The Vintage Firetruck and its story

Today–Memorial Day, 2023–I am reposting a story I wrote ten years ago in honor of my uncle who I never knew.

We’ve been fighting with our stuff these last few weeks, and it’s been getting me down. I haven’t written about stuff lately: I’ve been shredding it, organizing it, recycling it, boxing it up, throwing it out, giving it away, … And truthfully?

It doesn’t look like I’ve done anything.

And then I came to this:Antique Steelcraft Toy Mack Firetruck This is the cleaned up version. For the last three years it has been relegated to the floor of my upstairs sewing room where it’s been catching dust rather than putting out fires. And let me tell you, this baby catches a lot of dust.

What to do with this cool old maybe-worth-some-money toy? (It is now sitting on top of my son’s refrigerator.)

This Mack Hook and Ladder truck was manufactured by Steelcraft in Cleveland Ohio sometime between 1928 and 1935. It has two ladders on the sides that attach to a ladder in the back. When these ladders are put together, they are over three feet high. A kid could put out some mighty fires with this thing.

The ladders also can be cranked up and down — the deluxe model. But in 1930, there were no warnings on toys; this Mack truck could do some damage… It has string that could choke; small parts that could fall off and hit; clips that could pinch fingers, and seriously sharp ladder edges that could poke an eye out. But it also has a real brass bell that dings and a hose that unwinds… Generations have played with this truck — my kids played with it and lived (with no serious injuries). Vintage Steelcraft Mack Firetruck

It belonged to my mother’s brother, Uncle Donnie. I never knew him; he was killed in World War II in France in 1944.

Jean and big brother DonI don’t know much about him. My grandma, Nanny, always started to cry when his name was mentioned, so we never talked about him much. Mom only said that she was the kid sister, and just as she was getting old enough for them to be friends again, he joined the army and went off to war. He was a smart kid, an intellectual-type, who graduated from high school in 1943, went to college for one semester, and then went to war. A young boy who probably never wanted to be a soldier… and yet, he went, he served, and he died. At age 20.

He served with General Patton’s Third Army in the infantry. On October 26, 1944 the local newspaper published an excerpt from his letters home. It is a very long article, and I’m skipping here and there for these quotes below.
Waynesburg Republican, Oct. 26, 1944

…the French people stand in front of their homes (some of which have been bombed) with pitchers and glasses of cider and wine. The only trouble with the cider is that it’s hard instead of soft… Since I wrote you last we have done a lot of riding over France. Also a lot of walking both day and night. I never before realized France was such a beautiful country. Excellent terrain for fruit trees and agricultural rolling land, mostly level, with acres of wheat, oats, hay and grape vines neatly taken care of. We were about a month too soon for the plentiful supply of apples, grapes, etc…. Where I am now acres and acres of fields of wheat, oats, etc. are going to waste because of fighting around them… Last night I slept in a trench for the first time and didn’t sleep badly. A fox hole will probably follow…

PFC Don Longanecker, Jr.
We had our first hot water showers yesterday since our arrival in France. You can imagine how we felt. We’re hoping to get some clean clothes soon…The past ten days or two weeks have proven rather rough and tough for some of us. Especially in the way of sleep. Strange thing about it though is that when we get a chance to sleep, we just can’t seem to close our eyes…

Yes, the war news is good, but don’t let the newspapers make you believe the war is about over. I’ll tell you one thing, if we didn’t have air supremacy, I don’t know what we’d do. You don’t see any German planes by day and few by night…
Sept. 24. A lot of guys are getting souvenirs lately such as German pistols, knives, belts, etc. I don’t think I’ll bother with anything like that… Besides I’m not interested in souvenirs — just am anxious to get this thing over as soon as possible and get back home…

His obituary says he was killed on November 8 between Nancy and Metz in Northern France.

And I have a few photos. A yellowed newspaper article. A letter from the War Department. His obituary. And his firetruck.

Are Floods and Disasters the New Normal?

It’s been a long while since I have published in this space.

Oh yes, I’ve had several false starts, and many thoughts running through the old brain; “…that might make a good blog post,” I think. And then, nothing. I’ve had no energy to write, no words of comfort or peace to a world gone crazy, nothing to say that hasn’t been said…

At least part of that changed last week when we spent five days in Eastern Kentucky working with Disaster Relief at Christian Appalachian Project. CAP, as it is known by friends and family, workers and volunteers, has been in Eastern Kentucky since 1964. Father Ralph Beiting was assigned a parish in Berea, Kentucky and soon envisioned a volunteer organization that would assist with poverty relief in the poorest areas of Eastern Kentucky.

CAP’s mission center in Martin, KY
It was a beautiful place to have no electricity…unfortunately we had to cook for 60 people.

Mr. HC and I had been to CAP four times in the years before the pandemic. We went with groups and worked on houses. We built ramps, repaired roofs, led a team of college kids on spring break, and cooked for those kids too. One March we weathered a surprise snow storm that left six inches on the ground and no electricity for two days.

It was a Thursday evening in late July and we sat down to watch the evening news. It was the second day of flooding in Eastern Kentucky and there was the Governor at the Pikeville Community Center. Paintsville, Martin, Floyd County–they were all familiar to us. We sat in silence, almost in tears, wondering if these were people we’d met, houses we’d worked on…

Later that evening I checked my email and found one from Becky at Christian Appalachian Project. “Dear Carol,” it read. “CAP’s Disaster Relief Command Center is currently set-up in Floyd County at our CAP facility in Martin, Kentucky. We will begin assessing the damage August 1. Soon after, the cleanup will begin. We need volunteers to assess properties, begin cleanup, help distribute needed items to families, cook, and help in the volunteer lodging facility. WE NEED YOU!”

I read it to Mr. HC. And then I said, “This might be an email from God….”

That night we replied to the email. The next day we filled out online paperwork, that afternoon our registration was accepted. We were going in a week. Friends from our two churches donated money and supplies and we left on Sunday with a truckload of mops, bleach, gloves, buckets, brooms, and garbage bags, wondering if our two old bodies and minds could do what they would ask of us. It all came together so quickly, we didn’t have time to panic.

We worked at the Distribution Center all week. Unloading trucks and cars of donated supplies, moving items around every hour. 50 mops disappeared in 2 hours. $700 in sheets and comforters were gone in a morning. Boxes of underwear were unloaded and passed through windows. More diapers were delivered so we had to move other things around to accommodate them. More clothing was delivered, so we had to change how we stocked it. On Wednesday my iPhone registered 14,978 steps. You’re walking more than last week, it told me.

Because we worked at the Distribution Center we did not go out with the teams who were mucking out or gutting houses, so we didn’t see the damage. But we heard firsthand the stories from the folks who came in for help. They were heartbreaking. Some had no transportation because the car was flooded and no longer worked. One family still had no electricity after three weeks. They were eating Army MREs (meals ready to eat) that someone had given them. We were able to give them some fast food gift cards; most everyone just wanted cleaning supplies, until they saw that we also had sheets, towels, personal care items, and clothing.

One family had moved the kids to the grandparents’ house, so they could take up carpets and throw out ruined stuff without the kids seeing it. Their other grandma was sleeping on an air mattress in their living room until they could find her a new place to live. A young pregnant woman was staying with her dad until it could be decided if her house was salvageable. He was letting her borrow his truck for work because her car was ruined.

Like the damage done by Katrina, this damage will be around for years. At the Distribution Center were also state offices and FEMA, but these ruined houses aren’t going to be rebuilt quickly. Here are some other articles to read for more information:

And here are some other organizations that are working on flood relief:

You can send any of these items directly to the Foley Mission Center, Distribution Center, 6134 KY-80, Martin, KY 41649

Unlike just the disaster relief organizations, CAP is in it for the long haul. They’ve been around for almost fifty years rebuilding houses, running youth camps, food pantries, thrift stores–and it’s mainly done with volunteers like you and me who give up a week or two, or a year or two of their lives. Before we left, the team there estimated that the Distribution Center at CAP would probably be open for several more months. Here was the list they tacked up on Friday, the day we left.

The work is hard, the fellowship and the camaraderie is amazing, laughter and tears are prevalent, the food is great, and you collapse exhausted in your bunk bed (hopefully a bottom cot) around 8:30. Coffee is on around 6; breakfast is at 7. See you then.

Season of Winter

The day says goodbye with a painted sky

The colors more glorious than has been the day

God affirms his presence, confirms his essence,

And beauty breaks through.

Yet God does not promise roses in winter,

Each season holds elements hard and cold.

But He asks us to find the intricate design

In beauty breaking through.

Perhaps the season is painful and harsh,

Perhaps the gray days have us weary,

But we can choose hope–for all seems new

When beauty breaks through.