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.

Bees and Blossoms and Frosts

The apple trees are in full bloom

After a week of 70 degree temperatures, the cold winds came blowing.

Two nights ago the low was 28 degrees; last night it was 30 degrees. We’ve been glued to our phones, watching as the frost warnings come and go. It’s always interesting when our weather apps forecast different temperatures.

According to several state orcharding sites, blossoms can survive temperatures above 28 degrees. It’s been close. Tonight after sundown we sprayed with kelp and fish fertilizer, hoping it will fight the cold. Although the forecast was just changed to a low of 34 degrees…

One pear tree has tiny little red pears on it, which is a really good sign, and there are tiny cherries on the sour cherry tree–as well as an interesting little spider on a blossom.

Any fruit we get this year will be better than last year, when it snowed in May, and we ended up with about ten scabby apples, no pears, no cherries, and no peaches.

But for now we’re just enjoying the blossoms and hoping…

Every day is Earth day…


And did you know that every Earth Day has a theme? According to, this year’s theme is “Invest In Our Planet.” The mission is simple, “Get Inspired. Take Action. Be a part of the green revolution.”

So mostly to just feel like I’m taking action for the stewardship of this earth, last month I ordered a Zero Waste Box from TerraCycle for the food packaging waste that is 90% of our garbage. The company has recycling boxes for just about anything—beauty products, garage waste, batteries, drink bottles, styrofoam… You can check out their website here:

Our small rural recycling center is limited. They take only 1 & 2 plastics, tin cans, cardboard, and paper. No glass. No aluminum. We save the glass and make quarterly trips into a glass recycling place run by the Pennsylvania Resource Council. We bag up the aluminum and give it separately to the guys who drive our garbage truck. They told Mr. H.C. that they kept it separate and sell it to an aluminum buyer. We were desperate, so we believe them. I guess. Cardboard and paper we either burn or shred and use in the garden as mulch. Food scraps are composted. So that left food packaging, meat scraps, and 3 through 7 plastics that went into our garbage bags. Oh, and kitty litter. (If anyone has any good ideas on how to environmentally dispose of kitty litter, please tell me.)

I bought the Zero Waste Box because I was just disgusted at the amount of food packaging waste we had. Mr. H.C. was unhappy about the high price of the box. I get it. It was more than I would normally spend, so I told him it was an experiment. But at some point, we consumers have to admit that we are complicit in greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, the big oil and gas companies are the worst offenders, but “…45% of global greenhouse gas emissions comes solely from the production of things we use and buy every day.” That quote is from an article “How Buying Stuff Drives Climate Change” by Renee Cho. Here in rich first-world-America we are really guilty: yes, I’m trying to make you feel guilty and think about all that stuff you put in the trash. Think about where it ends up. And our grocery store shelves are filled with food wrapped in plastic and cellophane. We’d better start taking responsibility for it, hadn’t we?

I paid $124 for the small Zero Waste Box that is 11″ x 11″ x 20″. I’ve been cramming stuff in for 7 weeks now, and it is almost full. If I really wanted to, I could dump it out and compress the stuff down a little more and maybe get 8 weeks. That is $15.50/week, and the return mailing is post paid. That doesn’t seem outrageous to me. But even better, our local library has a similar box in their front lobby where I’m going to be taking my stuff after this box is full. They are collecting plastics to be made into an outside bench.

Consider what else you can do to “invest in our planet.” And if you have to pay a little bit more, then consider it your “tax” for earth stewardship. I’ve also recently given up buying plastic baggies. I tried it one other time with some wax covered cloths and bags and they kind of worked for awhile, but I needed large bags for freezing breads, so I succumbed. But this time, I’ve found the answer, I think. These are compostable, and they work in the freezer too. And when I finish with my Finish Powerball Quantum Dishwasher pods, I’m going to be trying out the no-waste packaging of Dropps Dishwasher Pods.

Here’s your Earth Month challenge: Do something to make a difference, and tell me about it in your comments. It can be planting trees, planting a garden, making your own toothpaste, laundry soap, deodorant, face cream. It could be carrying your own silverware around so you don’t have to use plastic utensils. It can be seeming like a weirdo to the check out people at Walmart when you say, “Could you please put everything in this bag? I’m trying to cut down on my plastic use.” The last two times I’ve done this, I’ve actually come away pleased that I started a good conversation about it.

And I’m working on that kitty litter…