Here’s the way I look at it: The world of cars is really just one element of the universe of transportation, past and present. It seems that if you really like automobiles, you’ve also got to like trains and planes, especially the ones powered by steam and pieced together from wood and fabric, respectively. This whole world is all about getting people and things from one place to another, so trucks are part of it, too, even when the only thing they haul is the desperate hope that they can rescue you from a deadly calamity. That’s what this book is all about, and why it’s relevant to people like us. One of the first books I ever bought, back around 1972, was a history of the Milwaukee Fire Department, its men and its vehicles entitled Beertown Blazes, jointing written by R.L. Nailen and Jim Haight, fire buffs from that city. We just received an intriguing volume that can stand as that famous book’s successor.
This new work, Engines and Other Apparatus of the Milwaukee Fire Department, is the work of a former Milwaukee firefighter and encompasses 318 heavily illustrated pages, albeit with a detailed narrative that tells an in-depth saga of the MFD’s rigs to the present day. With grain elevators lined up along Lake Michigan to feed its breweries, Milwaukee has always been primed for big blazes, and suffered at least one big downtown conflagration. For a mid-size department, Milwaukee’s been an impressive innovator, one of the first firefighting forces to embrace both technical and medical rescue as part of its mission. Those rigs are all here, part of a delightful variety of equipment that’s also included snow cats, pumpers from FWD and Pirsch, fire boats and a galaxy of chief’s cars ranging from a luscious 1957 Oldsmobile 88 to a series of Kenosha-built Ramblers and a Corvair Rampside pickup. It’s all in here for $49.95 by McFarland & Company of Jefferson, North Carolina, which publishes an extensive selection of books on transportation history.