An old fire truck from Harbour Grace, cherished by a family there before being lost for decades, has now been found — on the other side of the country.½
Ed Oke has vivid memories of growing up in the town, riding around in the truck with his father, a volunteer firefighter. It wasn't any old fire truck, but a gleaming, red 1960 Mercury M250 4x4 pickup.
"I remember driving in it with him on Sunday mornings. He'd take me with him, and he just loved driving the truck. It was one of those really fun trucks to drive," Oke recalled.
"I used to joke it was a good excuse on Sunday mornings to avoid going to church."
Oke's father spent more than 50 years on the town's volunteer fire brigade, preferring the pickup to the more glamorous, attention-grabbing pumper trucks. When Oke began volunteering too, he also stuck by the truck, even driving it once in a parade before leaving Harbour Grace to join the military.
While he was serving in 1988, Oke learned the town was selling off the vehicle to raise funds for a new pumper truck. But neither he nor his father had the means to buy it, and it was sold to an unknown buyer off the island.
"It was sad knowing it was going to go," he said.
"My dad and I always talked about it, and said what a great old truck it was. And I figured it was gone forever."
And it was — until a few days ago.
'I skipped a few breaths'
Oke has long since settled in Calgary, but the Mercury M250 has never been far from his mind.
Over the years, he developed a habit of checking Autotrader, Kijiji and other classifieds on the off chance it would make its way there. On the morning of July 20, when Oke opened up Kijiji to search what was new in classic vehicles, there it was — not only available, but also in Calgary.
"I was dumbfounded. I think I skipped a few breaths. My wife wondered if I was OK when she saw me. I was a little bit white in the face," he said.
He phoned the seller, Scott Hadley, and the two men talked for over an hour, Oke filling in the blanks of the truck's beginnings and explaining more about the sign advertising Harbour Grace's 100th anniversary in the truck's pan. Both of them joked about the vehicle's appeal and its Tonka truck-like qualities, said Oke.
After the call, Oke was on the fence about spending thousands of dollars to buy back the truck, but amid his swirling memories, his wife spoke sense to him.
"It took me right back to driving in it with him as a kid. And she said, 'You can't put a price on that.' She said, 'You have to do it,'" he told CBC Radio's On The Go.
A piece of Harbour Grace history
Hadley had come across the truck for sale in New Brunswick. The Calgary geologist makes a hobby of restoring old cars, and had just finished restoring the exact same model and year Mercury pickup in bright green — a rare vehicle he said, as few were ever built, particularly of the 4x4 model.
This one, he said was built in Ford's Oakville, Ont. plant and sold and shipped to Newfoundland for the fire brigade's centennial.
Hadley snapped up the fire truck and had it shipped to Calgary, where he began stripping out its rusty parts as well as investigating its past, including a call to the Harbour Grace Fire Department to learn more about it.
"My intent was to restore it to its former glory right down to the red flashing light," he told CBC in an email.
Two and a half years into the restoration, Hadley's happy to pass the (welding) torch on.
"I am so happy it is being reunited with Ed Oke," he said. "I'm glad I was able to play a part getting some of the work done and passing it on to Ed and his family."
The truck's rarity makes it attractive to anyone interested in antique cars, said Oke, and he's glad Hadley chose to pass it on to him. Now, Oke plans to complete the work Hadley began, and hopes to even bring it back to Harbour Grace at some point and show it off.
And as Oke prepares to polish up the pickup, he'll be thinking of his father, who died in 2005.
"My mom and I have been joking, saying, if there is a heaven, he's up there having a good laugh and smiling at this one, for sure."
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