YADKINVILLE — After being worked on for more than a year by automotive students at Surry Community College, Dobson Fire Department’s 1958 fire truck left the Dobson campus Wednesday morning on a journey to its new home — Tractor Brown’s Museum and Event Center in Yadkinville.
The day was significant for those involved as it honored the work of Nolan Brown in preserving and sharing with others pieces of history at his museum, and solidified the desire of Will Neal Reynolds II who had hoped to provide a permanent home for the retired fire truck before he died in 2009.
Marion Venable, executive director of the Surry Community College Foundation, explained to a small crowd gathered at the museum Wednesday for the donation presentation, in 2008 Will Reynolds reached out to the community college about the sale of the 1958 town fire truck.
“He was aware that the college was the source of training for local firefighters and felt the truck would be an appropriate tool in that process,” Venable said. The SCC Foundation submitted a bid for the truck, which was accepted unanimously by the town board in March of 2008.
“Will was interested in the truck coming to the college to be used in the training of firefighters and to be displayed in connection with the Emergency Training Center,” she said.
For several years, the truck was actively used in the training process, but as new technology and trucks were updated, the “vintage” truck was used in a comparison of the foundation of firefighting to the updated equipment.
Brown said the college reached out to him in 2016 about adding a fire truck to his collection, which includes more than 55 antique tractors, several cars and other items like old household appliances. “We’re buying what we call treasures, other people call junk, to preserve it to be available to be seen by younger generations,” Brown said of his museum.
Eventually he hopes to have regular viewing hours for the museum, but for now it is available by appointment to tour, or to be used for special events like showers, receptions and dinners. The fire truck will be housed under an outside shelter at the museum, so it will be visible to passers by the North Lee Avenue location.
The college chose Brown’s venue because his “museum and vehicle collection are enjoyed and valued by the community at-large,” Venable said.
For the past year or more, SCC’s automotive technology students and instructors have been working to restore the truck to running order, a task which instructor David Weavil said was monumental. “It was a good experience for the students,” he said. “The brakes didn’t work, and it didn’t crank. It’s sheer size and weight were a challenge in getting it to the shop from the training center.”
Weavil said the college didn’t have the tools needed to jack up the truck either, so those had to be acquired. That wasn’t the only challenge, as he added that parts are very rare for a vehicle so large from 1958. “We had to scrounge. We got the last four wheel cylinders NAPA had in the nation, according to the computer,” Weavil said.
“It was a good project. We enjoyed it,” he said.
Other instructors assisting with the project included Adam Vaughn and Adam Wooten, who drove the truck to Yadkinville Wednesday morning.
Also present was Reynolds’ daughter, Brook Reynolds, who came from Asheville for the presentation of the truck for what Venable called “permanent loan.”
Brook Reynolds said she is pleased with the new home the fire truck is receiving.
Will Reynolds, Venable said, “began a relationship with Surry Community College in 1996 when he established the Ecology Wildlife Fund that continues to support student projects. At Will’s death in 2009, his legacy was one of a man who devoted much of his life to preserving the untamed places of North Carolina — its rivers, mountains and meadows. In addition, he was described as a man of great kindness, who often did his good work anonymously.”
Brown said this is the first donation of its size the museum has received. The only other donation has been a slot machine from Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The rest of his collection he has acquired on his own through the years, beginning with a purchase of two tractors that had personal meaning.
As a young boy of 8, Brown said his neighbors, who were brothers, came back from World War II and bought tractors that he spent time driving to run errands. Clyde and Austin Fleming, who lived on N.C. 67 between Boonville and East Bend, were unmarried when they died, and Brown said he purchased those two tractors at auction, an Oliver Row Crop 70 and a Farmall A.
“We are saving relics with a goal to make it available for people to see,” he said. “The people who guided us here are smarter than we are today.”
Brown said the agreement is that if Dobson Fire Department wants to borrow the truck to use at fundraisers or to drive in parades, all the firefighters have to do is call him to arrange it. “It is open for those guys anytime,” he said.
In a surprise presentation, Yadkinville Mayor Eddie Norman invoked his power as mayor and declared Brown honorary fire chief for the day, and presented him with an antique Yadkinville fire helmet which had been worn by Brown’s friend and charter member, George Shugart.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.