WALLINGFORD — The Wallingford Fire Department’s 150th anniversary celebration took to the open road Sunday with an antique car show on the grounds of the Toyota Oakdale Theater.
The car show was the second stop on the department’s anniversary tour. A golf tournament took place in May, and there will be an open house at fire department headquarters on Sept. 15. The celebration will culminate in a fireman’s ball — a black tie affair — on Oct. 21 at the Oakdale.
“Wallingford hasn’t had a fireman’s ball in forty or fifty years,” firefighter Sandy Everson said.
Michael DePaolo, a volunteer firefighter with North Farms Company 7, organized the car show with the idea that it would be something unique to bring people together.
“You get a big mix of people. You get families with their kids. You get the car guys — what better way to spend a Sunday? You get people who are just curious,” he said.
The show featured stunning American-made vintage cars from the 1930s through the 1970s, and carefully restored old-time public service vehicles, like firetrucks and ambulances.
Steve Marcolini, a Lyme resident, proudly displayed a gleaming cream and brown 1939 Lasalle ambulance, one of only 75 made, he said.
“It was a fun project. Every single nut and bolt came apart,” Marcolini said.
Marcolini had a 1947 Cadillac ambulance and not 10 minutes after he sold the vehicle he regretted it. So, one day, on a flight to Florida, he got into a conversation with a guy who was looking to unload the 1939 Lasalle ambulance that had been rusting away for a decade in his yard. Marcolini was hooked.
The Lasalle was a rotting hulk, judging by the pictures Marcolini showed. Marcolini methodically rebuilt the vehicle over 25 years, getting rid of rust and rotting wood and shining the machine until it was spotless. The ambulance isn’t just a show piece — he takes it around town when he gets the chance.
“Since September 16 I’ve put 6,500 miles on it,” he said.
Jeff Pechmann, headquarters captain for the Cheshire Fire Department, was proudly showing off his department’s 1915 Ford Model T firetruck, certainly the oldest vehicle on display.
“We’ve had it since the 1950s,” Pechmann said. “We bought it as a show parade piece. We have a committee of guys committed to maintaining it. It’s in a perpetual state of renovation.”
The flivver was originally a hose wagon, but firefighters added chemical tanks, mainly for aesthetic purposes, he said.
“Looking at this, you can see how far we’ve come. This had a crank starter and now everything is computer controlled,” Pechmann said.
Pete Tyc, the chief of the Middlefield Volunteer Fire Department, lovingly polished his company’s 1958 B-Model Mack firetruck. The truck was in service until about a decade ago, he said.
“It takes a lot of time and effort on everyone’s part. It’s a source of pride for the department,” Tyc said.
Vehicles like the Mack and the Model T are tangible symbols of fire departments’ sense of history.
“Tradition is what the fire service is based on … it’s deep-rooted,” Tyc said.