Courtesy of Barrett-Jackson
by B. Mitchell Carlson and Stuart Lenzke This FWD Pumper, Engine 2632, was in service as a front-line pumper until 2004, when it was replaced by a new pumper engine at the Baker Rural Fire Protection District in Baker City, OR. Department personnel bought the retired engine from the department. The firefighters believe the old engine and its rich service history deserved far more than to fall into a state of abandonment. Engine 2632 has been used for parades and special events, including some photo advertisements in Boise, ID. The department personnel hope a new owner will give this family member the home it deserves for the lives and property it has saved. A Cummins 220 engine with 5-speed manual transmission powers this fire truck.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1952 FWD F-Series Fire Truck
Years Produced:1946–55
Number Produced:Unknown
Original List Price:$5,500
SCM Valuation:$10,825
Tune Up Cost:$1,500
Distributor Caps:N/A
Chassis Number Location:On weight rating plate on the driver’s door
Engine Number Location:Driver’s side of the block, aft of the injection pump
Club Info:American Truck Historical Society
Alternatives:1947–55 American LaFrance model 700 COE, 1946–60 Oshkosh W-Series fire chassis, 1951–70 Seagrave 70th Anniversary series, 1949–82 Crown Firecoach
Investment Grade:D

This truck, Lot 26, sold for $12,650, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas auction on October 19, 2017.

Many have heard of Oshkosh Truck — now Oshkosh Corporation — a world-renowned manufacturer of heavy-duty military and civilian trucks.

Yet few know of the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company, or FWD, which was the first successful U.S. manufacturer of four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Both FWD and Oshkosh Truck had roots in the small town of Clintonville, WI. Started in 1908 by Otto Zachow and his brother-in-law William Besserdich, what became FWD in 1911 was the world’s largest maker of four-wheel-drive trucks by the end of the decade, having built upwards of 15,000 FWD Model Bs for the U.S. Army.

Besserdich left FWD and co-founded Wisconsin Duplex Auto Company, which relocated south to the city of Oshkosh to become the Oshkosh Motor Truck Manufacturing Company.

As the post-World War I market was flush with trucks, FWD sold parts to sustain the business until the market picked up again.

As the demand for more specialized trucks picked up through the 1920s and 1930s, FWD offered a bewildering array of choices, not just in wheelbase and model, but also in engine, transmission, axle, carburetor and even ignition. Buda and Cummins Diesels with Waukesha and Hercules gas engines served most needs prior to World War II. GM diesel use increased post-war, with International gas engines replacing Waukesha starting in the mid-1950s.

FWD built its own transmissions, transfer cases and axles, but the company also offered Brown-Lipe, Cotta, Fuller, Wisconsin and Timken parts.

FWD also dabbled in auto racing, with a four-wheel-drive Miller V8-powered car placing 4th in the 1932 Indianapolis 500.

FWD continued as a custom-build truck manufacturer into the late 1990s, with an emphasis on Seagrave fire engines. FWD bought Seagrave Fire Apparatus in 1963. Today, FWD Seagrave is still in Clintonville and building fire trucks.

From Portland to Baker City

FWD Seagrave didn’t have much information on our subject truck, so we contacted the Baker Rural Fire Protection District in Baker City, OR.

The district’s retired chief, Howard Payton, knew a lot about our fire truck.

Payton said the truck is a 1950 model — not a 1952.

In 1986, the Baker Rural Fire District bought the truck — then white — from the Portland Fire Department. The truck came cheap, as the original gas Waukesha engine was toast.

A freshly overhauled Cummins 220 was salvaged from a wrecked Freightliner and adapted to the FWD. The truck was then painted yellow.

Chief Payton said our subject truck was a good brush-fire truck. The four-wheel-drive truck was equipped with a 750-gallon-per-minute pump and a 1,000-gallon water tank. That rig made the truck perfect for fighting wildfires and structural fires in rural areas.

For quicker rough-country response times, the tire chains were left on all winter.

The truck as sold in Las Vegas looks like it is in very good condition. The unusual chrome grille gives the truck a unique look. Use of the International Truck Comfo-Vision cab started about five years after our subject truck was built, so it may well have a wood-framed cab.

Owning a FWD

One of us owns one of these beasts, although it is not a fire truck. After moving off Minot Air Force Base, ND, to a place in the country in early 1996, Stuart needed a last-resort snow defense system.

He became the owner of a 1947 FWD Model HR snowplow that used to clear the streets of St. Paul, MN. The choice was easy, as he could have paid $1,500 to put a plow on his 1975 GMC ¾-ton pickup. Instead, he paid $500 for the FWD Model HR snowplow.

Stuart’s snowplow is styled very similarly to our subject truck. The snowplow has a wood-framed, slightly different cab. It has the 404-ci Waukesha 6MZR gasoline flathead straight-six engine and a FWD 5-speed with a Hi/Lo transfer case.

Low miles and hammered engines

Fire trucks are hit-and-miss on values. Overall condition plays a far greater part than low miles, as the vast majority of fire trucks have low miles.

However, fire trucks often have a ton of hours on the engine, as they often ran a pump at full throttle for hours on end. Some gearheads may buy fire trucks as a cheap way of getting a low-mile chassis once the fire apparatus is stripped off. However, those same low-mileage trucks may be mechanically needy.

The level of specialization also plays a big factor in values. On the bottom of the pecking order is a regular commercial chassis with a fire body on it.

The next tier up is trucks from the more-specialized builders. Our FWD is in this category, along with Oshkosh, Mack and International.

The top tier is fire-engine-specific builders, such as American LaFrance, Seagrave and Crown Firecoach.

Where do you put it?

A fire truck has limited practicality for a civilian. Most will not fit in a standard garage.

A fire truck is a very big toy that you need to park. If you park it outside, the fire truck is not going to fare well. Serious fire-truck collectors can afford to properly store and maintain their equipment.

A person of average means might be able to properly care and tend to one rig, but anything more is just too much.

Our subject fire truck sold well because of the venue — and because it was a serviceable unit rather than one raised from the dead.

This sale doesn’t set the market for FWD fire trucks. A year and a half ago, a local estate sale had a few vehicles in the mix. One of them was a similar FWD fire engine — a model F75T, built 415 units before our subject truck. This truck had the usual Waukesha gas engine, and it had been sitting dormant for some time. It still ran, but it had issues. That truck sold for $450, and it probably went to the scrappers.

The Cummins engine probably helped the sale of our subject fire truck. In today’s truck world, diesels are more accepted than a gas engine that may get two miles to the gallon — if you’re lucky.

Granted, servicing a vintage Cummins 220 is a more specialized task than caring for a 6B yanked out of a T-boned Ram 3500 Quad Cab dually. The Cummins 220 saw a long service life — many are still working for a living — so parts and service know-how are still out there.

We suspect that a collector — one with the means to park it inside with the rest of his toys — bought our subject fire truck. Many fire-truck collectors — despite their real age — are still kids who always wanted a fire truck.

This emotion will always drive the fire-truck market. Looking in from the outside, we may feel this truck was well sold. But to the buyer, it was the deal of the day.

(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.)

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