Reno’s homeless fire engines

city sold warehouse where fire department's antiques are stored

PHOTO/ RENO FIRE ANTIQUE AND CLASSIC APPARATUS: This 1916 Seagrave Chemical Engine, Reno’s first motorized fire engine, is among the eight firefighting vehicles in the Reno collection.

Eight classic fire department vehicles and other antique firefighting artifacts are without a home after the Reno City Council sold the building out from under the collection.

At the time, council members were unaware that the collection, restored and maintained by the non-profit Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus organization, was inside the warehouse at 260 B Winter St. The sale took place in December and wasn’t subject to the public hearing requirements that apply to the disposal of surplus property (the building). By linking this sale to an affordable housing project, the city was allowed to sidestep public notice and surplus-property disposal regulations.

The non-profit group, city staff members and Reno Fire Department officials are planning to meet to discuss finding a new home for the collection, which includes eight antique firefighting vehicles and hundreds of artifacts from the now-dormant Reno Fire Department Museum. The collection and vehicles were previously housed at the old Central Fire Station at 200 Evans Ave. That station was razed in 2008 to make way for the Aces baseball stadium and the collection was went into storage in the building on Winter Street.


This 1904 International ladder truck, part of the Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus collection, is drawn by Clydesdales in this undated photo.

“We very much appreciate the City’s generosity in being allowed to share the space for the last 13 years,” said Jon Wagner, a retired Reno firefighter and president of the Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus group. He said having the space available allowed the organization to complete the restoration of a 1917 American LaFrance tractor-drawn aerial ladder, Reno’s first motorized aerial ladder, and purchase the 1916 Seagrave Chemical Engine, the city’s first motorized fire engine.

Building’s contents overlooked

“We believe preserving this collection of Reno’s history is of value to the citizens of Reno in understanding our past and local government’s role in the development and protection of the City of Reno,” Wagner said. Both the group members, who had hoped to bid on the building if it was offered for sale, and Reno Fire Department officials were unaware of the pending sale until after it was final.

Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, who has toured the fire museum and considers the collection a valuable educational resource, said she didn’t realize it was affected by the surplus property sale until after the council voted on the deal. She previously had asked that if the warehouse involved was ever proposed for sale that council members be alerted. She was told that would occur if there “was ever any proposal to terminate our agreement” with the (firefighters’ group).

“Then this property came forward to be sold and it was not disclosed to council that this was the building that housed the collection,” she said, but it’s isn’t possible to reverse the sale. She suggested  Wagner “propose to the city another lease arrangement for a different property, if one would work out.” Wagner did so earlier this year..

This 1917 American LaFrance ladder truck has a six-cylinder, 825 cubic-inch, engine and solid rubber tires. It replaced the 1904 horse-drawn ladder wagon, above, and was the city’s first motorized ladder truck. The vehicle was in service in Reno from 1917 to 1940 and helped fight the Riverside Hotel Fire in 1922. The truck later served at the Treasure Island Naval Base during World War II before making its way back to Reno. Its current condition reflects 13 years of restoration work.

“The Reno city manager and Reno Fire Chief will be meeting with Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus representatives to figure out a plan for the collection, but we have not committed to any specific course of action. At this point, the city is exploring its options. The City does intend to preserve the collection.”

– Matthew Brown, Reno city spokesman.

So far, no meeting date has been set. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. According to the sale agreement, the contents of the warehouse must be moved out of the building by the end of September.

Wagner is scheduled to do a talk about the collection and the restoration of one of the fire engines Aug. 19 on “High Noon: Shootout With Neal Cobb,” sponsored by the Nevada Historical Society.  Details and registration are online.

Jon Wagner

100 years of firefighting

Eight historical Reno FD vehicles are stored at the building. The Reno Fire Department owns four of the vehicles and most of the artifacts that are part of this collection. The non-profit group owns the other four trucks.

“If there were ever an opportunity to have a Reno History Museum, this collection could help make it a world-class museum. It also ties in very closely with the Hot August Nights classic vehicle theme that is an integral part of Reno’s future.”

– Jon Wagner, president of the Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus organization.

The fire apparatus runs the gamut from a horse-drawn wagon to a 1972 pumper truck. Artifacts in the Reno Fire Department collection include antique hose nozzles, extinguishers, and other fire-fighting equipment, firefighter badges and examples of 1800s’ and early-1900s’ technology.

For example, starting in 1898, the old pull-alarm boxes on Reno street corners were wired into a dispatch box at the central station that would sound a series of bells and punch holes in paper tape to reveal the location of the alarm. It was an early form of a computer, Wagner said.

PHOTO/RFACA: The late Jim Arlin, a retired Reno fire-prevention fire captain and past-president of the Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus organization, at the RFD museum in the old Reno Main Fire Station. At right, in the glass case, is the master 1898 Gamewell Alarm unit. All the city’s fire alarms were wired into that unit, which would alert firefighters to the location of a blaze.

Wagner noted that while the collection has been stored in the warehouse, group members have worked hard to preserve it. In addition, he said, “the city council, the Reno Historic Resources Commission and the Historic Reno Preservation Society have generously supported us over the years.”

Wagner said he is hopeful the collection will find a new home. The collection also is supported by Reno firefighters who volunteer to donate $10 monthly to the non-profit group and community donations, which can be sent to: The Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus, 7885 N. Virginia St., Reno, NV 89506. Checks should be made out to RFACA.

Here’s a look at other vehicles and artifacts:

“The fire department has kept this collection together since 1900. I don’t want to be the one who is in charge when it was broken up. I’d like to keep it together and eventually get it to a place where the public can enjoy it.”

— Jon Wagner, president of the Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus organization.

This 1972 American LaFrance 1,250-gallon pumper truck served Reno from 1961, until it was sold or transferred to the Sierrabrook, Calif. Volunteer Fire Department around 1986. It was donated to the Reno group about 10 years ago and awaits restoration. “It’s the classic Norman Rockwell fire engine,” Wagner said.

This 1956 Ford F25 was used as a service truck for the Reno Fire Department until the 1980s.
The 1961 American LaFrance pumper under the Reno Arch in this undated photo.

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4 Comments

    • Reno is becoming a City of Greed. Poor planning. Ineffective leadership. Apartments versus golf courses/playgrounds/dog parks, etc. Developers vs residents. Many residents quietly leaving town. Sad to see this happen to a one time jewel of a town in which to reside.

  1. This is a sad reminder of the direction of American politics that is taking place from city to county all the way to the federal level. The entire nation is in a freefall state to erase history, be it ‘accidentally mismanaged’ or intentionally planned the fact remains that the current and future body of politics has a mindset that cares not about the vivid and telling past that is critical to the future. Remember the statement made by George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And as the evidence is laid out in every state, ‘cancel culture’ is eliminating the past until we all will be under the new world order of communism. And it is most profound when a corporation defied free speech by silencing the president of the USA on the POTUS twitter account. So I am not at all surprised that our own city council ‘accidentally’ forgot to preserve our history right here in ‘The Biggest Little City In The World’ and without doubt the people here and across the nation will continue to allow the politics to tear down liberty one little piece at a time until it’s gone. All under the disguise of a crisis. There is always a crisis around the next corner lurking to scare you into more help, less liberty. All this from a little city fire museum ‘accidentally’ forgotten about. I say we forget to elect more politicians and return to managing our own lives and creating our own wealth and governing ourselves, the exact framework that led America to be the once greatest nation on Earth.

  2. Well written, even if the immediate past POTUS was someone grossly unqualified for the job. The scary part is most voters knew that but ignored the danger anyway, just as voters in Reno have done in putting unqualified people in office. Garbage in = garbage out, always, so be very careful about who you vote for.

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