Pantego relic returns home for a dayPublished 4:40pm Thursday, November 22, 2012
PANTEGO — A unique relic from Beaufort County’s past recently made its way back to Pantego, if only for a day.
The town’s very first fire truck, a vintage 1951 Chevrolet, was displayed on the grounds of the Pantego Academy Museum. Its current owner Bill Bailey, who restored the vehicle, drove it down from Virginia Beach at the invitation of Virginia Hollowell, a museum volunteer.
The fire truck has an interesting history. When it was brand new, just off the assembly line, it served the Virginia Beach borough of Thalia, where it was part of that department’s line-up for nearly two decades.
Then, Pantego founded a volunteer fire department in 1969, according to Chris Rouse, its current chief. The town went shopping for a fire engine and, with a limited budget, opted to purchase the old Thalia model for $1,000.
“The first check written by the Pantego department was to buy that truck,” Rouse said.
The sale came with a stipulation. When Pantego was ready to sell the 1951 vehicle, the Thalia department was to have first refusal.
The fire engine served Pantego area residents until 2002, ending its stint as a spare truck. It was a far cry from the shiny, red fire engine that was recently on display.
“It looked terrible,” Rouse said. “It was even past the point of putting in parades.”
Here’s where Thalia enters the picture again.
“The members of the Thalia department didn’t even know the truck still existed,” Bailey said. “But we decided to have it towed back home.”
Bailey began a five-year restoration project on the truck and, even though it no longer sees active service, it has been used frequently for parades. Then, after a 10-year absence, it revisited its former home in Pantego last month.
“Everything on that truck has been sandblasted, re-chromed … there’s nothing that hasn’t been restored,” Bailey pointed out.
The fire engine’s return delighted local residents, including firefighters who were too young to remember the truck in its prime.
“The people here are very happy to see it,” Bailey said as he watched several members of the Pantego Volunteer Fire Department pose for photos with the truck. “That’s what I was hoping for.”