1947 Willys Jeep Fire Truck
West Vancouver Fire Department Shop # 34
Sterling 1947 Willys CJ2A Type “F” Fire Truc
In 1947 Willys-Overland, looking for new post war markets, designed a fire truck on the CJ2A platform.
Willys licensed the design to several producers; Howe Fire Apparatus of Anderson, Indiana, Boyer Fire Apparatus of Logansport, Indiana and for the Canadian Market, Sterling Machine & Manufacturing of Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada.
Boyer produced 129 Units, Sterling produced at least 100 units, and it is unknown how many were produced by Howe. All three manufacturer’s models were almost identical, based on the licensed design.
As of today, only two of the 100 units produced by Sterling exist in Canada. The majority of the Fire Jeeps Sterling produced were sold to the Canadian Armed Forces, but a small number were sold to civil departments.
This is the story of West Vancouver, British Columbia’s 1947 Willys CJ2A Fire Truck, Shop #34.
The 1947 CJ2A is powered with a Willys-Overland 4 cylinder, 134 cubic inch, 60 HP L Head Go Devil Engine. The transmission is a 3 speed with a High/Low transfer case.
The Sterling Manufacturing model was called a Type “F” Fire Truck as it carried two fog nozzles. In the 1940s, fighting fire with fog nozzles was a relatively new method and was touted as being capable of “rapid extinguishment with smaller quantities of water” as quoted in the Sterling specifications.
The pump is a front mounted Barton Type U-40 single stage 375 GPM centrifugal pump equipped with two 2 ½” discharges, a 1” booster line outlet, 4” intake and a vacuum primer which operates off the engine intake manifold.
It is a direct drive off of the engine through a dual clutch system.
The body consists of two side compartments, a 60 gallon water tank and a hose bed.
For the Canadian climate the water tank was equipped with an emersion 110 volt heater for small departments storing the truck in an unheated station. An additional exhaust heater was permanently welded to the bottom of the water tank.
Above the hose bed was a large basket holding the 200’ of booster line and nozzle, and assorted tools.
The Jeep was equipped with an overhead rack which carried:
1 – 30’ aluminum 3 section extension ladder
1 – 10’ aluminum roof ladder
2 – 10’ lengths of 4” hard suction hose
2- 1 ½” combination fog nozzle & straight through orifice with 4’ applicators.
The emergency warning system was a hood mounted Federal Model “W” Siren Light.
In 1948, the Municipality of West Vancouver was actively looking for a fire engine to serve its Horseshoe Bay area, which at the time was remote, residential and rural.
In the fall of 1948, after some research, it was decided to pursue the purchase of the Willys Fire Truck. Willys Distributers (BC) Ltd. had one available in stock for purchase.
It is interesting to note that the rating of the Barton pump varied depending on what source the information came from.
A 1947 advertisement from Willys-Overland described it as a 375 GPM Pump. The Sterling specifications sheet described it as a 400 GPM pump. Yet the US National Board of Fire Underwriters in 1946 rated the Barton U-40 for 306 GPM at 128 psi. These ratings are of course from a 10’ draught.
West Vancouver was assuming that the addition of this Jeep Fire Truck would improve their insurance rating.
In a correspondence from Willys-Overland Canada to the BC Willys distributer one paragraph states:
“Mr. Graham states quite emphatically that any municipality purchasing a ‘Jeep” Fire Engine will be entitled to a reasonable insurance rate reduction and even a substantial reduction where such a purchase is combined with good water facilities and an efficient volunteer firefighter organization.”
**Mr. Graham being the Chief Apparatus Engineer for Canadian Underwriters Association.
To finish off the drama, ten days prior to the finalization of the sale, West Vancouver receives a letter from the BC Underwriters Association stating that any fire apparatus must have a pump rated 500 GPM or higher to affect the insurance rating.
Notwithstanding the BC Underwriters decision, On January 10th, 1949 the 1947 Willys CJ2A Type “F” Fire Truck (Willys Serial #114850) (Sterling Serial Number F7747) was purchased for $6,283.00 from W.G. Brander Motors Ltd, the local Willys dealership.
Upon delivery it was designated Shop # 34 and soon after the Municipal garage fabricated and installed a heavy duty brush guard to protect the pump. It was designed so it could be quickly removed for easy access to the pump.
For its first 15- 20 years, #34 served the Horseshoe Bay area of West Vancouver. It responded to all types of fires and incidents.
In the early 1960’s, the overhead ladder rack was removed due to lack of stability on curves and some near roll-overs. The removal of the rack also allowed the Jeep to access vehicle fires in underground and covered parking lots.
Sometime later, the water tank, basket and booster line were also removed to create a larger hose capacity in the bed.
With the overhead rack removed Unit 34 carried a single 10’ length of hard suction on the passenger side of the Jeep up until its retirement from service.
Through the 70’s and 80’s Unit 34’s primary role was a brush fire response vehicle.
The last call Unit 34 responded to was a vehicle fire on the upper level of a local shopping center parkade.
Unit 34 was taken out of service in 1989 and donated to the West Vancouver Fire Service Museum and Archives Society.
In 1990, a restoration was conducted with the help of a generous donation from Margaret “Billy” Langley, the wife of former West Vancouver Mayor Art Langley.
The restoration included, but was not limited to, body work, new paint, custom re-upholstery and returning to original style non-directional tires. The Federal siren and all the chromed pump fittings were sanded down and polished to their brass base. A plate honoring the donation is mounted on the wall behind the seats in the cab.
In 2019 the siren and pump parts were re-chromed back to their former glory.
Unit 34 has a rich history of supporting fire service charities, community events and parades. In 1991 it travelled to Victoria, British Columbia to attend the BC Fire Chiefs Convention at the Royal BC Museum and in 2008 it returned for the Victoria Fire Department’s 150th anniversary.
It is always a popular vehicle with fire apparatus enthusiasts and the general public alike due to its true uniqueness. When it is out in the community people are always asking for a photo op or selfie with the Jeep.
The Jeep is stored in the Museum Building and attends parades and community functions in the spring, summer and fall months.