Outside, the warden, mayor, and Leo walk past Mondo and his five inmate charges. Hayes snaps his fingers at officer Mondo, "Come with me, and bring the new meat."
Raoul grumbles, "Been down four years and the screw calls me, new meat."
The group stops in front of an old two-story firehouse. Dusty spider webs cover the upper windows. A large rusty lock secures two big sliding doors. Above the wooden doors, there is a weathered firehouse sign.
Mondo fingers the stout lock, he orders Raoul, "Go to the tool shed and get a crow bar to pry that lock off."
Raoul smirks as he steps up to the door and grasps the big iron lock barehanded. His massive muscles swell as he rips it and the hasp from the heavy wooden door. He drops the twisted metal to the ground, which has Mondo's complete attention. Raoul and Jessie shove the big sliding doors open.
In the dim interior, a large vehicle lies beneath a shroud of old canvas tarps. Dusty spider webs hang from the rafters. The inmates pull the tarps off, raising a cloud of dust and airborne debris. The veil of floating particles slowly settles revealing a rather unique fire truck. It has a strange retro look like something from a 1930’s comic book. Its long-curved bonnet, open-topped cab, and low-cut windshield are more reminiscent of a pre-World War II bi-plane racer. The tires are flat and patches of rust and grime cover much of the antique machine.
Warden Hayes turns to address the men, "You inmates are now the Boron inmate fire crew, and that piece of wreckage is your ride. You got two weeks to get it running. Any questions?"
"You're outta your mind," guffaws Raoul. "That thing is nothing but a heap of rusty old scrap iron."
Jessie steps forward and wistfully runs a hand over the fire truck's bonnet, "I've always wanted to fix up an old fire engine."
Walt raises the bonnet, "This isn't just any old fire engine," he says reverently. "It’s a 1941 American LaFrance, Series 500. In her time, she was the best fire truck in the world. She was way ahead of anything else on the planet."
"Really?" asks Jake.
"You bet," Walt eagerly strips off his jacket and hangs it from a peg. He paws at the engine, "Rode in one of these when I was a kid. The chief engineer took me on a ride that I’ll never forget. I even got to flip on the red light and siren. It was the most exciting day of my childhood. I set out to learn all about the American LaFrance, 500 series, fire trucks. This vehicle was made to be extremely aerodynamic; they even tested it in a wind tunnel."
"Wind tunnel?" asks Raoul, "for a pre-World War II fire truck?"
“In the thirties, it was all about speed. During the Great Depression, people needed distraction. It was a circus of racing; everything had to go faster than ever before.”
“Everything?” asks Jake.
“Everything mechanical that moved: boats, planes, trains, cars, and motorcycles. Howard Hughes was pouring money into radical new aviation designs. It inspired the American LaFrance Company to make the fastest, most streamlined fire engine in the world and this machine was the culmination of their effort—the 1941, Series 500, fire truck.
“Doesn’t look fast to me,” quirks Raoul, “more like a heap of rusty old junk.”
"Aren't you listening?" Walt rolls his eyes. "This machine was so beyond its time; it almost bankrupted the American LaFrance Corporation because it was so expensive and labor intensive to build. Each one was handmade, works of art actually. Look at the smooth contours and ultra-streamlining to reduce wind resistance."
“The cab is roofless, which means it was made for the Southwest. No roof means it’s easier to get out and the engineer could see the accident site or fire from a much better perspective. It’s amazing just how much thinking and how many new concepts went into designing this radically different machine.”
Walt runs a hand along the front fender, “The company's claim was that this fire truck had an impressive modern-as-tomorrow appearance. They oversized the engine compartment to allow lots of room for air circulation to dissipate heat."
“LaFrance even designed and built a radically new two-stage centrifugal fire pump called a Centraflow. It could move between five hundred and fifteen hundred gallons of water per minute depending on the size of the engine. The LaFrance Series 500 could not only put more water on a fire than any other truck, it was really fast for its time."
Jessie leans in for a better look as Walt continues, "It came with one of two engines, a 190 horsepower small V-12 cylinder or a big 240 horse A-12." Walt brushes dust off the engine, "Looks like this is the smaller V-twelve engine."
"How fast will it go?" asks Clayton."
“Won’t know that until we get it running.”
"Mayor,” says Jake, “I'm sold. We'll be glad to be your fire crew."
Jessie unexpectedly shoves Jake backwards, "Hey, new meat, who just put you in charge?"
"No one, but I would rather fight fires than just do time," Jake steps forward confronting Jessie. "You want to break rocks all day, be my guest, skinhead."
Mondo grins, "It would be nice to cover all the dirt walkways with gravel."
Raoul idly picks up a piece of sandstone lying by the door and looks at it.
The mayor offers hopefully, "If you get the truck running you can drive it into town occasionally, better than hanging out in a prison camp under a scorching desert sun."
"I'm in," Raoul volunteers.
"I love anything that has something to do with water," Clayton says eagerly, "I'll take the plunge."
"You got any good looking women in that hick town of yours, mayor?" asks Jessie.
"Yeah, one," Bradley says wistfully, "well, kind of…"
"For an inmate, who has been down as long as me, kind of good looking could be downright hot," Jessie grins. "I'm in."
“Barber, you seem to know all about the truck, but what do you know about firefighting?” asks Hayes.
“Not a darn thing,” Walt shakes his head, “I’m strictly an engineering guy.”
Hayes turns to Jake. "You know any firefighting, boy?"
"In the Navy, I was the chief of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team. Before that and I was the number one hose man on our shipboard repair party. So yeah, I’m trained to handle emergencies. I also drove our bomb disposal truck for red light and siren responses."
"Perfect, you're the chief engineer."
Leonard is appalled, "Is this, a joke? You're going to trust our town to inmates? To a gang of criminal losers, with a broken-down old fire truck, that doesn't even run?"
"Who are you calling losers?" Raoul clinches his fist, crushing the sandstone rock into grit and powder that trickles from his thick-knuckled fingers. The inmates glare angrily at Leonard, who beats a hasty retreat behind Mondo.
The convicts, abruptly united, pause to look at each other then turn to stare at the old fire engine. Just for a moment, a beam of sunlight shines through a dust shrouded window. It plays upon the LaFrance's right headlamp, which reflects the light like a subtle wink that flashes once and then it is gone.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish