CLEAN MACHINE Fire Marshal Lance McDonald checks out this 1919 Model TT that served as the city’s Fire Engine No. 1 in 1920. It was donated back to the city this week after an extensive restoration. (Photos by Christian Kallen)

All eyes were riveted on the bright red fire truck parked outside City Hall on Monday afternoon, just before the City Council met for its regular 6pm meeting.

One by one the council members showed up to examine the rig, taking cell phone photos and chatting with former-Fire Chief Bob Turner and Wes Melo, who donated the truck back to the city after restoring it to its former glory.

Vice Mayor Evelyn Mitchell, with a delighted grin, turned the hand crank to sound the siren. Mayor David Hagele climbed into the driver’s seat and looked like a big kid in a big toy.

Red fire truck
SIREN Healdsburg’s vice mayor, Evelyn Mitchell, turns the crank to sound the fire truck’s siren, still an attention-getter after all these years.

Purchased in 1919 for $2,550, it was the city’s first motorized vehicle for fire response. It harkens back to an era when fire trucks used a chemical reaction to generate energy—with electric pumps unavailable, the most elementary of chemical reactions was enlisted instead.

Two small tanks on top of the truck held sodium bicarbonate in water. When sulfuric acid was mixed in (think Mentos and Coke) it created carbon dioxide gas that pressurized the tank, creating enough energy to generate a strong flow of water through hoses to extinguish fires. Invented in France in the 1860s, the system was used in fire service until about 1930.

Healdsburg used the truck for two decades as a key part of its fire-response fleet, dispatched to nip small fires before they became big ones. It was only replaced when a  second-story fire at the Masonic Hall at Plaza and Center streets proved unreachable by the small truck’s hoses. The city put up the cash for a new-and-improved model in 1935, though Engine No. 1 continued to serve as a training vehicle into the 1980s.

Chief Bob Taylor saved the truck from the junkyard when it was retired, and worked on it himself for decades, until in 2009 when Wes and Jean Melo of Roseburg acquired it. Melo, a former volunteer fireman, served in the Lake Shasta area; Arcata; Huntsville, Texas; and Turner River, Connecticut, before he returned to the West Coast. When he retired to Roseburg, Oregon, he began restoring fire engines.

RESTORATION Wes and Jean Melo, of Roseberg, Oregon, with the 1919 Model TT fire engine they restored and donated back to the City of Healdsburg in May, 2024.

Once fully restored in 2015, old Engine No. 1 looked as good as new. Melo had replicated the deteriorated body, rebuilt the motor, fixed the transmission, replaced the solid-rubber tires and even done meticulous detail work on the paint job, basing his work on old photos.

Though he spent thousands of dollars on the restoration, Melo donates his restored fire trucks back to the cities they came from. Last year he gifted a 1915 Ford Model T fire truck back to the Las Cruces, New Mexico, department where it began its service.

Now it was Healdsburg’s turn.

“I came across an old Model T magazine that did a story on this,” Boaz said. “I had it sitting in my office for many years, and finally said, ‘I’d like to track it down.’” Thinking he could buy it back through a city fundraiser, he contacted Wes and Jean Melo.

During an hour-long conversation, Melo told him about the donated Las Cruces fire engine.  “Then he offered to donate this back to the City of Healdsburg. I almost fell out of my chair with happiness,” Boaz said.

Mayor in fire truck
BIG KID Mayor David Hagele fits himself into the driver’s seat of Engine No. 1 and imagines driving to the rescue 100 years ago.

It took some time, and although Engine No. 1 still “runs perfectly,” Boaz said, they chartered a trailer to bring it down from Oregon. It arrived the week previous to the May 20 City Council meeting, and the Melos were on hand to receive the city’s thanks and effusive appreciation.

Boaz said that Wes and Jean Melo will stay in town for a few days to train the staff on operating the engine—“It doesn’t drive like a normal vehicle,” Wes said—then steer it though town to lead this week’s Twilight Parade. When the North Station opens, perhaps late this year or early next, Engine No. 1 will be displayed there.

As Wes Melo himself gave a brief speech thanking Holly Hoods of the Healdsburg Museum for her generous help in tracking down old photos of the rig, the city’s current primary fire truck that had been parked outside on Grove Street took off to respond to a medical aid call.

 “Uh-oh, that’s not a good sign. Someone needs help,” Melo said.

“I promise you we didn’t plan this for the City Council meeting tonight,” Chief Boaz said to a nervously laughing council.

Previous articleHealdsburg Museum Gets Lights, Banners
Next articlePepper’s, New Healdsburg Restaurant, Prepares to Open Where Adel’s Used to Be
Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


  1. “Mayor David Hagele climbed into the driver’s seat and looked like a big kid in a big toy.” LOL! I love Christian Kallen’s writing. This sentence cracked me up.
    Yes, the City Council got a new toy for Healdsland’s Amusement Park. I doubt if the tourists will see the old fire truck up at the North Fire Station (if it is ever built). Perhaps the Fire Truck should be put on display at the new SMART Station (if it is ever built).
    And after playing with their new Fire Truck Toy, the members of the City Council went back into City Hall to play with their favorite toy.

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here