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.

45. Hearth Songs

The chimney at the cottage touches three rooms — the kitchen, the living room, and the mudroom. Chimney in mudroomIn the kitchen and in the mudroom there are round openings for connecting up stoves or stove pipes. (The holes are covered with odd metal circles that look like paper plates.) In the living room is the fireplace. Bare brick only shows up in the mudroom, and it is rough. Perhaps that’s why the kitchen and living room parts of the chimney were plastered or paneled over. From time to time I lobby for uncovering the plaster in the kitchen or the living room for a partial-view of rough red brick, but Mr. H. C. vehemently vetoes the idea (quite stubbornly) every time.


This is what the fireplace looked like in August 2011, when we first acquired the cottage. Clara’s knickknacks and collectibles are gone from the mantle, and in their place is the febreeze and tissues!

It’s been a puzzle to us, how we were going to fix up and adapt the chimney for our use. We know it will need work, no matter what we decide. Earlier in the process of rehabbing the kitchen, when we were more naive, we took off the round stove pipe cover in the kitchen (just for curiosity); we discovered it was full of leaves, sticks, ashes, probably mouse nests, bird feathers, and other unmentionables. We quickly put the cover back on and said, “Okay, something else we have to clean before the kitchen reno is finished.”

We were supposed to do that this weekend (in my mind anyway…) but it was just another thing that got put on hold while life happened. It will be next weekend, I think; but it’s just as well because, dear readers, I think you would be totally disgusted by any pictures of this process. So I am off the hook for showing them to you; you are off the hook for having to look at them, and we shall simply move on to other, more favorable aspects of the chimney…


Not that this is very favorable! But you’ll notice that tools have replaced the Febreeze. And notice the paint shadows around the fireplace that tell us where some sort of hearth used to be.

We found this mantle pictured below in Waynesburg at a great little store called Jan’s Country Nook and Hardware. She bought the hardware store several years ago; she has kept the hardware inventory and added her own antiques and collectible finds. There’s everything from hard-to-find screws, antique oil finish, wash basins, quilts, canning jars, and old whatchacallits… A fireplace mantle in the window drew us inside. When we walked in, there were two old timers there looking around and offering their commentaries — “Well look at this, I ain’t seen one a these in years!” “Is that a real stuffed coon? He looks like he’s seen some hard times!” She had several fireplace mantles leaning around, and we found this one that was the perfect size. Well, almost perfect. So we paid our $75 and hauled it away.

Fireplace mantle

This mantle is old (dove-tailed joints) and made of pine, but stain-varnished to look like oak. I love that about it. It was made by a craftsman who just used pine…It was also used for a coal fireplace because it is filthy with coal dust. That’s what gives it the lovely patina! We aren’t sure what will happen when we start to clean it. The stain varnish may come right off and we’ll end up painting it…Ah, the adventures an old house brings!

Only after we got home and leaned the mantle up against the fireplace, did we seriously start looking for gas logs. (See post 41. A Winter’s Eve.) And that’s when we discovered that our lovely little living room fireplace is actually for coal. This was typically done in Victorian houses in bedrooms for a lttle extra warmth. The fireplace dimensions are small, so gas logs are out. What’s in are very nice looking (read expensive) coal baskets.


This is a picture of a coal basket from Four Seasons Supply; they sell these gas-coal baskets to retrofit old coal fireplaces.

Here is a another style from the same company:16c493f0

If you look closely at one of the photos of our fireplace, you’ll see that we already have the coal basket, so we’re hoping to find a unit that just has the burner and the coal thingys. (Oh, I love the exactness of the word thingy — and the best part is it can be substituted for ANY word! Hand me up that thingy… Did you see that thingy I’m looking for?… What are those round thingys in the fireplace?)

Yes, those round thingys in the fireplace are clay balls that were used to hold the heat in fireplaces. Michael counted them as he took them out of the coal basket — 61 of them! We both thought they were odd; most people who come here ask what they are. But while researching coal fireplaces, I found these fireballs. fireballsThey are now the “Contemporary Alternative” to gas logs at the Gas Log Guys website. Fireballs can be purchased in several different colors — brown, white, gray, adobe red, and black. We only have white, but if you like ’em, we, uh, have 61 for sale…

After Michael took out the fireballs, we put the decorative sycamore logs back in the coal grate and went looking for the little cast iron semicircle thingy that used to be in front of the fireplace. We found it and put it back. I cleaned the mantle this weekend (instead of the chimney) and sure enough, the stain varnish is chipping off in places.  We will have to paint it,  or antique it, or encourage its distressed look in some way, but that is more research and another post. Cinnamon brown? Dark gray? Gray-green? (Michael says no to antique white!) Stay tuned. But for now it has been decided — the wood stove with its real fire will go in the mudroom. Stay warm…


37. ReHabitat-ing the Yellow Bedroom

In a previous post, I told you about [reHabitat], the online design/decorating company who is giving us ideas on what to do with our yellow bedroom, while we concentrate on the kitchen and the bathroom. In the interest of full disclosure :-) [reHabitat] is Diane and Emily, my sister and my niece.

I chose the reVive box for the bedroom. They have several others to choose from — less and more. This is what we’re getting with the reVive box:


Need a bit more direction as you settle into your home or want to give a room an upgrade? Let us give you a basic framework that still allows you full creative control. You’ll start by taking our TasteTest, measuring your room, and snapping a few before photos. We’ll draw up a floor plan (based on pieces you already have and things we think you should add), recommend paint colors, and show you some examples of pieces to look for as you shop on your own.

Includes: floor plan, paint colors, links to furniture inspiration, notes/suggestions to address any problem areas, phone conversation to clarify any questions you have after you’ve received your box.

*Shameless advertising plug: Visit reHabitat’s website to find out about other rehab box packages. They have a fun blog as well. The link is

With the taste test are some pictures of chairs, couches, tables, accessories and such. I checked off the ones I liked — this gives them an idea of my taste! Then there are two sections of questions. Although I can’t give away all their secrets, the questions mostly deal with what you like about the room, what you envision for the room, your favorite colors, your hated colors, that sort of thing. It was fun to do, but I’ve always liked filling out questionnaires… The hardest part was making up a floor plan of the room, but there are fairly specific directions on how to go about it.

And then you get to tell them the pieces you have for the room that you want to keep and send them pictures. I’ve done all that in the form of this post below. Our problem is that we are downsizing. and we have too much furniture. So what do we keep? And what can we get to tie all the mishmashed pieces together? I’m sure you all have ideas as well. Who knows, I might get lots of input from you all. Stay tuned to see what the professionals do…

Here is the bedroom from the four corners:


Queen sized bed


The TV does not have to go in the bedroom. It’s only here now because there’s nowhere else to put it. Don’t you love the card table?


Small door goes into bathroom and has to be sanded and painted on the bath side, so could be on this side as well. The other door goes into the living room, is always open, and has to be replaced.


Lovely corner, eh? Even the pictures of this yellow room give me a headache…

We have three dressers to pick from:


This one was rescued at a thrift shop for $40, sanded, and ivy stenciled to go in the ivy bedroom. It can be painted or resanded — it’s yellow pine. It is 32″ x 17″ and 47″ high.


This is Clara’s oak dresser. It has to stay as is if used. (New hardware is okay.) 34″ x 18″ and 50″ high.

This is Michael’s dresser from childhood. (Is it back in?) I’ve been going to change the pulls forever — to a simpler mission type look — but never got around to it. At one point I suggested painting it (it is just pine) and he was okay with that. Dimensions are 51″ x 18″ and 30″ high.

Here are lamp choices: (There are two of each; we don’t have to use either set, and/or new shades can be selected).


These are fairly tall–30″


This pair is shorter–20″.

Here are some other furniture pieces that have been in past bedrooms at various times…

We dont' have matching nightstands. This is Michael's from when he was a kid  -- antique oak

We dont’ have matching nightstands. This is Michael’s from when he was a kid — antique oak

Here’s another:

This belonged to Michael’s grandmother; he thinks it is a Stickley.


Nanny’s cedar chest–it is long, 60″!–fits at the bottom of a queen-sized bed. 22″ wide.

There are also these two mirrors–one came from Dad and one came from Clara and they are almost identical. 20121112-225714.jpg


This is the ceiling light fixture. I kind of like it, but Michael isn’t so sure. It does bathe the room in yellow light, which goodness knows it doesn’t need right now, but maybe when there is new paint color?20121112-230547.jpg

This is the other one:20121116-074341.jpg
There are also a couple of rugs…I’m just showing them to you because we have them, and it is a hardwood floor.

5 x 8 Colors are sage, rust, pinkish tan, cream and brown

Size is 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 feet. Colors are sage, tans, creams, and dark rose. It is currently in the living room at our house in Pittsburgh.

So, is there any way you can put this jumbled up stuff together and have it be fresh?