Rusty memories come home to Baton Rouge
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Our fascination with firetrucks starts when we are kids. The sparkle of the chrome. The flashing lights. The siren.
“When you see a new firetruck coming down the road, everybody wants to come see it.” said Mike Pasternostro, who runs the Bogan Fire Museum in Baton Rouge.
Even when the paint fades, and rust creeps in, a fire engine can still capture our imagination. That is what brought a gaggle of Baton Rouge firefighters out on a rainy morning -- a 1949 American l’France tiller truck. They watched as a semi delivered a part of their past. “This was state of the art in the 40′s and 50′s.” Pasternosto said.
It was the second aerial ladder truck owned by the Baton Rouge Fire Department. Back then, firefighters raced to fires in an open-air cab. The department did not enclose it until 1973.
Just seeing the old engine brought back memories for Daryl Edgens. He rode the truck as a firefighter in the 1980′s and drove it in the 90′s. “The truck would go anywhere with two good drivers on it.” Edgens said. “You could put that truck in some tight spots where most other trucks could not get.”
It took two people to drive it. Edgens piloted the front. Jeffrey Franklin steered the back. “It makes me feel old, and I know I’m not old.” he joked.
Franklin’s favorite thing to do while driving was swing the tail of the truck into the middle of Highland Rd. while the front end rode right lane. Lights on either side of the steering wheel told Franklin which way the front driver planned to turn. It was Franklin’s job to steer the back end in the opposite direction to maneuver the truck around tight corners and down the narrow streets of Old South Baton Rouge and The Bottoms.
For most of its life, the truck worked out of Station 11, near the north gates of LSU on Highland Rd. She fought fires on campus and around the bottoms until 1998 when the department sold her. Then she disappeared.
Firefighter and history buff Matt McConnell heard the stories about the truck. He found her on Google. “It was sitting in a field in North Carolina at a church.” he said.
Kids of another generation had taken a shine to her weathered exterior. “The kids fell in love with it.” he said. “It was basically a big jungle gym for all the kids to play on after the got out of church on Sundays.
McConnell knew it was something Baton Rouge kids of all ages needed in a museum. He contacted Paternostro at the Fire Museum. Together, they worked to raise the $8000 to buy the truck. It’s now up to Paternostro to find the money to get her back into shape.”
“Our ultimate goal here with these fire trucks is not just for them to be in the museum,” Paternostro said, “but to be parade worthy.”
It’s going to take a lot of polish to bring the gleam back to this engine, but by 2022, all these firemen hope she will inspire a new generation of firefighters.
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