The Bantam Fire Company's 1922 American LaFrance Brockway Torpedo

A 102-Year-Old Fire Truck “Point Of Pride” For Bantam Fire Co. (with Video)

BANTAM, CT – It’s 102 years old but doesn’t show its age thanks to a facelift nearly 20 years ago, and pampering ever since. The Bantam Fire Company gives it the respect it deserves because of the role it serves. “It’s a point of pride,” said Chief Ryan Litwin of the 1922 fire truck that bears the department’s name.

With a Brockway chassis underneath and a four-cylinder Buda motor, the firetruck has bodywork by American LaFrance. “This is called a chemical truck. Essentially, it’s like a big fire extinguisher,” explained Jim Gavell, chief emeritus of the Bantam Fire Company who is the truck’s primary driver.

The Bantam Fire Company’s 1922 American LaFrance Brockway Torpedo

The fire truck doesn’t respond to fire calls. It’s only used for parades and other significant events. It appeared in Bantam’s recent Memorial Day Parade and took a spin along Doyle Road where the firehouse is located a few days later for My Ride.

The American LaFrance Brockway Torpedo was originally used in Millerton, N.Y., although its early history is at best imprecise.

“It was used and housed by the Millerton Fire Department for a good number of years. At one point in time they retired the truck and I believe either one of their members or someone else bought the truck to use it for other purposes or to save it, and it sat idle for many years,” Gavell said.

Jim Gavell behind the wheel of the 1922 fire truck

It wasn’t until the mid-1950s when some members of the Bantam Fire Company stumbled across it when hunting. 

“They were walking through a field and a barnyard in Sharon and saw this truck in a lean-to. After examining the truck, they found it was pretty beat up from the weather, but otherwise it was very similar to one that had been housed in Bantam many, many years prior,” he said.

A decision was made to purchase the truck. It was brought to Bantam where it was spiffed up and made operable. It’s very much of its era with a hand crank starter in front, an exposed bench seat for driver and passenger, and a hand operated siren. 

The crank starter on the fire truck
The hand operated siren

“They weren’t big trucks. They weren’t fast trucks, but they were a step above horse-drawn and hand-drawn units,” said Gavell of the fire trucks used in the 1920s.

“Originally it was hand crank, and it will still crank by hand. However, they’ve put a six-volt electric system in back time ago, so it has an electric starter in it now.”

The truck is period correct, although perhaps not model correct. It has a green hose bed in back. “Everybody wonders why that shade of green, and that was the way they painted ’em when they came out of the factory, so that’s why it looks the way it does,” said Litwin, who joined the Bantam Fire Company as a junior member in 2003 and rose through the ranks.

“When I first started the truck was not in the shape that it’s in today. It was kind of an in-house restoration done back in the day,” he said. It wasn’t until a couple of years after Litwin joined that it was sent to Firefly Restoration, a fire truck restoration shop in Maine, and given a total makeover.

Bantam Fire Company Chief Ryan Litwin

The American LaFrance Brockway Torpedo is a handful to operate. 

“No power steering. No synchronized transmission. The brakes aren’t as touchy as a set of power brakes in a new truck. It’s very spartan. It’s very basic. But everything on it works. It’s there,” said Gravell.

“It’s not easy to drive. It definitely gives you an appreciation for what it was like back in the day,” Litwin added.

The 1922 fire truck at the Bantam Fire Company’s former home; now Arethusa Farm Dairy

When it is driven, it is done so with caution. “Any time we drive, it’s at very slow speed, and we do have a number of firefighters who do drive the truck other than myself,” Gavell said.

While the hand siren and bell on the truck work, the truck isn’t able extinguish a fire. 

Gavell backtracked a smidge on what he’d said earlier by reporting, “The only thing that’s non-functional is the chemical system on it. When we had the truck restored, they said, ‘You know, we could send those tanks out and have them re-certified” and we said, ‘No.’ We had no need for that and we don’t want to get into the expense of that. But other than that everything else on the truck works.”

It certainly gets attention when it’s taken out. Litwin calls it an “irreplaceable” relic.

“For all intents and purposes, it’s part of the Bantam Fire Company fleet now and it’s a tremendous point of pride. It’s a beautiful piece. It’s kind of one of a kind, especially in the area, but even around the country there’s not many pieces of apparatus left like this, so anybody that has it, you owe it to the fire service to take good care of it. It’s certainly a head turner. We try to take really good care of it,” he said.

Despite its age, retirement isn’t in its future. “We’re hoping to keep it going as long as we can and kinda baby it. Parts are, as you can imagine, hard to come by,” Litwin said.

See the 1922 American LaFrance Brockway Torpedo in action in this YouTube video…

About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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