WALLKILL—Most people don’t realize that private citizens can own fire trucks, says Luke Payntar Jr., a Pawling resident who has a collection of about 200 of them.
“Alright, maybe like 190,” he said. “I’m not really sure how many I own.”
He and 90-some other fire apparatus enthusiasts have joined together in a club called the Fairchester Hose Haulers whose headquarters are in a warehouse in Wallkill that is owned by one of their most active members, Andrew Leider. The Hose Haulers are part of a national organization called the Society for the Preservation & Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus in America or SPAAMFAA for short, which has a chapter in almost all 50 states.
When asked how many engines Leider has in his multiple warehouses, Payntar has a hard time pinning down a number.
“He’s coming up on 600 fire trucks,” he said.
“He’s really got to be the best, [most] well-known fire collector in the country,” he added.
“In the world,” corrected 58-year SPAAMFAA member and Middletown resident Robert Reynolds.
In the afternoon of Aug. 5, the Wallkill warehouse had a few hundred trucks, which are variously owned by Hose Hauler members, Payntar, Leider, and the club itself. They range from a 1916 American LaFrance to ones just out of the firehouse, and come in all shades of red and a rainbow of other colors.
One thing they all have in common, said Payntar, is that they’re all unique. “To the fire trucks enthusiast people, they would say these trucks have character,” he said.
Most of them were custom-made for the fire companies they served, or were made in such small numbers that they are very rare, he said.
Walking through the boarding house for these once active engines, it is clear that they all come with a story, with most of them having been owned by more than one fire company. And that story is what makes them valuable, said Payntar, who fixes and tries to resell them.
Their most valuable asset in his eyes is their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) because it brings their history and the history of the fire departments they once served back to life.
“It’ll have sentimental value [for them],” he said.
The Hose Haulers have been known to lend their fire trucks to the fire truck’s original fire companies for funeral processions for fallen members, parades, and sometimes on permanent loan with the stipulation it never be sold.
But the group has finite resources, Payntar says, and fixing up old fire trucks, some of which have been rusting in a field, can quickly become a black money hole. Connecting them back to their municipality or fire company of origin can be the ticket, because people will pay to get a piece of their history back, Payntar said.
People want it out of sentimentality, and for “paying tribute to the lost firemen of the fire department that that fire truck belonged to,” Payntar said.
Another way the Hose Haulers are hoping to drum up interest in antique fire apparatus is the national SPAAMFAA convention that they are hosting this year, an honor they have been waiting five years for. The last one they held was in 1997, Reynolds said.
The bi-annual conventions are held by SPAAMFAA chapters all around the country, and coincidentally, they will be held in New York for three years in a row: Syracuse last year, Wallkill this year, and Watertown next year.
The convention lasts for four days and starts Aug. 10 with registration and a luncheon for SPAAMFAA members. The next two days have field trips to nearby attractions planned, and on Aug. 13, there will be a 9 a.m. parade of the fire apparatus from the Middletown High School to the Truck House, the Hose Hauler’s headquarters, on Rt. 302.
A muster will follow, which includes firefighter competitions, a handmade scale model fire apparatus display, demonstrations on fire truck gold leafing, and a fire-themed flea market, among other things.
The main attraction will be the vast display of fire trucks though. In addition to some 18 Ahrens-Fox trucks, which Payntar describes as the Rolls Royce of fire trucks, they arranged to bring a 1965 NYFD Mack super pumper from the Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum in Bay City, Michigan, which Leider donated the engine for. On the museum’s now defunct website, it advertises the super pumper as the “world’s largest and most famous fire truck.”
When asked how many fire trucks would be in the parade, the organizers said they had 50 signed up as of Aug. 10, but had no idea how many would show up.
Reynolds said SPAAMFAA members try to make it to each others shows when they can, so they are expecting members from across the country and Canada, and maybe even some from overseas.
“You can’t get a motel room [in the area], period,” said Reynolds.
Some 340 people had signed up for the convention as of Aug. 5, but because the muster is open and free to the public, they expect the attendance to be much higher, likely over 1,000.
They also hope their membership will be higher once the convention is over with all the publicity they’re getting. Payntar said he hopes it gets people into the hobby, and emphasizes there is no requirement that someone own a fire truck to be a Hose Hauler member. All that’s required is that they pay their dues.
“A car is really cool but a fire truck’s a lot of fun,” Payntar said, advertising the club. “It pumps water. A car, you can just pump gas through it. A car you can pop the trunk, but a fire truck you can put the ladder up if you had a ladder truck.”
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