Champlain Trail Museum unveils "Bertha" the fire truck 0
For decades it sat languishing in a garage but now it's Bertha's turn to enjoy the spotlight.
The 1923 Aherns Fox Bickle fire truck, which has become part of Pembroke lore as its first gasoline powered fire truck, was the star attraction of a new fire station exhibit that officially opened at the Champlain Trail Museum Friday night.
The bright red truck gained a loyal following after making its debut at last year's Renfrew County Expo 150. Now visitors to the museum can see her all year around.
"It looks like it did when it came off the assembly line," Dave Whitmore, chair of the Ottawa Valley Historical Society, said as he marvelled at the painstaking detail that went into the restoration of the 89-year-old vehicle. "It's one of the biggest artifacts we've had at the museum. It's the real history of Pembroke. It's was purchased for the city and has never left the city."
The Bickle, as part of the new Fire Station No. 3 exhibition, was unveiled at the Champlain Trail Museum and Heritage Village's fourth annual Sneak a Peek Wine and Cheese Gala. The event raises funds for the museum while giving the public a preview of the exciting exhibits and events planned for the upcoming season.
The display features a showcase of artifacts from the early days of the fire department including nozzles, coal oil lamps, call boxes, hand lanterns, bunker gear, gas masks and an old fire hose cart.
Considered state-of-the-art when it was bought for $18,000, the Bickle was shipped from Woodstock, Ontario by rail in the fall of 1924. Its arrival was greeted with some curiosity by townsfolk, according to acting captain Bill Clayton, the man who headed the restoration effort.
"In 1923, this truck rolled off a train in the city of Pembroke and even the horses didn't know what it was," said acting Capt. Clayton.
The Bickle, which earned the name "Bertha," joined Pembroke's fleet of two horse-drawn steam pumpers and a 1913 Ford chemical pumper. With a six-cylinder engine and the power to unleash a stream of water at a rate of 800 gallons per minute, "Bertha" did battle at some of the biggest fires to ravage Pembroke including the 1950 Shook Mill Lumber Yard blaze. It remained the fire department's main pumper until 1954, but serve until it was retired in 1969.
"Bertha" ended up stored outside at the museum where it sat until being rescued in 1992. After years of working on the project with with fellow firefighters Keith Selle and John Hubert, acting Capt. Clayton is glad to she the truck in what he calls a beautiful home.
"When I saw this truck she was in a barn outside in terrible condition and it had so much history for our city and our department," he said. "It meant a lot for me to get this done."
In 2010, work began on redoing the vehicle from stem to stern, using volunteers drawn mostly from the department. The Bickle will still make special appearances throughout the community including the city's annual Santa Claus Parade.
"Now she looks good, she's beautiful and she runs like a top," concluded acting Capt. Clayton.
The long term goal is to construct a permanent stand alone building on the museum grounds within which to store the truck.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist
SEAN CHASE firstname.lastname@example.org Former Pembroke fire chief Arnold O'Kane (centre) joins his successor Chief Dan Herback (left) and acting captain Bill Clayton for the official opening of the Fire Station No.3 exhibit at the Champlain Trail Museum. The restored 1923 Bickle behind them is the highlight of the exhibition.