With a rumble from an engine that was probably considered the fuel injection of its day, the Santa Paula Fire Department’s oldest member, Bertha, was rolled out of Station 1 Friday after being overhauled. With Bertha are (left to right) Firefighters Matt McBride, Andy Vansciver, John Harber, Manny Morales, New Image Auto Body Shop Isaac Nuno, Joe Anselmo, Firefighters Joshua Liko, Gil Segovia, Fire Chief Rick Araiza and Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Fildes.

Bertha: 1923 Seagrave Fire Engine again sporting SPFD on her hood

October 06, 2010
Santa Paula News

With a rumble from an engine that was probably considered the fuel injection of its day, the Santa Paula Fire Department’s oldest member, Bertha, was rolled out of Station 1 Friday. Firefighters and others gathered around to admire the 1923 Seagrave engine’s newly painted hood: gold leaf proclaiming her Santa Paula Fire Department Engine #1.

Although approaching 90 years old, Bertha gleamed in the sunlight with nary a wrinkle, appearing as if she never left Santa Paula at her end of duty. Bertha was given back to the city by the Montebello Fire Department, where a supporter had purchased the rotting engine found in a Guadalupe field and had her restored years ago.

Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Fildes said New Image Auto Body shop owner Joe Anselmo and Isaac Nuno “devoted time, effort and skill to help bring Bertha home.... And we kept a Montebello Fire Department logo on the engine to honor them for restoring Bertha.”

The engine, said Chief Rick Araiza, “has a lot of history,” but, befitting such an old gal, also needed work beyond the cosmetic. Firefighter Reserve Andy VanSciver contacted New Image about the paint job, but he and Fildes also found replacement parts, “original parts, believe it or not,” said Araiza, for mechanical needs including carburetor and fuel line.

Along with Firefighter Jesse Phillips, Araiza said, “They replaced the fuel line... it had gunk in it” leading to Bertha’s first road trip being ended by a clogged line. Araiza said a fuel filter system also had to be devised, but now the engine is ready to attend the 100th Anniversary Santa Paula-Fillmore High Schools Football Game for display purposes.

It is believed that among the old fire engines in Ventura County Bertha is the oldest, and Araiza said she runs on regular gasoline.

“We don’t usually work on anything this old, it was in really nice shape,” although, said Anselmo, the red paint had to be matched by eye and then hand-tinted to match.

“We had an old photo to work with and asked Joe if he could match the font,” noted Fildes, and Anselmo created the font on a computer to replicate the original lettering, then applied it in gold leaf.

Fildes demonstrated the original hand-cranked siren and the new version - circa unknown - activated by the push of a button. “We get a lot of looks,” he noted as Bertha’s sirens screeched.

Araiza said in all the return of Bertha, now sporting her original department identification, “makes me feel pretty nice... Bertha has a lot of history, and the Santa Paula Fire Department does also to match it.... Bertha represents the beginning” decades of the SPFD, and Araiza said the department’s other parade unit, a 1954 Mack engine, links the SPFD’s history nicely.

“We really appreciate what the Montebello Fire Department did for us,” he noted. “It’s really wonderful for the department, for our community, to have Bertha home.”

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