations in families and communities.

It is sure to be an informative session, as participants will be encouraged to recount first and second hand stories about the river and the historical experience in the watershed that serves as the boundary between Kent and Cecil counties, providing unique personal and local context. There are stories you will want to hear as Dixon shares accounts from the European era to modern times, while moderating an evening of shared conversation. Of course, you don’t have to have a story to share.  You may simply want to listen to some of the lesser-known stories and traditions in the watershed.

The Sassafras River Association is an on-going community effort to protect and restore water quality in the river’s tidal basin and tributaries. This event is a celebration of the people who live, work, and play in the watershed, and a chance to deepen our sense of community and learn from each other as we strive to make our lives more compatible with nature’s design yet remain economically viable.

Dixon, a historian, specializes in community studies and social history.  He teaches as an adjunct professor of history at a number of area universities and colleges and has appeared on the Today Show, Maryland Public Television and TV news programs as well as in National Geographic, Southern Living, and Chesapeake Life. His published works have appeared in Chesapeake Life, Delmarva Quarterly, Maryland Life, and a number of other magazines, newspapers, and historical society journals.

History of the Sassafras will be held at The Granary Restaurant starting at 7 pm. Coffee and dessert will be available. Free and open to the public, the event is a fundraiser for the Sassafras River Association and donations are kindly suggested at the door or online at

For guests who would like to dine beforehand, The Granary has generously offered to donate 20% of dinner sales – a coupon is required and reservations are strongly suggested. Contact the Sassafras River Association for GIVE 20 coupons at 410-275-1400 or

The Granary Restaurant is located at 100 George Street, Georgetown, MD, along the beautiful Sassafras River.

Nov. 3, 2016, 7 p.m.

The Granary Restaurant


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The Delmarva History Conversation Continues on Facebook

Since we published our first blog post on April 13, 2007, we have kept up with evolving social media platforms, maintaining multiple channels of communications.  As the digital publishing transformation continued, some outlets became more media rich, interactive, and extremely simple to use.   Thus over time we found that we were publishing most of our original content on our Delmarva History’s Facebook page, an open group, which allows anyone to read posts and comments.

There are many reasons for this.  The interactivity of a large networked community interested in the Peninsula’s past, generates an enormous array of material.  This transition allows us to be part of the larger conversation that is taking place daily as publishers share the region’s narratives.  With many contributors on lots of focused pages adding knowledge and insights, we are able to easily curate and share with the larger community, adding our own voice to this crowd.  This enriches the experience as heritage content reaches a larger audience and is often crowdsourced to help with understanding and interpretation.  . 

The Facebook platform allows for more convenient sharing of digital media since photos and videos are an important aspect these days.  And, Facebook has provided an environment for more long form writing on a section it calls notes.  This is an enhanced modern, blog feature, which allows for full-length posts with attractive formatting, tagging, and pictures. 

Thus the Delmarva history conversation continues on Facebook.  Be sure to check it out.  You don’t have to be a Facebook member to access the open page.  The back material already on the weblog will be 2016-08-08_0-03-29

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