Radio Veteran Pursues Love Affair With a Special Truck

I’ve always been pleased to hear about how people in our industry spend their free time. From piloting planes to operating big model trains … from jumping off high buildings with bungee cords attached, to appearing on stage in Shakespeare plays … the diversity of interests is lovely.

Martin Ashley is deputy director of Senate & Assembly Radio Services at the California State Capitol. He’s a former DJ, engineer and voice talent. He also is the only guy I know who owns a fire engine.

“My grandfather was a battalion chief in the Sacramento Fire Department,” he told me, “and as a child I spent an occasional Saturday visiting firehouses with him.” While surfing the Internet in 2008 he ran across advertisements for used fire engines and trucks, which led him to one for a 1975 Seagrave P-Series Pumper, listed as a former Sacramento rig.

“It was parked alongside the freeway in the Northern California town of Yreka. It had been there since 2003, after being sold at auction by the City of Sacramento.”

He contacted the representative and flew his airplane up to see it (hah! another hobby!). “I completed my due diligence with a diesel repair shop, insurance agent and DMV regulations, and contacted the owner, who had listed it at $4,000. It was owned by a fire equipment company in Southern California. I offered him $1,500 and he accepted.” The vehicle had sat in the rain and snow for five years; Ashley believes his was the first and only offer.
Here is the fire engine as Ashley found it in 2008.

A friend owns a diesel repair business and let Ashley build a large steel building on the lot, to house the truck. There, Ashley has put it back together. “Nothing except the body and engine was left on the rig. All appliances, warning lights and hoses/tools had been removed.”

He has reinstalled Whelen Series 7000 Super LED perimeter warning lights, Whelen front alternating strobes, Code 3 Model 550FR rear rotating beacons, American Signal 400R rotating beacon and a David-Clark U3800 Master Intercom in the cab with U3801 Remote Stations for the jump seats and David-Clark headsets in all positions.

He has restored or refurbished a conventional Motorola Syntor 12-frequency radio; a Motorola Syntor 32-frequency radio with priority scan; a Federal Signal PA300 electronic siren/PA; a customized Motorola trunking control head to integrate two-way radio audio into the David-Clark intercom system and PA portion of the siren/PA; and two Motorola HT220 four-frequency Handi-Talkies.

It all adds up, in weight as well as cost. “The water, hoses, tools, nozzles, radios, extinguishers, turnout gear and vehicle weight brings it to around 23,000 pounds,” he says. “The Detroit Diesel engine is a 418 horsepower 8V71 with an Allison automatic five-speed transmission.” Ashley has stopped counting how much he has spent on repair and retrofit. He describes his process as preservation, and thinks a true restoration would cost 200 grand or more.

So what does he do with this baby?

“The Sacramento Fire Department has embraced my efforts to preserve a piece of their history and invites me to fire station open houses and displays,” he replied. “I routinely make the parade rounds, beginning with July 4th and continuing through Veterans Day. I also take the fire engine to schools, fire swap meets and museums.”

He received historical vehicle license plates that restrict its use to such functions. “However, there are no restrictions on how many miles a year it can be driven — unlike what many vintage vehicle insurance policies allow. I often make the rounds to fire stations to share memories with those who have had experience with this particular truck. It amazes me that so many firefighters have, at one time or another, been associated with it and have wonderful stories to tell about it.”

He added a story to illustrate.

“A retired captain with the Sacramento Fire Department spent his final 13 years on this rig. Joe and the fire engine both retired at the same time and the engine went to auction. On a family trip through Northern California to Oregon, he caught a glimpse of the rig as he drove by on the freeway near Yreka. He took the next turnoff and found it sitting in the truck boneyard. He told me it brought a tear to his eye to see his former rig rotting away.”

A year and a half later, the retired caption learned via a friend in the department that Ashley had purchased the truck and brought it back to Sacramento.

“He asked if he could see it. I will always remember the look on his face upon seeing it back in service condition. Joe and all the city firefighters are the reason I was devoted to preserving their history. The day Joe brought his grandchild by to see his old rig was the day I knew I had accomplished my goal in honoring my grandfather for his dedication to the fire service.”

Here it is in its restored beauty. Click to enlarge.

  Click on the Image to Enlarge

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