The Unusual Journey of a 1955 Crown Pumper

By Mike Britt, Crown Firecoach Enthusiasts Webmaster

(This article originally appeared in the 2006-5 issue of the "Crown Firecoach Enthusiasts Newsletter" and was reprinted in the 4th quarter 2008 issue of the National SPAAMFAA magazine, "Enjine! Enjine!")

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Crown serial number (S/N) F1048 is one of four Firecoach pumpers owned by Crown Firecoach Enthusiasts (CFE) member Art Thompson, of Colton, CA. He recently asked if I could dig up some background information and photos of his rigs, and this 1955 Crown proved to have quite an interesting story.

It was one of two identical pumpers delivered in 1956 to Montebello, CA, who assigned it as Engine 2 (later known as E52). Of all the fire apparatus paint schemes that have been used, Montebello tried one of the most unusual experimental ones on this rig when they painted the cab in red and white “zebra stripes.”

Eventually the rig had its dignity restored when it was refurbished and repainted standard red. At that time, the hard suction trays were removed and additional storage compartments were added on the left side. Also, two electronic siren speakers were mounted into the cab front (L.A. City FD style).

In the late 1970s, F1048 was purchased by Seal Beach, CA. At that time, Seal Beach already owned a Crown pumper and a Crown Snorkel and the Chief decided to purchase three used Crowns to replace and upgrade their paid call and reserve rigs. It indeed was a good deal for the money because the Crowns outlasted both that Chief and that department. The rig now had an extended front bumper and a front suction, part of a pump upgrade. The original yellow fog lamps in the high-beam position were replaced with the small Perlux fog lamps. A lightbar was added to the roof, side window panels were added next to the jump seats and chrome grab bars were added just behind each door. The original hose reels were replaced with shorter ones to make room for a transverse hose bed and larger aluminum kick-plates were installed beneath the cab doors and by the jump seats. A battery-charger, hot-start, and DC jacks were also added beneath the front door. For most of its few years with Seal Beach FD, F1048 ran as Engine 4 (8104 and then SE14) staffed by paid call firefighters (PCF).

In 1982, Seal Beach disbanded its fire department and contracted services from the County of Orange. The city's small fleet of Crowns then became part of the Orange County Fire Department (today known as the Orange County Fire Authority). When assigned shop number 5142, F1048 was renumbered ORC E244 but continued to be a PCF engine at the downtown station. In 1988, it was sent for a complete engine re-power and refurbishment which took it out of service for several months. F1048 then became Engine 11 for the county's PCF crew at the Emerald Bay station in north Laguna Beach.

Now running with a Detroit Diesel 6V92, an automatic transmission and a new pump, the fog lamps were changed back to highbeam headlights, the lightbar was changed to one with alley lights, and the red Unity spotlights were removed from each side of the windshield. To reduce cab noise, the electronic siren speakers were removed from the cab nose and mounted on the front bumper. Weldon truck taillight assemblies were used to fill the holes left by the speakers, which also served to replace the red Unity spotlights and make the forward reds more visible to motorists ahead of the rig. Combo red/white strobes were also added to each side of the cab, just ahead of the doors. To dress the rig up, aluminum wheel covers were added. After a few years, F1048 was assigned to the reserve pool and at one point there was talk of removing the tank and converting it to a hose wagon, but another Crown was chosen for that fate. Instead, in 1993 the rig was assigned to training for the south county ROP and permanently removed from the in-service fleet. As a result, no more modifications or improvements were made to the rig and it was one of the last Crowns to be surplused by the Orange County Fire Authority.

In 2005, F1048 went to Porter Auction Company in Torrance, CA where it was purchased by Barstow Truck Parts and Equipment. At that time, Art Thompson, owner of Tom-Son Tank Lines, was looking for a Crown to buy and donate to a church camp in the San Bernardino Mountains for their fire protection. He had decided on a Crown after seeing them at the ATHS truck convention in Fontana, CA and consulting with his friend, CFE member Mike McDonald. After choosing a 1965 ex- Orange County Crown for that purpose (F1411, formerly owned by CFE member John Winkler), Art decided these old Crown fire engines are pretty nice pieces of equipment and went back to Barstow Truck and bought F1048 to keep for himself. That's not the end of Art's Crown story, but it is the end of this article! Another Crown saved thanks to a sequence of events which put it in the hands of a CFE member!