Restoration project honors Fire Department’s history


This 1926 photo shows the Sycamore Fire Department’s first motorized fire engine. A local group is raising $25,000 to restore the vehicle.

By Keisha Howerth

The Sycamore Fire Preservation Company is in final talks to display the city’s first motorized fire engine in a local car show at the end of July.

The nonprofit organization began a campaign to raise $25,000 to restore a 1923 Stutz fire truck two weeks ago.

Gene Ege, a Sycamore fire chief who retired in 2000, said the Turning Back Time Weekend Fizz Ehrler Memorial Car Show July 27 to 29 will provide a good opportunity to show a part of Sycamore history.

“We hope to have it on display to generate some interest in fundraising,” Ege said. “It’s one of the largest in the Midwest and the whole downtown is full of old cars for that whole weekend.”

Lt. Dan Marcinkowski said it’s important to keep the history of the Fire Department preserved.

“It’s important to carry on traditions,” Marcinkowski said. “There’s a lot of things we’ve done the same in the fire house from the inception of when fire service started in Sycamore, whether it’s the emblems on the truck or the way the guys get together.”

The Sycamore Fire Preservation Company, made up of former and current members of the Sycamore Fire Department, mailed pamphlets with information about the project and the organization to local businesses, organizations and groups last week.

“We’re hoping to raise $25,000 to complete the restoration and to maintain it in the future,” Ege said. “It also gives us a little bit of a window in case we come across some things we’re not sure of, like the ladders and the small equipment that’s carried on it.”

Ege said the tax-deductible donations will be mailed back to the Preservation Company’s fund through the DeKalb County Community Foundation.

“Until we can get a commitment on funding, we probably won’t be starting the restoration project until we make sure we have enough to get it to a certain point,” Ege said. “This could get done in stages.”

Ege said once the restoration is complete, the Stutz may be displayed at the fire station or a local museum.

“There’s also the possibility of having it in local parades,” Ege said. “The problem with that is if parts break, there’s nobody that can make the parts anymore, so they’d have to be manufactured if something major happened to them. So we’d have limited driving.”

According to the Preservation Company, the Stutz was purchased in September 1923 for $10,250 and responded to its first call in November of that year to a chimney fire on North Main Street.

The fire engine was removed from active service in 1957 and was sold at a public auction in August 1967. Ege said the Stutz has spent time with at least four owners in Wisconsin and Indiana.

“The fire engine was located in Wisconsin in the mid-80s and an attempt was made to buy it, but it wasn’t for sale,” Ege said. “It moved to Indiana without our knowledge. The owner there contacted us in 2000 because he wanted to sell it, and he gave Sycamore the first chance to buy it back before selling to collectors.”

Ege said the organization was formed in February 2001 to raise money to buy back the fire engine, and the group was able to bring it back to Sycamore in August of that year.

Marcinkowski said he hauled the truck back to the city from Indiana.

“We bought it back for $16,000 and raised that money through donations from current and former firemen and their families, as well as through other local citizens and groups,” Ege said.

Ege said fundraising efforts for the fire engine’s restoration began after buying it back, but they were quickly stopped after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Assistant fire chief Marc Doty said the economy also played a role in stopping the fundraising campaign for a few years.

“We still have $3,000 from our original fundraising from when we purchased the truck,” Ege said. “After the tragic events of 9/11, we stopped raising the money. We didn’t give up on the project, but it just went dormant after that. [The restoration project] had been dormant for quite a few years.”

In August 2012, members of the Preservation Company met to discuss ideas on restarting the restoration project.

“We had been meeting for about a year and a half to try to come up with thoughts and ideas on how we were going to go about fundraising, getting interest generated and getting an estimate,” Ege said.

Ege said Jerry Dido of Marty and Sons Body Shop, 1120 E. State St., estimated the restoration project’s cost.

Doty said the organization is passionate about this fundraising campaign because of its significance in Sycamore’s history.

“We feel strongly about it because it’s the first motorized fire engine that [the Sycamore Fire Department] had purchased,” Doty said. “And for it to be sold at an auction and then make its way back to Sycamore after a couple of owners is pretty phenomenal. If we don’t take the initiative to restore this then this piece of history will be gone, and you’ll never get that back.”

Ege said any excess funds raised will be used to benefit future Fire Department Historical projects.