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Antique fire engine makes its way back to Two Harbors

Current Two Harbors Volunteer Fire Department chief Mark Schlangen (left) and former chief Bob Sellman stand next to the 1922 Waterous fire engine Sellman recently found and returned to the department. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)1 / 3
This 1922 Waterous fire truck was purchased by the Two Harbors Volunteer Fire Department in 1923 and was in service to until 1956. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)2 / 3
The 1922 Waterous fire engine as it appeared when it was in service with the Two Harbors Volunteer Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of the THVFD)3 / 3

Most of the time, purchasing old, outdated equipment is something that is a fact of life for most volunteer fire departments and not something that gets the firefighters excited.

Most of the time, that equipment isn't nearly a century old and represents the long history of Two Harbors and its volunteer fire department.

Recently, however, an antique 1922 Waterous fire engine built in St. Paul and purchased by the Two Harbors Volunteer Fire Department in 1923 was found in Grand Rapids, Mich., and former chief Bob Sellman purchased the engine and gave it back to the department.

Sellman, who started with the department in 1958 and served as chief from 1971 until his retirement in 1995, comes from a legacy of service and leadership in volunteer departments. Sellman's father Ruben joined the department in 1920 and served until 1963 and Sellman remembered riding on the old Waterous engine when he was still a child in Two Harbors. Later, his son, Scott, would serve on the THVFD for a couple years beginning in 1989 until he moved to Lindstrom, Minn., and eventually he would become chief of that department in 2005.

The Waterous truck was in service for the THVFD for 34 years, serving when the first truck to leave on a call headed to the rail yards to pick up members to respond to the fire. The truck was sold to a fire equipment distributor in Sioux Falls, S.D., in 1956 and the department lost track of the truck until it showed up at an auction in the mid-1990s.

"In 1995, Tom Norland who transferred to Sioux Falls, S.D., went to the auction to try to get it," Sellman said. "The (Two Harbors) department gave him authority to bid up to $5,000 and he ended up going as high as $6,800 but he still lost out on it."

Eventually, the truck ended up with Jerry Puthan in Kenwood, Ill., who worked to restore it to it's original condition, repainting it and getting the engine back in working order. Sellman said eventually the truck was sold to Warren Lund in Grand Rapids, Mich., and in 2012, Lund emailed Scott Sellman looking for some of the original equipment like the bell, hand crank siren and ladders. Lund refused Sellman's initial offer for the truck, but the two kept in touch and Sellman waited for another opportunity.

"I offered him $5,000 for it at that time and he thought he could get more for it at auction," Sellman said. "I was surprised, but I had ridden on that truck many times as a kid when my dad was working. It was a disappointment to not win the bids so when the opportunity came to buy it from Warren Lund, I wasn't going to miss it this time."

Current THVFD chief Mark Schlangen sees the antique truck, which features the original leather fan belt, as a common thread connecting the department's past with its current members.

"Most of our folks put 20 to 25 years into the fire department but we are each just a little cog in this big thing that's been going since 1898," Schlangen said. "That's the amazing thing to me, that know that the fire department is going to keep going and that we need to just all see ourselves as a piece of it and do our best but to see that we are a part of something so much larger. That's what the truck is to me: it's just a connection with all of those folks that have worked since it was put in service."

The Waterous engine will be on display during the THVFD open house at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the fire hall. The event will also have truck tours, fire hose games for kids, a car seat clinic and food.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Lake Superior School District board of education and high school sports in Lake County. 

(218) 830-2210
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