Reclaiming history: Zionsville firefighters work to restore 1964 engine

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Firefighters Brett Havlin and Bobby Smith and others from the Boone County Professional Firefighters Association Local 5195 are working to restore a firetruck that served the Zionsville Volunteer Fire Dept. from 1964 through 1997.

A friend of Havlin’s, Justin Birchfield, son of the late photographer and historian Rodger Birchfield, found the truck in the possession of Tom Fatland of Fatland Farms & Trucking in Sandwich, Ill. Until 2020, the 1964 Howe engine that once sped down the streets of Zionsville sat in a field in the small town of Sandwich, its journey unknown up to that point.

Smith and another firefighter, Kendrick Davis, pooled their money to purchase the engine, which Fatland sold to them for about $3,000. Smith said when he talked to Fatland, he told him he was days away from selling it to a camp down the road to use to transport kids around the grounds.

“A piece of our history came screaming past us,” Smith said. “We reached out and grabbed it, and now we’ve secured it for firefighters that’ll be on this department long after we’re gone.”

Havlin said in spring of this year, Local 5195 voted to purchase engine 6, with the stipulation that it remain in Zionsville as property of the Zionsville Fire Dept.

Above all, Havlin and Smith agreed, the truck should not only serve as a reminder of ZFD’s history, but also be a representation of the rapid growth Zionsville has experienced the last few decades.

“I’ve been at this department for 15 years, and there’s been so much change just in that time,” Havlin said. “It’s gone from a one-station department to three stations. Now, we have 84 career firefighters.”

Smith said when they brought the truck from Sandwich, they had it at the station for a while. Richard Ford, a retired Zionsville volunteer firefighter who drove and worked off the truck, was able to go for a ride in it.

Ford, 92, has lived in Zionsville his entire life and served on the volunteer fire department for 25 years, beginning in 1973. After his retirement, he said although he didn’t make runs, he still volunteered at the station until 2010 in various capacities, such as manning the station when everyone was out on a run.

Ford said the fire chief asked him in 1973 if he’d be willing to join the volunteer fire department, as they were short staffed, and he was one of a few who could drive a clutch. Ford accepted the offer.

“It was a challenge, and it was interesting, and you don’t know what you’re getting into when you go, which really keeps you going,” Ford said. “When the siren went off, you just wanted to go see what was going on and fix it if you could.”

Ford said in the 1970s, things were much different for firefighters in Zionsville. Sirens placed around town would blare when there was a call. He said volunteers would turn on their blue lights and rush to the station to be the first ones to go on the run.

Two people would ride front in the truck, and three or four more would hang on the backstep, holding onto a bar. The town paid volunteers about $2 for a fire run and $1 for an ambulance run.

There was a camaraderie among volunteers, Ford said. They would often have social events at the department, but typically, everyone knew everyone in town, and they were already friends.

“We would absolutely love it if we had the ability to bring all of these people together — our part-time guys, our volunteers and our career guys,” Smith said. “We can all bond over this truck and preserve it for the future firefighters of Zionsville.”

Havlin said so far, they have rebuilt the carburetor, fixed the brake lines and the clutch. The paint is still in good condition, although it needs a new paint job, and the gold leaf on the sides is in decent shape. The truck was driveable when it was purchased but still needs work, and much-needed repairs keep popping up.

Ultimately, Havlin and Smith said they hope efforts to bring the truck back to its former glory connects Zionsville’s past, present and future firefighters.

“There are six brand new guys coming in at this time, and they can see all this development,” Havlin said. “They also get the opportunity to meet all these guys that came before them that paved the road for them to be here. It just kind of ties it all together, and if that’s what this truck does, it’s worth everything.”

Support the restoration

Donations are accepted on Venmo, and can be sent to @L5195 with the note “Engine 6 Project”

Checks can also be made out to Boone County Firefighters Foundation and sent by mail to:

1533 W. Oak Street, Suite 140

Zionsville, IN 46077

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