1934 Buffalo fire engine returns
Piece of local history welcomed home
By John Faucher
The New London Firefighters Association officially welcomed back a piece of New London history to their station on Monday, March 9.
The 1934 Buffalo Fire Engine had not been operable for the past four years after its Hercules motor suffered a cracked engine block, busted crank and scored pistons.
“The engine was junk,” said Captain Bernie Ritchie.
He and Lt. Jake Dishnow have been on a search to find a replacement motor for the last four years.
After the truck became inoperable, Dishnow and Ritchie took the truck to Stan’s Repair Shop in Oakfield where it underwent a complete diagnostic check.
Stan’s took the original Hercules motor out and sent it to Fond du Lac Machine to see if they could rebuild it. “They could not do anything for the hold engine,” said Ritchie.
“That’s when we started looking for a new motor.”
Several years went by without success.
“Jake connected with Ray from Ray’s Custom Repair out of Rosholt during the Symco Thresheree and Ray joined in on the search,” said Ritchie.
“Two and half years later Ray located a motor in Spokane Washington. It was a back up motor for a municipal water system there.”
“Ray took care of everything. He arranged for the purchase and its delivery, then took it all apart and put it back together in its original condition,” Ritchie said.
Retired and Active members of the firefighters association assembled at the station March 9 to hear its engine rumble once again.
The New London Firefighters Association purchased the truck from the city after it was taken out of service and placed in a storage shed. In the late 1960s, early ‘70s, the city was going to sell the inoperable truck as scrap when the Firefighters Association stepped in and purchased it.
“They had Buffalo Dances at the VFW to raise money for restoring the truck, which they eventually did in 1982. The name plaque on the truck lists members involved with the first restoration in 1982. Many of those firefighters at the time including Former Chief Wayne Wilfuer and Bart Rohloff were in attendance March 9 to welcome back the Buffalo.
When Ritchie started the engine up at the station, Rohloff grinned ear to ear and said, “Gary Tate is smiling down from heaven right now.”
“A lot of guys had a lot of time and work into this truck over the years,” he said.
Wayne Wilfuer peered under the hood at the new motor as it ran.
“I remember the last fire we had it on,” said Wilfuer. He was a firefighter at the time when the LeNoble Bowling Alley Fire burnt in 1964.
“We had it parked in the intersection near John’s Bar and we used it to pump water,” said Wilfuer. The truck hadn’t been used for some time but they pulled it out that night out of necessity.
“It was bitter cold that night and one of the other pumps was freezing and had to be thawed so we brought out the old Buffalo,” said Wilfuer.
It did the job, but had to be towed from the scene afterwards because it’s rear-end was froze up.
“That was the last fire it was on,” Wilfuer said.
After the firefighters association purchased and restored the truck it has been an important part of New London special events and parades.
Ritchie said the association was looking forward to getting it back in time for the 2020 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Ritchie spent 7 1/2 hours washing and degreasing the truck when it returned from the repair shop. The next day he spent 9 1/2 hours waxing it.
“This truck ain’t going outside if it’s raining or snowing,” he said.
The firefighters association hopes to continue fundraising and restoration efforts to replace the back tires which still have the original 1934 tires on it, and also redo the gold leafing.
“It was nice to welcome back the Buffalo and have some of the older guys show up to explain what this truck means to them,” said Ritchie. “It means an awful lot to these guys.”