MOREHEAD CITY — Residents, city officials, firefighters and their families gathered at Fire Station No. 2 Saturday morning to welcome a nearly 100-year-old fire truck back home to Morehead City.
The city has been raising funds to purchase the truck, a 1925 American LaFrance pumper, from a private collector, Jay Howell of Goldsboro. During Saturday’s dedication ceremony, a committee that was formed to help raise the money presented Mr. Howell a ceremonial check totaling $50,000 for the truck.
“It’s just been a real pleasure to be part of this, and I’m glad it’s home,” Mr. Howell said.
Fire Chief Jamie Fulk told the story of how the Morehead City Fire/EMS Department came to find and eventually purchase the historic fire truck, which was retired from service and sold by the city in the late 1960s. In 2014, the department received a call from a man living in Georgia who owned an old fire truck he believed used to belong to Morehead City. At first, Chief Fulk didn’t think it could be the same pumper the city once owned because records seemed to indicate MCFD operated a 1927 version of the truck.
“But this gentleman was persistent and said, ‘No, it’s your truck, I feel certain,’” the chief recalled. “So, to ease my mind, I went to the town hall, I went into the vault and I started digging through the old hard copy minutes of the town council meetings. Long story short, after flipping through several books, I found that on Dec. 17 (1925), the town council had a special-called meeting, and a gentleman was there from Elmira, N.Y., and did a presentation on this fire truck, and the town voted to purchase the truck for a price of $12,500.”
After Chief Fulk confirmed the city had once owned the truck, he started a letter writing campaign to purchase it and bring it back to Morehead City. Unfortunately, the truck’s owner at the time died before the campaign got far, the truck was sold with his estate and Morehead City lost track of it for several years.
For a couple years, Chief Fulk and others tried unsuccessfully to locate the truck again, but thought it a lost cause until 2016, when they met Mr. Howell by coincidence. Mr. Howell, a longtime firefighter and fire memorabilia collector, had purchased an ad in a history book produced by the MCFD. When he came to pick up his copy of the book, he flipped through it with Chief Fulk and came across a picture of the 1925 American LaFrance.
“He just kind of flipped through the book and eventually comes upon a picture of this truck. He said, ‘Hey, I’m buying a truck just like that. I know where that truck is, it’s in Georgia!’” Chief Fulk said. “Through a totally happenstance conversation and through some emails with the person who now owned that truck in St. Louis, Mo., we find out that it is our truck once again, and that Jay (Howell) is in the process of purchasing it.”
Mr. Howell said the fact all the pieces came together the way they did was amazing. He said if one thing had gone differently, like if he’d come by the department just a week earlier, Morehead City might not have found the truck again.
“When you think about the timing of everything that was happening during that period, one click one way or another, it could have gone any other way,” he said. “…It’s just been an amazing story, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a labor of love for us to get it back here at its home, it was very important to that it’s here and back to where it needed to be.”
Mr. Howell noted the truck is in remarkable condition considering its age, with much of the original equipment still attached and in good working order. The truck still drives, but it will be carried on a trailer during events, like parades, to keep it intact as long as possible.
Two longtime Morehead City firefighters, former captains Ed Fulcher and Joe Fulcher, who retired at the beginning of this month, recalled some of their memories of the truck. They both joined the department when the truck was still in service around the early 60s. They said the truck was used in just about every major fire in the county at the time and it was a reliable vehicle.
“I grew up in this fire department, I can’t remember a day I wasn’t a part of it,” Joe Fulcher said. “I can remember that truck in the early years, it was the go-to truck in every major fire in this county.”
During the ceremony, Ed Fulcher placed an original axe that was used with the truck back on the vehicle.
Also during the event was a raffle giveaway for a customized golf cart, the proceeds of which will go to help establish a Morehead City Fire/EMS museum. The winner of the drawing was not in attendance, but Chief Fulk said they would give him a call to tell him the news.
The committee originally formed to help purchase the historic fire truck is now working to establish the fire museum to display the truck and other memorabilia. Chairman Rodney Kemp, who led Saturday’s ceremony, appeared before the city council this month to request the use of the former fire station on Evans Street, which is currently used as the city’s municipal building, for the museum.
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.
Former fire Capt. Ed Fulcher places an axe on a 1925 American LaFrance fire truck as Fire Chief Jamie Fulk looks on. Morehead City recently purchased the historic truck, which the fire department operated until the 1960s, from a private collector. (Elise Clouser photo)