By on June 14, 2011


The street-parked old cars I photograph in my Denver neighborhood live at one mile elevation, give or take a few feet. Drive about 100 miles southwest from here, however, and you’ll end up in Leadville, which stands at two miles above sea level. Last weekend, I ventured out to Leadville and found this painfully original 1947 Dodge brush fire truck parked downtown.

Technically speaking, Leadville is 408 feet shy of two miles high, but even just 10,152 feet of altitude means that oxygen for internal combustion is in short supply. Fortunately, this old Dodge has Chrysler flathead six power and super-short differential gearing, which means it can still climb a steep goat trail in a blizzard, oxygen or not.

The owner, whose facial hair is remarkably similar to my own (we might have to sign him up for 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court duty), found this truck in a barn on a cattle ranch, where it had been sitting since the middle 1980s. All its equipment was more or less as it had been during its 35 years of fire duty at the ranch, and it came with a parts truck.

The siren still works.

The tube-operated VHF radio, which was used to communicate with fire-fighting aircraft back in the day, is still installed and functional.

You want original? Here’s a 1949 Colorado tax sticker.

There’s even a vintage bullet hole in the windshield post. The slug is still embedded in the weather stripping.

The truck was sold in Leadville and hasn’t been anywhere near sea level since. The owner uses it it for daily-driving use around town, but avoids highways due to the gearing-limited 45 MPH top speed.

In my opinion, this is the best-looking grille of all the quasi-postwar Detroit trucks.

We’ll check out the neighbor’s nicely preserved Corvette in a future DOTS installment.


Most of these photos were shot with my stereo camera rig; if you have any sort of 3D glasses, head over to Cars In Depth and check out this Dodge rampaging in three dimensions.

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24 Comments on “Down On The (Two) Mile High Street: 1947 Dodge Fire Truck...”


  • avatar
    graham

    Leadville, home of the Ski Jouring championship!! Great town, awesome truck.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    Did you get lunch at the Golden Burro?

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    Great story-you don’t see them much anymore.Here’s a 47 Fargo Canadian cousin that’s still working every day-just saw it today in traffic.
    http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/3-the-stars/star-truckin/215–47-fargo-pickup-grand-dads-legacy-is-still-working-hard.html

  • avatar
    taxman100

    I’ve been to Leadville – awesome town. Ever been out to the supposidely haunted mine after dark?

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    When I was a little kid in socal…in the 70s (and maybe the very early 80s) I remember the TV going out, and pops taking the “tube” to Save-On Drugstore, and testing the tubes in some big ass machine… If the tubes wouldn’t last in a TV that sat in your living room, how could they last in a radio in a truck?

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      It depends on how hard they were pushed. Heat degradation over time is what destroys tube performance, which is why the EL84 power tubes in my bedside radio tend to get replaced twice a year or thereabouts, while the 6N2 (and that’s not an ‘N’; I forget what that one stands for in Cyrillic) rectifier has yet to exhibit any problems in that circuit.

      If the only glow you can see is the faint blue of Hammer radiation, the tubes are running cool and happy. If they’re being overdriven to the point you can only see the yellow-orange incandescent glow, then the tube’s life will be short and loud.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      TV repairmen were a common sight in the 1950′s and 1960′s. Many stores did have self-service tube-testers. The problem was, that if your TV had say, 15 tubes in it and wasn’t working well, you could test them all, and even if HALF of them were bad, the TV still worked. Worse yet, all too often, if you had that many tubes bad, replacing them all sometimes didn’t help, either! I know from experience! Glad to see them go.

      Tube radios and sound equipment is something different, though. Those auto AM tube radios sounded sweet and had a deep sound quality to them and the radio stations tuned their broadcast signal appropriately for the best quality sound.

      • 0 avatar

        Back then AM stations could broadcast at full 15KhZ fidelity and get away with it. But our lifestyles – and FCC ineptitude – doomed that rich, full sound from the ’40′s. Electrical appliances from washers to toasters and the electric plants generating the juice to keep our lights on all introduced more RF (static) into the atmoshpere…that, combined with the FCC allowing the AM dial to become overcrowded with stations, doomed the medium.

        As for the truck, my grandfather owned one that he’d bought from a beer distributor. According to family history, the first thing Grandpa did was paint it to get rid of the beer logos…crucial since he was also a small-town preacher. Unfortunately, it rained during church the next day and washed enough of the paint off that you could see the “Iron City Beer” logos underneath…apparently THAT raised some eyebrows as the parishoners came out of church!

        I was born a couple years after that incident. Another story was that I was standing up in the cab when the driver (Grandpa/Dad/Mom?) had to hit the brakes fast and I hit the hard metal dashboard. Today the authorities would issue a ticket for no car seat if not call in Child Protective Services…in 1959 it was just a bump on the head that the doctor would look at and make sure I was alright…and next time I’d stay in my seat.

        These stories were all told to me as I was either not born or too young to remember…I just remember the truck sitting beside Grandpa and Grandma’s house…I loved to play in it but by this time – 1966 – it no longer ran, for some undisclosed reason. Then one day it was gone. Grandpa’s ’47 Dodge was blue…I think it had originally been red…and was PA titled as a ’48.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Budda Boom: Are you from the Pittsburgh area? Gotta get me some chip chopped ham or maybe a little Jumbo… Too close to lunchtime…

        @Zackman: Mine passed July 1978. Somehow seems appropriate with Father’s Day coming up we’d be discussing them…

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      The real purpose of drug store tube testers was to sell tubes, not to help the consumer! A competent TV repairman would know which tube(s) were likely to cause the problem from observing the symptoms and “test” by substituting a new one.
      Tubes were used in cars, trucks, tanks, and aircraft from the ’20s through the ’50s…there wasn’t any alternative. IIRC the reliability in a mobile application didn’t suffer that much compared to a stationary one.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Early computers, too. When I was in the air force from 1969 – 1973, the “computer” that supported the SR-71 Blackbird – my outfit on Okinawa – was 7 (!) semi-trailers lashed together and the temerature had to be kept at 55 degrees. The guys who worked in them wore arctic coats. One of these was parked and set up outside our headquarters building on Kadena. Quite remarkable what we did with this technology!

        Yes, the tube testers did have a large locker beneath that contained the tubes they’d happily sell you. 6AV6 anyone?

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Going to the hardware store (in our small town) to test tubes with my dad when I was a child is one of my favorite memories. Mostly because he would usually buy me some gum or a candy for behaving. Having been a radio operator in WWII, he knew a fair amount about radios, telephones and TVs, even though he drove a truck for a living. He passed away in 1978, and it wasn’t too much longer before the hardware stores took out the tube testing stations, too.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        geo, my dad passed away in 1978 as well. October. If he lived 6 hours longer, he would’ve turned 70. I still miss him, too…

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      As long as we are on this side discussion, aircraft communication radios still use Amplitude Modulation (AM), where every other licensed VHF radiotelephone service for decades has used FM. That old radio can still receive aircraft transmissions, but a digital 760 channel unit is needed now to transmit, due to the small frequency “slices”.

  • avatar

    I can’t answer that question, but I do know that the rich tube radio sound in my 56 Dodge has never let me down. But the sparse AM radio choices are killing me.

    • 0 avatar

      Years ago I read something about how you could buy or build a broadcast kit for AM radio that would broadcast up to 7 or 10 miles from your house/base/antenna tower.

      You didn’t need a FCC radio license for this either (but I suppose if you broadcast anything questionable and your neighbors complained they could come after you).

      It might be worth it to set up your home computer playing your music collection (in playlist or totally random form) if you do a lot of travel around your house in your classic car.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        In the 1960′s, the Remco toy company came out with the Caravelle AM broadcaster/receiver than would work in the confines of the home – any AM radio in the house could be tuned to a certain frequency, and you could play DJ or announcer in your house! It was a cool setup – my friend up the street had one.

        I don’t know about what you wrote about, other than a CB radio, of which you can do the same thing.

        Aside from that, the next step would be HAM radio.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @SexCpotatoes: I think it’s still legal to operate a low power AM radio station without an FCC license. (This is the kind of stuff my dad would have known.) With the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), who knows what you’re allowed to broadcast…

        I don’t think they are/were allowed to 7 to 10 miles either, although I thought it was something like .25 mile to 2 miles to be under the non-licensed rules.

        I like your idea about hooking up a computer or an iPod to a low power AM broadcaster for use on your property. Provided of course you don’t step on any DMCA issues…

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @geozinger & potatoes:

        When I got a CB radio in 1976, you still had to get an FCC license to own a CB radio. My official call sign was something like KADX????. Can’t remember all the digits. I never used them. Had to jump through hoops to call “breaker, breaker”!

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Zackman: I remember that! IIRC, you had to be a certain age (16+) to operate a CB radio back then, too. Even though I had the money and wanted one in the worst way, my dad said no. I guess because he used one in the truck all of the time, he wasn’t too wild about the idea.

        Then by the time I was old enough to get the license, the FCC made dropped the license requirement! I had several 23 channel versions over the years, and was totally geeked when I got my first 40 channel with single sideband capabilities. I used my CB’s up until about the early 90′s. I still have one somewhere out in the garage…

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Ha ha ha, geo! We used ours up to the mid-90′s as well. My wife and the kids went back to St. Louis for a weekend for some reason and I decided to stay home. They took the CB and had a lot of fun with it. That was May, 1994. Never used it again as we got a cell phone(!). Got rid of it a few years ago. I believe I threw it out with the timing light I had that I never used!

        Now we have to go shopping for a new microwave oven, as our 30-year-old Kenmore finally gave up the other day! I took it apart last night – the thing is as big as an old TV and twice as heavy! Well, it’s not worth repairing even if I could get the parts, but there’s enough steel in that thing to build a new car! I’m sure some Chinese steel mill would lust after it if they knew I had it, too!

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Zackman: Ha! Timing lights! I can beat that. I still have a set of Sears Craftsman distributor wrenches, in the pouch…

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    A lovely survivor.

    “Well preserved” might be the first phrase many would apply but I don’t think it’s appropriate here. After all, this is a 64 year old who’s still hale, healthy and working for a living every morning.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    This reminds me in a way of the 1947 or ’46 Ford pickup I saw in Gig Harbor (a town near here) last summer. It looked like an immaculately-kept original inside and out, with all the cream-colored trim paint still there and looking good against the dark green main color. It had standard California truck plates, not YOM or collector/historic plates. The topper – in more ways than one – was the carefully hand-made and varnished hardwood topper on the pickup box, which for all I know could have been as old as the truck.

    And me without my camera!!


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