There’s just something about a fire truck that makes any man immediately transform into an 11-year-old version of himself…
When I got to crank the siren and clang the bell from the driver’s seat of an antique Model T fire truck at the Vintage Fire Museum in Jeffersonville, IN, I’m sure my voice probably went three octaves higher, and it was the perfect ending to an hour of exploring what may be the most spectacular collection of fire fighting equipment in the country.
The evolution of fire fighting in just a couple hundred years is downright remarkable. Perhaps no museum in America better showcases how much the tools brave men and women use to battle blazes have changed. For starters, the Vintage Fire Museum features one of America’s very first fire engines, a hand-pumper from 1756.
From that pre-revolutionary pumper the museum takes you on a walk through the next 250 years of firefighting featuring the remarkably ornate and stunning early brass hand pumpers, the very first chemical fire engine in the US, and even a beautiful steam-powered fire engine. All the brass makes for some incredible photos:
After the early hand and steam powered pumpers, the museum shifts to fire trucks built after Henry Ford changed the world with the Model T. Just so happens, the Vintage Fire Museum has a Model T-based fire truck, and, if you’re nice, they’ll let you sit on it, ring the bell, and hand-crank the siren. I don’t care if you’re 6 or 60, you’ll enjoy that…
While the museum focuses on general fire fighting history, they do have one remarkable local fire truck with one heck of a story…
When a flood in 1937 ravaged southern Indiana, the nearby town of New Albany, Indiana’s fire department got a little, uh, creative, with their tactics… The folks built a barge and put their trusty fire truck on it, creating an effective fire-truck-boat. After years in hiding, the truck’s whereabouts came to the museum’s attention, and they restored her & brought her back to Jeffersonville/New Albany.
The Vintage Fire Museum also captured my heart with their biggest, baddest truck: a 1927 Ahrens-Fox. With a massive 1,000+ cubic inch motor, this Cincinnati-built gem screams the prevailing thought of early engine-design, “There’s no substitute for cubic inches.”
The fire engines may steal the show at the Vintage Fire Museum, but the corner display showing the evolution of how fire crews were alerted to fires was surprisingly informative and downright fun. They powered up the call system and tested my attention to details as I had to decipher a morse-code-like series of bell dings to determine where the theoretical fire was coming from. I’m proud to say I accurately dispatched the firefighters to the correct call box.
It’s this mixture of stunning polished brass, fascinating history, and hands-on activities that make this modestly-sized museum an easy place to spend the afternoon. If the normal tour isn’t enough to hold your interest, the Vintage Fire Museum also hosts everything from fire fighting history seminars, wine and cheese nights, and even children’s birthday parties.
Can you think of a cooler place for a little boy to have his birthday party? I can’t.
The hours tend to vary with season and demand, but they’re also more than willing to open up the place for private tours. Head over to their website for more information on visiting and like their Facebook page to stay in the know about their numerous special events throughout the year.
T, W, Th, and F 11-4, and Sat. 10-5.
Starting in June, they will also be open Sundays 1-4