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Restoring an Old Fire Engine - A Labor of Love

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August 31, 2023 | NEW JERSEY RON JEFFERS, New Jersey Editor
This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.

DENVILLE, NJ - Denville volunteer firefighter Ed Saniewski has been caring for his department's 1926 American LaFrance pumper since the late 1990's. In 2000, he purchased a 1930 Model A Ford roadster, that he restored within two years. This was followed by two more antique vehicles. Of course, as a firefighter, he had the urge to own a fire engine.

In 2015, a vintage fire engine came to his attention, which he later acquired. He picked up a 1917 American LaFrance pumper and, with a lot of work and research, restored this vehicle into a beautiful antique that is representative of the fire service of our past.

The rig was ordered by the Cocharn Hose Company of Sewickly, Pa., as a Type 10 combination chemical car with JR pump. It was delivered to that fire company in 1917. In 1926, it was traded back to American LaFrance. The factory replaced the chemical tank and hose body with a “Springfield” body. It was reclassified as a Type 40 model with JR pump and sold to Indiana, Pa., in 1927, where it ran as a squad. 

Ten years later, the rig was sold to several different owners before it was acquired by Saniewski. His frame-off restoration began in the fall of 2018 and it was complete in the spring of 2022. The apparatus was disassembled in his barn and the restoration project began, which included research, locating parts and making new friends. That included help from the ALF Restoration Facebook page and the ALF museum. Completing the project included assistance from a paint shop in Boonton, a nickel plate business in Hillside and an engine re-builder in Upstate New York, according to Saniewski. 

The final touch was completed by local gold leaf artist Ed May, who is well known for his lettering, pin striping and outstanding murals. 

“In my career of 50 years gold leafing countless new vehicles, and thousands of antiques, I knew from the first time I saw the progress of Ed's privately owned 1917 American LaFrance that it was evolving into the most outstanding restoration,” May said. “As the parts were returning from the body shop, I had the privilege to restore its gold leaf embellishments to the factory original specs, before it was reassembled by Ed,” he added. “This beautiful restoration deserved the many hours I spent to enhance its original glory.”           

Ed Saniewski joined the Denville V.F.D. in 1977. In 1980, he joined the Morristown Memorial Mobile Intensive Care Unit where he served as a paramedic until 2000. He was also Denville's deputy fire chief in 2000, and he is still active in the department. 

On August 26th, Saniewski took his pride and joy to the Antique Fire Association of New Jersey's antique fire apparatus muster at Mine Hill Fireman's Field, for all to enjoy. He was accompanied by Ed May, who set up a display table with photos of all of his work, and very proud of the detailed work he performed on the 1917 classic pumper.

Last year, Saniewski won a national “Junior Peterson Award” from the Antique Auto Club of America for his engine. In the future, he's looking forward to win a senior and/or grand national award, as he makes some minor restorations that are left on his list.

“The name Union Hill Rescue Co. 2, on the hood, is a tribute to the fire company I have been a member of for the past 46-years in Denville,” Saniewski said. 

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RON JEFFERSNew Jersey Editor

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