By Ross Markman
An 83-year-old slice of Havre history found a new home last weekend.
An antique American LaFrance fire engine, circa 1919, was moved from the Havre Fire Department headquarters to the Havre Railroad Museum on Third Avenue.
The engine was towed to the museum by Havre Muffler & Brake, and was parked in a nearby alley. In order to shimmy the four-ton engine into the museum, a crew of guys from the Havre Lions Club, Havre Muffler & Brake, the fire department, and United Building Centers had earlier installed a 30-foot-long I-beam underneath the floor for extra support.
The one-hour move "went real easy," said Frank DeRosa, chairman of Havre Beneath the Streets, the organization that oversees the museum.
Despite its age, the engine, DeRosa said, is still operational sort of.
"It still runs, but it has a cracked head. Everything still works on it," he said.
"It's the first big engine Havre got and it's very rare. It still has its original paint," DeRosa added. "People should come see it because it's old. It is history."
At least one person has already taken the opportunity to visit the museum's newest exhibit. As a kid growing up in New York, there was just something about fire engines that intrigued the visitor, Havre podiatrist Joseph Marino.
The brilliant red paint.
The blaring siren.
The telescoping ladders that seemed as if they led into the heavens.
"I don't know exactly why firetrucks are attractive," Marino said. "When I was a kid, if my dad had a day off, we just went to the firehouse."
Though he's no longer a kid, Marino's fascination with fire engines is still a healthy one. As a former firefighter and fire commissioner in New Jersey for 20 years, he's a self-proclaimed expert on the subject.
"It's an interesting piece of American history. I think (Havre) bought it new," Marino said. "For its time, it was an extremely modern pumper."
Using a rotary pump, the engine was one of the first gasoline-driven pumpers. The driver, Marino said, sat on the right side, as opposed to traditional American vehicles.
"What that corresponds to is where the main driver would sit in a horse-drawn carriage," Marino said.
Margie Deppmeier, secretary of the Havre Beneath the Streets board of directors, said it was the detail of the antique engine that caught her eye.
"It's really kind of neat. It has all kinds of neat things all over it," Deppmeier said. "It's so detailed. I was expecting it to be real plain and simple, but it's really impressive."
Prior to its storage at the fire department, the engine had a home at the H. Earl Clack Museum, which was then at the fairgrounds. In 1993, it was used in the Montana Centennial Parade, after which it was moved to the firehouse.
"What's interesting about this engine is that it's made by the first firetruck manufacturer that build a rig from the ground up," Marino said.
In addition to its ladders and pumping apparatus, the engine is also one of the first to have the ability to siphon and receive water from fire hydrants. It also has a chemically driven booster tank, which extinguishes fires with carbon dioxide, Marino said.
"Guys working in the fire department, some of them kind of relish this old equipment. I've always had a hankering to buy an old piece, myself," he said.
"There's a lot of reasons to go to the museum. There's an incredible amount of railroad history there," Marino added. "This firetruck just adds to it."
The Havre Railroad Museum is open to the public 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Beginning in May, its hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.