Cars

He heard the siren's call

Ron and Orpha Eyres brave icy temperatures to show off their beautifully restored 1936 Chevrolet fire truck and 1937 Chevy Standard two-door sedan. Ron wasn't allowed to go near the fire truck as a kid. Several years later, the sedan became his first car.
Ron and Orpha Eyres brave icy temperatures to show off their beautifully restored 1936 Chevrolet fire truck and 1937 Chevy Standard two-door sedan. Ron wasn't allowed to go near the fire truck as a kid. Several years later, the sedan became his first car. The Wichita Eagle

KECHI -- Sitting in the seat of his 1936 Chevrolet fire truck, Ron Eyres activates the old Federal siren mounted on the right front fender. And his face lights up like a beacon.

There's a reason for that: like many kids, Eyres was fascinated by fire trucks as a youngster. "In the summer of 1947 I was visiting my grandparents in Lawton (Iowa)," Eyres said.

"I spied a shiny red fire truck sitting in one of the stalls (of a local garage). I crawled up on the truck and began to explore. I came upon a button that seemed to be calling out, 'Push me, push me!' Of course, I yielded to the call and set off the siren.

"After the two guys within hearing distance discovered it was a 9-year-old boy playing, and not a fire, I was banned from the fire department forever!" Eyres said, chuckling.

When his brother, Ken, a volunteer fireman in Lawton, called to ask if he would be interested in buying an old fire truck, "I realized it had to be the fire truck that I had played on 50 years before," Eyres said.

He submitted a sealed bid and won the truck, the town's first engine-powered fire truck, which had only 2,264 miles on it.

"As I talked to the chief at the passing of the documents, I commented, 'I guess this means I can blow the siren any time I want,'" Eyres said. "His puzzled expression told me that everyone had long since forgotten about me being banned from the fire department."

Eyres trailered the 1-1/2 ton Chevy with its Luverne Fire Apparatus body back to Kechi after he retired in 2004. A full frame-off restoration was begun.

"My goal was to make it look as much as possible like it did in September of 1936, when it was delivered to Lawton," Eyres said.

The body was in decent condition, but all the chrome had to be replated at Robbies Hobbies in Wichita. Eyres overhauled the 206 cubic inch 6-cylinder engine and the Waterous pump assembly himself. He learned that the practice in 1936 was to send somebody down to the local hardware store for a couple of cans of red paint when it was time to paint a new fire truck. But he was able to make a close match and, more importantly, Eyres was able to have a fire truck striper in Boston make up a set of 24k gold leaf lettering and striping to match the original designs on the truck.

He figures he invested 1,250 hours of shop time in the restoration. A high point for Eyres and his wife, Orpha, was returning the fire truck to Lawton for a Fourth of July parade in 2005, shortly after the project was finished.

The truck is now a regular at parades in Kechi and includes a nearly full-sized flag pole that displays the Star-Spangled Banner.

But it's that nickel-plated siren with the old-time sound that really gets Ron Eyres revved up. "He likes to sound it off, especially in parades. That was the first part he fixed up, I think," said his wife.

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Ron Eyres' nifty '37 Chevy Master 2-door sedan has a family history to rival the fire truck.

"My Uncle Cal bought it new... he probably paid about $690 for it. It only had a heater, no radio ... it was real basic transportation," Eyres said.

At age 17, he was working for his uncle doing farm chores and decided he needed a car to get back and forth. The car was sitting in a grove of trees by then, with 82,000 miles showing on the odometer. Eyres bought the car for a dollar per thousand miles, giving $82 for it, push-started it and drove it home.

"I drove it back and forth to Sioux City, Iowa, during college and it never left me on the road," he said.

When Ron and his wife moved to New Braunfels, Texas, the old Chevy towed a Honda Civic 600 miles without a hint of protest. "I got hundreds of CB radio calls asking, 'Is that Honda pushing that Chevy?''' Eyres said.

When Eyres' job took him to Australia, the '37 wound up in a car museum in Rosanky, Texas, for an extended stay. But eventually, it once again returned to Ayres, who undertook a complete frame-off restoration.

"I tried to keep everything as original as I could. I installed seat belts and turn signals for safety, and it has a 6-volt alternator. The interior was redone, but it wasn't a great job ... what I could afford at the time," Eyres said. The body and paint work were supplied by a shop in exchange for Ayres installing commercial air conditioning.

Plans now call for the car to be treated to fresh paint and an interior done professionally.

The car has been used frequently to drive family members to special events, like proms. It has racked up an estimated 200,000 largely trouble-free miles, or about 50 times the current mileage of the companion 1936 fire truck.

According to Ron Eyres, neither of the old Chevys will be leaving the family fold any time soon.

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