Who says you can’t go home again?
Decades after it was retired from service, a 1935 Central Fire Truck once owned by the Belleville Fire Department is parked in a city fire house again.
The truck was donated Thursday to the Belleville Historical Society by the family of Ardell Miller, longtime owner of Bell City Battery. Belleville Fire Department Chief Tom Pour agreed to house the historic truck.
“It was for sale for a while after he passed away,” Belleville Historical Society president Larry Betz said about how the organization acquired the vehicle. “But the family didn’t like the idea of it potentially leaving Belleville for good, so they decided to donate it.”
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Chances are, if you’ve been to a parade in Belleville some time over the past 30 years, you’ve seen the open cab truck with it’s distinctive Mars light over the grill that bobs left and right as the truck goes down the road and it’s pinwheel light just behind the driver.
Ardell’s daughter, Ginger Miller, said her father would be thrilled to see the truck stay in Belleville where it will continue to be used in parades instead of having it be bought by an out-of-state fire truck aficionado.
“He collected vehicles and had several,” Ginger Miller said. “But this one was always his favorite.”
Retired Belleville Fire Department Capt. Frank Stolze, one of the last people to drive the truck when it was still in service, manned the wheel for the trip from Gateway Classic Cars in O’Fallon where it was for sale back to Belleville.
Stolze said the truck was a backup with the Belleville Fire Department until the late 1970s and he remembers, in about 1977 or so, driving it to the scene of a car fire when the frontline fire engine was out of service for repairs.
The last fire the truck participated in was when Mueller Furniture burned that same year.
Stolze said he’s also driven the truck in dozens of parades over the years for Ardell Miller.
Ginger Miller said the truck was purchased by her father in about 1978 for $1,700 in a sealed bid auction. He lovingly took care of it for years after that.
He collected vehicles and had several. But this one was always his favorite.
Ginger Miller said of her father Ardell Miller
Before the Miller family officially turned the truck over to the Belleville Historical Society, Ginger Miller’s youngest son, Taylor Miller-Smith, wanted to drive it just one time.
He maneuvered around the parking lot for about five minutes before the family snapped a few final pictures and then sent the truck to Belleville.
The truck spent years stationed at the old South Jackson Street fire house. Now, it will reside at the fire station on Carlyle Avenue.
It’s a logical home. In 1993, the Carlyle Avenue fire station was built to replace the aging fire house on South Jackson Street.
“It’s going to stay in our engine house, at least temporarily,” Pour said. “This all came together, within the last couple of days, so I think the long-term plans are still being figured out.”
Pour said the Carlyle station has a 24-foot bay too short for modern trucks. But it will fit the 1935 fire engine with a couple of inches to spare.
“I think the guys are really going to enjoy having it there,” Pour said.
The truck’s list price was $22,995 before it was decided it would be donated.