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"Shakey" American LaFrance #189

Shakey American LaFrance #189

The City of Nanaimo is fortunate to still possess one of the two original motorized fire engines used in its fire service.

The two fire engines (163 and #189) were shipped from Elmira N.Y. to Nanaimo by American LaFrance Fire Engine Company in September 1913. These were the state-of-the-art apparatus at that time. Upon arrival, they were proudly put on display for two weeks prior to being put into service.

"Shakey" and it's twin are Type 10 Chemical Hose Wagons. They carried hose, ladders and a forty gallon chemical extinguisher. The extinguisher was activated turning the drum to dump a glass bottle of sulfuric acid into bicarbonate of soda and water to create CO2 pressure to expel the water through beautiful brass plumbing and the rubber hose line.

"Shakey" was used as a working fire truck until the 1940's and over the years many parts had been changed and modernized; the truck had been painted over, the fine gold leaf and pin stripping and many of it's brass lanterns and hand cranked siren had been removed.

The old truck was original in appearance and still being driven in civic parades but there never had been a serious attempt at restoration. Over many years of polishing "Shakey's" brass, we knew that this was a unique piece of antique fire apparatus and often talked about what was required to restore it.

Contact was made with Captain Alex Matches (retired) of Vancouver Fire Department. He knew about our truck and had included it in an article written for "Engine! Engine" in 1991; he was pleased to hear we were starting the project.

The restoration has been total, body off, form the ground up. Old spoke wheels were found in Pennsylvania and sent to Nanaimo. The wheels probably had lain outside for many years, the wood was very dry and checked, the metal parts rusted and some placed very thin. The restoration process began with stripping the wheels completely down. The next step was numerous applications of warm boiling linseed oil to replace the moisture and integrity of the oak wood. A wheel company was located in Vancouver with the expertise to rebuild the metal parts and they were sent off for restoration.

After the boiling linseed oil was well soaked into the wheels and the quality of the wood much improved, the wood was sanded, any cracks or other blemishes were filled with P.P.G. spot putty, sanded, premiered with P.P.G. DZ3 and fine sanded in preparation for painting.

We were fortunate that this vehicle has always remained in Nanaimo. We were able to obtain photographs from the Nanaimo Museum and Fire Department archives; we even have it's original owner's manual. We have painted it the original (cranberry) red color and restored the finest details like the pin stripping, the fabulous 23 kt. gold leaf scroll work and the seat in diamond tufted black leather. We've put on the original brass scheibler carburetor, reinstalled the original 3-speed transmission and built a new original looking gas tank.

#189 is named "Shakey" because the engine is a 75 hp T-head, four cylinder, the bore 5.5 " and the stroke 6 " with a big flywheel. It runs at low r.p.m. produces loads of torque and is bolted rigidly to the frame sitting on heavy duty leaf springs with no shock absorbers -it shakes!.

The restoration group is as follows:

  • Captain Stephen Ellis
  • Captain Brad Rozzano

We are career firefighters and we did the restoration over three years of spare on-duty and off duty time. We are very proud of our accomplishment and enjoy running it in antique car shows, civic parades and other functions.

"Shakey" now rests in the museum of Nanaimo Fire Department, Station #1 with a view of the streets she once clanked and chugged along in response to fire calls.


Firemen fighting fire