John M 1965 GMC-Darley Tanker Truck

Classic vehicle still pulling its load on the farm

We purchased this unit in Octoberrrrr 2006 from the Michigan Motor Speedway to use on our Christmas Tree farm for irrigation. The Tanker Truck has the 305 V-6 motor, a Darley 500 GPM front-mounted pump and a 1,000-gallon tank.

The truck was ordered new in 1965 from a noted fire apparatus manufacturer that's still family owned and run -- the W.S.Darley Corporation in Chicago, ILL. And that's all I knew about the truck. So after bringing the truck home from Michigan, I contacted Darley at a customer service number I found on their web site. The gent who answered the phone was one of the Darley's (aren't they also a Bluegrass band??) and proceeded to be exceptionally friendly and helpful -- which I thought was cool, considering he probably routinely deals with fire departments who purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of apparatus and support.

Mr. Darley asked me for the pump's serial number. Once I gave it to him, he said "I'll be right back."

Over the phone, (which he had laid down on his desk without putting me on hold) I heard his chair wheel over to a file cabinet. He pulled on a drawer and rifled through the folders (being an office puke myself, I know what all these sounds are ). He rolled back to his desk.

"Yep," he said, "I have your pump right here." He then proceeded to give me the highlights, but then he stopped ...

"Ya want me to just send photocopies of all this to ya?"


About five days later, I received a large manila envelope in the mail. Not only did he send me the complete record of the pump and truck, including the original contract for the pump, but also information on the truck, too. He had also sent me a copy of the pump's service manual and ... a hat!

I think I ended up only spending about $500 on parts for the pump -- insignificant, really, compared to what they were selling to the Chicago Fire Department and others. But still -- I was heartened to know that large family corporations with heart still exist in America. It was completely and totally cool.

So anyway, here's the history. The history of the pump *is* the history of the truck. And the history of the pump begins with the Second World War. The War Department issued huge orders with Darley and a few other major apparatus manufacturers to produce thousands of firetrucks needed to rebuild infrastructure in Europe in the aftermath of a devastating U.S. invasion at Normandy and subsequent "scorched earth" retreat expected of the German forces as they retreat from France and the Low Countries.

As it turned out, the brilliant D-Day landings and subsequent lightning fast advance across Europe by Patton's and Montgomery's armies denied the Germans any opportunity to destroy infrastructure -- meaning that there was ultimately no need for the thousands of fire apparatus stockpiled to rebuild Europe after the war. Europe was devastated by WWII to be sure, but not as completely as the War Department expected. Thus, the completed trucks were sent out to the American Heartland to give much of rural America its first community fire protection -- which is why there were so many of these G-series firetrucks in small town fire departments.

Back to my pump.

So, with World War II rapidly winding down, I can almost see the Darley factory manager in Chicago pointing to thousands of pumps that had just come off the assembly line, waiting to go on the front of G-series trucks that weren't going to show up now.

"What am I supposed to do with all of these pumps?" he asked the War Department contracting rep.

"We don't care," the government guy might have said (in effect.) "We don't want 'em."

So my pump, which was built in mid 1945, probably went on a shelf in the warehouse. And there it sat until 1952 when the City of Quincy, ILL, came to Darley needing a small truck. Darley made them a deal on the pump and built a unit around the pump on a 1952 F-600.

In the early 1960's, Quincy traded the pump back in to Darley for something newer and bigger and the pump got rebuilt and put back on the shelf until 1965 when the town of Seymour, ILL came along, with a need for a bare bones tanker truck (common in cities prior to widespread infrastructure like water and sewer systems). What they didn't have, quite obviously, was a lot of funding. Darley spec'd them out a simple water tanker with ... a "Blue Light Special" pump!

That truck is pretty much how you see it today -- the heart of the unit is the Darley Champion 500-gallon per minute pump on the front (put there so you can roll up to a river or pond) and the 1,000-gallon tank on the back. It had two booster reels installed, but one has since been removed to create a storage compartment.

The truck body features a large storage compartment at the back (with a big dump valve) and a three-section 30-foot steel ladder. Odds and ends like hose, fittings, hard line and strainers complete the package, as well as a few Indian pumpers on the back for show.

The Seymour volunteers had the truck (but didn't use it much, considering the truck had 8,000 miles on it when I got it) until the late 1990's when it was sold to the Michigan Motor Speedway's campground and used for putting out campers' fires. (It's come in handy for when we have our humongous burn piles here at the farm, but fortunately, never have had to use it for that!) The Speedway contracted out its fire protection in 2005 and they sold the truck to me in 2006.

Bringing the truck home from Michigan was a saga -- so we wrote a story about it for the Features section)!

It has less than 10,000 miles on it, runs and drives like nearly new and it just an awesome truck! Peggy particularly enjoys the siren!

Since buying the truck, we've done a little body work and repainted the unit. The pump has been overhauled and we've put new wheels and tubeless tires (10R22.5 radials) -- that made everything good to go (for the Boss), so we could participate in the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival Firefighters' Parade. The truck made the 300-mile round trip just fine in company with three other fire engines from Southern Maryland.

Because of the truck's age and low-mileage, some other things hadn't gotten upgraded over the years. In addition to still having the wheels and tires on it that it came with from the factory, it still had all of it's other original rubber pieces, too -- like fuel lines which did not stand up well (at all ...) to 21st Century, ethanol-containing fuel. So, we've had to replace the entire fuel and carburation system -- fuel lines, fuel pump and the carburetor. We replaced the original Stromberg single barrel carburetor (after two unsuccessful attempts at rebuilding it after the fuel pump failed and packed the carb full of teeny rubber fragments ...) with a modern Holley 300 two-barrel carb. As part of the carb upgrade, we also lost the governor.

Also upgraded was the distributor -- with installed a Pertonix electronic ignition system in lieu of the original points.

With all of the upgrades to wheels, tires, fuel system and the ignition, we now have a parade-ready truck that cruises comfortably at highway speeds (and gets better gas mileage now, too!). We had a local welding shop fabricate a trailer hitch and we've been able to haul the 1949 Chevy 1-ton to shows as well, now and then.

This truck has been a great big pile of fun over the years. "Tanker 51" has been in several other local parades, when it's not out there watering down, trees and lately adding water to our compost windrows.

A tanker truck ... everyone needs to have one (or a friend with one)!

John and Peggy Milliman

0 Reader Comments

Join the Discussion