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.
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.
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.
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.