By Laurie Miholer-Zachritz
Special to the Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A historic, 1948 American LaFrance 100-foot ladder truck that served Traverse City from 1948-1980 might still be languishing incognito in Marne, if not for a watchful local firefighter.
“A firefighter with Peninsula Township Fire Department, Chris Childress, was perusing Craig’s list and found it,” said Brian Kuhr, a captain with the Traverse City Fire Department. “Steve Ball, one of our active firefighters, went down and looked at it, inquired about it, and did the logistics of acquiring funds to buy it.”
Finding it was just the beginning. Getting the truck back to town was about 18 months in the making, Ball said.
Ball called the owner, Lester Langland, in Marne and made arrangements to check it out.
“Langland is a history buff and is into military and fire vehicles,” Ball said. “He purchased it in the ‘80’s after the TCFD traded it in for a second ladder truck. What he did with it was put it in parades with his grandkids on it.”
Ball said he was amazed that the truck was in running condition.
“This is a special truck,” Ball said, “We think it was the first ladder truck in northern Michigan. It has a 100-foot aerial ladder. At the time, most trucks only had a 50- or 60-foot ladder, but the Traverse City Fire Department got a 100- footer because of the Park Place. It was a pretty custom truck for the time.”
Kuhr said the truck was used for a lot of big fires, including blazes at the 1950 Basket Factory, the Cannery Factory in 1951 and 1965, and Dill’s Saloon fire in 1978. But the truck is important for another reason, Kuhr said.
“We had a line-of-duty death in 1975 on top of the Anderson building downtown TC and our firefighter was carried down that ladder,” he said.
The truck has all-original equipment, including some Kuhr said was new to him.
“I’ve been a firefighter for 25 years, and I’ve never seen a trampoline like you’ve seen in old pictures, where people jump from buildings onto it, but this truck has one on it,” he said.
The ‘48 was purchased for $7,000 by the members of TC Firefighters Local 646.
Firefighters formed a nonprofit organization, the Traverse City Firefighters Historical Society, to raise funds for purchases and restorations. But so far, they’ve paid for everything out of their own pockets.
“We have our old ‘36 engine that we give rides on, an old, original steamer fire truck from 1901 — horses pulled that — and we’ve got all these pieces. The idea is that we want to keep these in the community, but we need a little help in upkeep,” Ball said.
There are no immediate plans for the ‘48, Kuhr said, but firefighters hope to showcase it in events and parades in the future.
“We’re proud of our city, we’re proud of our heritage,” he said. “We want this truck to remain in the city for everyone to enjoy.”