- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

TANGENT, Ore. (AP) - Ninety-nine-year-old Wes Baker carefully inspected a 1941 American LaFrance fire engine, peering under the hood at its engine.

“I actually worked on that truck, I believe,” the McMinnville resident told Tangent Fire District volunteers.

Moments later on Wednesday, the fire truck’s engine purred, its siren wailed and it rolled from the Tangent Fire District’s parking lot, Baker in the passenger seat, sun on his shoulders, a grin spread across his face.

From 1940 to 1943, Baker was an electrician at the LaFrance factory in Elmira, New York. He estimated that he wired up the engines of a new fire truck every three working days.

Family friend Sharilyn Martin, 50, of Sheridan set up the reunion of sorts after hearing a rumor about such a fire engine in the Corvallis area.

“He’s been looking forward to it for months. We’ve been waiting for a nice day,” she said.

The truck was originally purchased by the Corvallis Fire Department, delivered from New York in December 1940.

Tangent acquired the rig in the 1970s, and nowadays, the only action it sees is during local parades and other relaxing rides.

“They don’t build them like this anymore,” said Tangent Fire Chief Scott Casebolt.

Casebolt added that only three of that particular model were made, in an era when fire trucks were highly customized.

One was destroyed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The other is owned by former Tonight Show host and comedian Jay Leno.

Stewart Parker, 64, a retired Albany firefighter, is the brother of former Tangent Fire Chief Stan Parker, so he got to drive the LaFrance in local parades.

He said the fire engine, which has a 12-cylinder engine, was difficult to pilot, with its long nose and lack of power steering.

“This is all original, except they took the dual tires off the back,” Parker said.

But it’s still running relatively fine.

“Look how long this has lasted,” Baker said.

While he marveled at the fire truck and his handiwork, Tangent firefighters marveled at how energetic and spry Baker was.

“I’m only 99,” Baker said. “I’m not old yet.”


Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, https://www.dhonline.com

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