Vintage firetruck full of fond memories


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A fan of vintage firefighting equipment, Bill Purdue once had four fire trucks. He must now sell the last one – a 1938 Ford Darley.

L.A Davis

Not everyone has a full-size vintage firetruck in their shed. Merritt Island residents Bill and Jane Purdue have something to please the whole neighborhood.

“It’s a 1938 Ford Darley, open-cab, 500-gallon pumper,” Bill Purdue said.  “I call the shed my ‘firehouse.’ At one time, I had three engines in the firehouse and one sitting out back.  I’ve sold all but this one.”

Purdue, 86, is selling his last truck now because he and Jane Purdue, a retired nurse, are moving to a senior living complex. Obviously, the truck can’t go with them.

But Daisy, the family dog — a dalmation, of course — probably will.

“We are working on that,” said Jane Purdue. “Bill and Daisy rang bells for the Salvation Army at Christmastime. I believe they set a record — collected over $1,000 in a few hours.”

Although they have enjoyed the firehouse, early in their marriage there were no firetrucks.

Bill Purdue had to do some fast talking when he brought the first firetruck home in 1968.  Their son, Will Purdue, was only 3 years old. 

The younger Purdue, a Merritt Island High and Vanderbilt University graduate, went on to play basketball for the Chicago Bulls. After he retired from playing, he became an analyst for NBC.

Bill Purdue, who is a retired U.S. Air Force reservist and volunteer Merritt Island firefighter, also held engineering jobs at Kennedy Space Center. He was on active duty at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia when he was told a nearby fire station was selling a 1928 American LaFrance 1,000 gallon pumper. 

 An avid fan since childhood, Purdue made the purchase. But, he didn’t tell his wife.

“I heard this loud engine and the house started shaking,” Jane Purdue said. “That’s when he had to admit he bought a firetruck.”

To accommodate that firetruck, the Purdues purchased two-plus acres on Merritt Island to build the “firehouse.” 

“We built the shed before the house,” Bill Purdue said, noting they became enthusiastic collectors of vintage firefighting equipment. “Every summer, Jane would take Will back to the family farm in Virginia for a visit while I was on active duty. We would drive back to Florida loaded with potatoes and all sorts of produce.  We would stop at every antique shop along the way looking for vintage firefighting equipment.”

“We looked like ‘Sanford and Son,’ Jane Purdue added, “but we got a lot of great things.”

Bill Purdue said he is sad to sell his last firetruck.

“I put 40,000 miles on that truck,” he said. “Even though it’s open cab, I once drove it all the way to Massachusetts for a big national convention. There were 218 firetrucks there. We won the prize for driving the longest distance.”