Last week Forks first-graders took their traditional spin around town in a fire engine, a tradition that is over 50 years old. I remember doing it myself, so I know it has been at least that long.
This is the story of how a 1939 Holabird came to join the Forks Volunteer Fire Department.
In 1925 the U.S. Army decided to begin building its own fire apparatus. Since many of the World War I “Liberty Truck” chassises, which had performed so well in France, were still in storage at the Holabird Quartermaster Depot in Holabird, Md., Holabird was the logical choice for the location to construct these new fire trucks.
This endeavor would save the Army money and allow for standardized parts in case of breakdowns.
It was about 1970 when Phil Arbeiter and Charlie Kallman, Forks volunteer firemen, decided that the department needed a “PR” type vehicle that could be used for parades and the annual first-grade “field trip.”
Arbeiter had spotted an old rusting fire truck parked behind the Quinault Fire Station. The paint was gone, some of the inside was rotted and the pump was frozen up, but they made a deal and purchased the old truck.
When they went to bring it home they pulled it to get it started and to everyone’s surprise it started up, one of the Quinault volunteers told them the gas tank held 40 gallons, with a stop at the local gas station and 39.5 gallons of gas later, the Holabird was on its way to Forks. The Holabird had no cab or windshield and Arbeiter remembers a very cold drive home.
Getting the pump working was the first project.
After some welding by the late Ron James, some help from Rayonier’s shop crew and a lot of measuring for the bearings the pump was working — this took almost two years.
In the meantime the chrome parts had been removed to be re-chromed. Arbeiter found a place in Seattle that gave him a great price and he told them no hurry.
Arbeiter put one of his business cards in each one of the boxes of parts. About three weeks went by and Arbieter decided to call to see how it was going, the guy at the shop said, “Oh, I am so glad you called, the day after you dropped everything off, the shop burned to the ground and I had no way to reach you.”
Arbeiter’s heart sank — how would he ever find replacement parts? In desperation he asked if he could come and sift through the ashes to see if anything was left, the shop owner said sure, but before Arbeiter could go look, he got a call back, the shop owner had found the Holabird’s chrome parts, It seemed during the fire a steel work bench had fallen over on the boxes and protected them, they were undamaged.
Next, volunteers sanded the body and surprisingly it was in pretty good shape. Marty Sundberg did the painting and J & W Upholstery recovered the seat. Arbeiter remembers a lot of these projects were done for very little money or many of the local businesses donated their work.
Arbeiter also remembers going to all the local logging shops trying to find a socket to fit the truck’s huge back axle. Finally Ben Keller custom-built one.
As the Holabird was taking shape, the others in the department started getting more interested.
A trip to the Navy scrap yard produced needed aluminum decking. With some new brake shoes and some pin striping done by Arbeiter and his wife, Linda, the old truck was back in her prime. When finally completed the project had taken about four years.
The onset of World War II may have spelled the end of production for the Holabird pumper but for this fire engine a second chance at service to the community of Forks means local parades and to the delight of many a first-grader a memorable trip around town in a fire engine at the end of the school year.