1916 Pierce Arrow

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1916 Pierce-Arrow Is Still Around

In the beginning, it was a 66-horsepower, six-cylinder touring car that could seat seven persons.

Today it's a treasured museum piece.

It's a 1916 Pierce-Arrow that cost about $6,500 when purchased new in 1916. And it has had a full life these past 73 years - full enough to have earned respected retirement with the Marshall Volunteer Fire Department as "Engine No.1."

Here's its story, as reported by Jim Parsons, Minneapolis Sunday Picture Magazine reporter:

"Engine No.1... is a magnificent fire machine.

"It coughs and crackles magnificently. With improper handling, it also backfires magnificently.   It drives magnificently, says Dave Marks, who has cruised along at 70 miles an hour without mishap .

"William Gieseke, who owned a milling company, brought the car to Marshall, although the town had only dirt roads. The Pierce-Arrow didn't mind. Not even when the roads became muddy ruts. The car's motor was so big (800 cubic inches) that is usually enabled the driver to ignore the mud."

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"For 10 years Gieseke or his uniformed chauffeur toured the area in the car, but in 1927 the town needed a fire truck, and Gieseke volunteered his Pierce-Arrow….

"The city cut the car in half, discarding the two back seats, and 'stretched' the frame to make room for a pump that would kick out 750 gallons of water a minute . . . The body of a horse-drawn fire wagon was placed on the back of the extended frame, giving Marshall's all-volunteer department one of the classiest rigs around."

"It was used for 25 years before being retired in 1953 for more modern equipment."

But the venerable old engine didn't retire immediately to green pastures.

In fact, it was shunted around for nearly 20 years - "in several garages, an airplane hangar and, for five years, outside in the rain and snow," according to the Parsons account. The wood and tin running boards rusted and rotted, the tires disintegrated and various parts disappeared. It was stored at Marshall Airport for a time, then was going to be junked. Carroll Berg, however, took it upon himself to save the old truck and stored it in his garage.-It was about 1973 that Fireman Tom Hess decided to take a stab at restoring it, and Irwin Stellmacher volunteered to help.

Stellmacher, 83 at the time, remembered in minute detail overhauling the Pierce-Arrow's motor some 45 years earlier, and the vehicle was important to him because it represented the days when craftsmen took pride in their work.

He rebuilt the magneto and generator, hand-tooling some of the parts. But the project stalled until two experienced mechanics, Don Labat and Dave Marks, joined the fire department, becoming a committee of two to refurbish the Pierce.

They soon had the vehicle completely disassembled with everyone in the department busy scraping, cleaning, polishing. In fact, Labat's wife, Phyllis, mildly protested the time given the project (something like 2,000 man-woman-child hours); her husband's crafty answer was to invite her and their three boys to join the project. . . plus other wives and children. Nighttime repair sessions became "family" sessions.

Firemen dug into their pockets for $3,200 for expenses; Marshall business firms donated the equivalent of another $2,000 in free labor and materials (including $125 worth of gold leaf paint used for trim)

But there were crises.

For example, tires to fit couldn't be found.  A wholsale house, however, suggested writing a Japanese firm.  The Japanese would be pleased to make a set of tires for $540 plus $20 shipping, but when the tires arrived, the trademark read, "Goodyear".

By the summer of 1976, Stellmacher had the motor chugging nicely and the Pierce Arrow began to be appreciated by the public via it's appearance in numerous parades.  The Pierce is still one of the classiest possible fire engine of it's time.  Again, it has a uniformed chauffeur.  And Marshall's Volunteer firefighters guarantee it's retirement with the dignity the impeccable, but never pompous, machine deserves.

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