Antique Fire Truck Show: Preserving the past

GREAT BARRINGTON — Mike Nugai's fascination with fire trucks started at age 2 when he sat in a 1966 Maxim at the Holmes Road fire station in Pittsfield.

Nearly 40 year's later, the former Pittsfield firefighter has collected and restored 14 antique fire engines, his first being a 1968 Maxim pumper that had served Bourne on Cape Cod for almost three decades.

"It was custom built in Middlebourgh and served [Bourne] until 1995 when I purchased and restored it with my family. It's the only truck I could never sell," he said.

Nugai's first love will be among the 60-plus classic fire trucks and equipment on display on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the annual Antique Fire Truck Show at Ski Butternut in Great Barrington, Mass. Sponsored by the Berkshire County Antique Fire Apparatus Association, the outdoor exhibit — free of charge — showcases the evolution of fire trucks and the dedication of current and former firefighters to preserving the past.

"I hate to see them go into a scarp heap, they were built to do a job and should be restored," said Nugai. He's president of the local preservation group associated with The Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motorized Fire Apparatus of America, SPAAMFAA for short.

The classic fire trucks are either individually owned or belong to nonprofit fire companies that is separate from the taxpayer-funded city and town fire departments. They often spend thousands of dollars each year for restoration and upkeep of the vehicles.

"Some of these folks spent months, and even years, painstakingly restoring these old machines to their former luster, making them look better, in many cases, than the day they first came out of the factory," noted retired firefighter, Bill DeFreest. The life-long Lee resident served his hometown for 38 years, a third generation firefighter following in his father's and fraternal grandfather's fire boot steps.

A 50-year firefighting veteran, John Schneyer, from Lenox, only joined the association a year ago and was immediately impressed by the members passion for fire trucks from bygone days.

"I didn't realize how much work it is to keep up the vehicles and how much the guys enjoy working them," he said.

Tim Kane is one of those hard working restorers. For years, he's helped keep Lenox's first motorized fire vehicle in nearly pristine condition.

The 1910 American LaFrance Combination Chemical Hose Car maintained by the Lenox Antique Fire Apparatus Association came off the assembly line in Elmira, N.Y, delivered to Lenox a year after a devastating downtown fire that prompted the creation of an official town fire department.

Kane says 90 percent of the fire truck remains true to its original design, with parts hand made to keep it running.

"You can't go to an auto parts store and pick them off a shelf," he said. "A lot of diligence and practice goes into the upkeep of these vehicles."

The Lenox group relies on fundraisers and some town support to preserve their collection of firefighting vehicles so they are parade and antique show worthy.

While seemingly an expensive hobby, individual owners like Nugai often find bargains; he spending an average of $7,000 per vehicle and little as $1.

"I've never gone into debt to buy one," he said.

Nugai recently got an offer from a Connecticut fire department seeking a good home for one of it's outdated fire vehicles.

"Essex, Conn., called me and said they had one they didn't want to see end up in Argentina," he recalled. "'Can you save it?' they said."

Nugai is still pondering the offer.

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233

If you go ...

What: Antique Fire Truck Show

When: 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Ski Butternut, Rt 23, Great Barrington, Mass.

Free admission, sponsored by the Berkshire County Antique Fire Apparatus Association.


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