Gazing at the shiny new coat of DuPont Super Red and glistening polished chrome, Derek Harvey pondered the five decades of blazes to which a 1948 Mack fire truck responded.
Amazed by the number of catastrophic fires in Butte’s history, Harvey was in awe.
“This truck was there for all of them,” he said, standing next to the newly redone rig.
Fire crews used the truck until the mid-1990s. The fire chief at the time set it aside in hopes of refurbishing it one day.
“This is the oldest truck that we knew the whereabouts of in Butte,” said Harvey, who joined the Butte-Silver Bow Fire Department in 2009.
About a year after he joined the crew, Harvey noticed the Mack truck sitting in the corner of a county shop. It had been housed a few places, always with the aspirations to be returned to its former glory.
Harvey asked Jeff Miller, director of fire services, about the rig. The two firefighters discussed the hopes for the truck.
“We’d always talked about restoring it,” Miller said. “It really is the oldest piece of apparatus that was held on to.”
Miller said the idea was to not only preserve an artifact but also use the truck in parades and rides for championship sports teams.
Inspired, Harvey fundraised with others from the department.
“We knew it would take quite a bit of money,” Harvey said.
At one of the events, an employee from the Montana State Prison approached firefighters and told them an inmate crew was looking for a vehicle project. That chance meeting led to the gussying up of the truck.
Inmates and firefighters shared ideas on how to properly restore the rig. Harvey drove the still mechanically sound truck to Deer Lodge.
“It was actually in pretty decent shape,” he said.
By hand, inmates started work on the rig in January.
“They pretty much completely stripped it down,” Harvey said, showing off the intricate details of the work like airbrushed embellishments and redone labels for the machinery.
The truck boasts its original bell, which is rung by pulling a string. The vintage siren still works as well.
Not only did the truck get completely reworked, but it was done at a fraction of the anticipated cost — $9,000. It returned home a few weeks ago.
Bench seats now sit where the hose bed once was. This is where the championship athletes will sit.
“We wanted to get it back out in the community,” Harvey said.