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Monday, August 8, 2022

Not Your Average Classic Car:
Tractor trailers, fire trucks and more
highlight Alexander antique truck show

  • By MATT SURTEL, msurtel@batavianews.com

Some people might dream of ‘55 Chevy or ‘66 Ford Galaxie.

As for Andrew Balling and friends? Try a 1979 American LaFrance fire truck equipped with lights and sirens, and capable of pumping 500 gallons in a mere 40 seconds.

“Camaros, Corvettes and Mustangs are a dime a dozen,” Balling said good-naturedly Sunday after letting some youngsters explore the truck’s cab. “How many fire trucks are there?”

Balling was among an estimated 200 people who brought their vehicles to the Empire State Antique Truck Association’s 36th annual Truck, Tractor & Construction Equipment Show. The event featured everything from pickups, to vintage tractor trailers, to military deuce-and-a-half trucks — basically the vehicles that keep society running as a whole.

A mix of families, collectors and retired truckers alike explored the grounds, sharing stories and getting a chance to see the vehicles up-close-and-personal. This year’s event took place at the WNY Gas & Steam Show Grounds. “It’s been a great weekend,” said Bob Thompson of the Empire State Antique Truck Association. “We’ve had great weather. We’ve had a great turnout. This is a new location for us and it’s been great — everybody’s come over for the show.”

What’s the appeal? 

“Some people think they’re cool,” said Thompson, who brought a ‘63 and a ‘74 Brockway to the event. “But a lot of it is they have some kind of memory of a truck: ‘My father used to drive a truck like this.’ Of course the work trucks, those are trucks that are still working, and they like to bring it over and show it off ... There’s just a lot of reasons for having a truck and being in the hobby.”

Bob Zink, of Argyle, Washington County, had brought his 1978 Peterbilt to the event. He’s a longtime trucker, now retired, who still enjoys driving.

“I am the second owner of this truck,” Zink said. “The first one was a good friend of mine. When he retired, I got it from him — but I never worked it. And shortly after I got it I retired, and this is what I do with it now.

“It’s an old man’s toy, I guess you could call it,” he continued. “I go to these kinds of shows and I’m from southern Washington County, which is about 45 minutes north of Albany.”

Zink began his trucking career in 1963 — when he first started, the trucks had less power, fewer axles, and were limited to lower lengths. Power, length and distances increased over time.

What’s it like to drive his Peterbilt? “Like old times,” Zink said, smiling. “Coming to places like this and meeting new people — the social thing I guess.”

His truck likewise gets attention from active truckers when he’s out-and-about. Balling’s fire truck also has a history. It was the last American LaFrance vehicle in service in the City Tonawanda and was retired in 2017.

He and his brother wanted to buy it, and keep it in the city.

They’ve restored the fire truck to its 1979 appearance — the only very minor difference is a tribute to the Sept. 11 responders on a window.

Balling was accompanied Sunday by his friends Bob Williams and Jim Haight. Bolling and Williams are themselves longtime volunteer firefighters.

“Everything on the truck works,” Balling said. “It’s got 500 gallons of water in it ... The top deck gun will dump the 500 gallons in 40 seconds. She’ll still pump 1,385 gallons per minute.”

“If a vehicle in the parking lot caught fire and there was nothing else to do, we’ve got that pump with us and could put it out,” Williams said.

The truck’s now 43 years old and evokes an earlier era. It was forced out of service due to federal regulations — the truck’s rear-facing seats are open to the elements, which is no longer allowed. But like Zink’s Peterbilt, the fire truck gets a lot of attention and makes appearances through the area. Maintenance requirements are basic, but Balling recommends knowing a truck’s history before making such a purchase — one should make sure everything works. But it’s more than worth it, with the conversations, the shared stories, and the ability to show off a cool piece of gear.

“Letting kids get up into the cab is the whole thing,” Balling said. “It’s letting them see it, you know?”

Check www.gernatt.com for more information about the Empire State Antique Truck Association.

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