During Monday’s Park Cities July 4 parade, thousands of curbside residents will see a major piece of University Park history back in service. Much like a journey chronicled in a children’s storybook, after almost 100 years, one of University Park Fire Department’s earliest fire engines will join in the community’s annual celebration, driving through some of the same streets it traveled responding to emergencies in the 1920s and 1930s.
Since the engine/pumper’s return to University Park last winter, in a labor of love, members of the City’s Equipment Services division have worked on getting it ready for its first public appearance. The restoration effort has involved equipping it with a modern braking system and a refurbished engine.
Here’s the backstory:
Beginning years of service
Soon after UPFD’s first engine/pumper was destroyed while fighting a dormitory fire on the SMU campus, the department purchased a 1925 American LaFrance engine/pumper to replace it. The new piece of equipment remained in service until the late 1930’s when it was sold at auction.
Years later, an aficionado of antique fire equipment found the pumper in storage inside an airplane hangar at an old military base. That collector, Bobby Ramsey, an Assistant Chief with Travis County Fire Control, also owned a 1952 Seagraves pumper that he purchased from the city of Austin. While using the pumpers in various parades, for several years Chief Ramsey also used both to respond to fire scenes from his home.
A chance meeting and the long pathway home
In 2000, after Chief Ramsey passed away, the Jollyville Texas Fire Department purchased both pumpers from the Ramsey family so that they could continue to use them in parades and other community events. During that time period, wanting more information about the 1925 model, Chief Brad Landi contacted LaFrance and found that it was built for use by the City of University Park.
Advancing this story to the recent past, in 2020 the pumper was refurbished by Robert Behrens, who funded the entire project out of his own pocket. Initially, the Jollyville Fire Department planned on selling the reconditioned beauty to a fire museum, but plans changed when Chief Landi ran into UPFD Assistant Chief Scott Green at a training conference.
Soon into their conversation it was decided that the much-loved 1925 pumper should come home to University Park. In February 2021, UPFD purchased the pumper from the Jollyville Fire Department, and after being loaded on to a trailer, the pumper completed the trip back to its original firehouse accompanied by UPFD Chief Randy Howell and Assistant Chief Green.
Chief Howell described the trip as very nostalgic, and said, “I couldn’t help but wonder as we were pulling off Central Expressway onto Mockingbird Lane, if the pumper was taking in the sites of the community it served nearly 100 years ago.”
Following the parade, the pumper will reside in the UPFD fire bay. The department plans to use it in parades and other community events for years to come.