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WWII-Era Beverly Hills Fire Engine 8 Turns Heads in the San Gorgonio Pass

Doug Hammer of Banning says the 1940 United Kenworth engine looked like "a dipsy dumpster" when he bought it in 2005 for $4,000. Today he says it is one-of-a-kind.

A former Beverly Hills fire engine built more than 70 years ago is no longer equipped to battle blazes, but it turns heads from time to time in the San Gorgonio Pass.

The restored, red-and-white 1940 United Kenworth is owned by fire engine collector and former volunteer firefighter Doug Hammer of Banning.

High school girls waved and dogs barked at Engine 8 when Hammer, 62, took it out for a recent drive down West Ramsey Street.

The streamlined Kenworth is detailed in gold-leaf and sports its original Beverly Hills Fire Department Engine 8 insignia, as well as polished metal fire axes and a solid brass water cannon.

Some firefighters used to call this model a "Coca-Cola wagon" for its unique shape. But Engine 8 didn't always look so sleek.

Hammer said he bought it for $4,000 in 2005.

"It looked like a dipsy dumpster that sat behind Walmart for 40 years," Hammer said. "The windows were broke, upholstery gone, engine tore apart. It wouldn't roll because the rear axle was frozen. No rust on it, thank goodness."

Hammer said he spent $75,000 restoring Engine 8. He said he's been offered $150,000 for it, but he doesn't want to sell - yet.

"Never say never," Hammer said.

In the meantime, he enjoys recounting what he knows of Engine 8's history.

According to his research, Engine 8 was built in 1940 on a Kenworth chassis by United Airplane Manufacturing Co., as part of an order placed by the Los Angeles Fire Department.

"The city of Los Angeles ordered four engines from United Kenworth," Hammer said, presenting original engineering and design drawings and other documents.

"Beverly Hills piggy-backed on the L.A. order and asked for one too," Hammer said.

Engine 8 was first registered in 1941. It was called a "quad" because it had its own pump, hoses, ladders and booster tank, according to Hammer.

It could pump 1,250 gallons per minute and it was powered by an 850-cubic inch, 243-horsepower, horizontal Hall-Scott motor, model 177, according to Hammer.

The Beverly Hills Fire Department kept Engine 8 until 1957 and then auctioned it off, Hammer said.

"A man named Joe Ortiz bought it and used it in the movie industry until 1967," Hammer said. "The engine blew, he parked it in a vacant lot, and it sat there until 2000. Then a man named Huey Wick had it until 2005."

That's when Hammer found it. After long hours of restoration and investment, Engine 8 today probably looks better than when it was brand new.

Hammer believes it is one-of-a-kind because, according to his research, the city of Los Angeles sold their four United Kenworth engines to Mexico in the 1950s. Hammer figures they were long ago dismantled for parts or scrap.

Whether its siblings are gone or not, Engine 8 still gets around. Today it is powered by a 454-cubic inch Chevrolet gasoline engine taken from a 1992 motor home, Hammer said.

It has a turbo 400 transmission built to handle its 10,000-pound weight, power disc brakes and power steering, and it can cruise at 65 miles per hour at 2,500 rpm, according to Hammer.

"I took it back to Beverly Hills about eighteen months ago and met some firefighters who worked on this engine," Hammer said. "They were very happy to see it. They were in their 60s and 70s, and they all wanted to have their picture taken with it."

Some of the details on today's Engine 8 are just for show. The hose-lay on the rear end is fake, and the water cannon is polished to shine but it no longer works.

The grinder siren, rope-operated bell, and "Roto-Ray" rotating lights on the front end all function though, as does the air horn.

Hammer said he has three other antique fire engines that are considered still in service - meaning he can fight fires with them. He hasn't had to do so since he moved to Banning in 2001. Today he lives up on the Bench.

"The neighbors like it, because the closest fire station is down the hill," Hammer said.

He and his brother Monte, 64, said they hope to open a museum in Banning.

They formed a company called "Fire Memories Inc." in 1998 in Indio and moved it to Spokane, Wash., in 2006, the Hammers said.

"It's a 501(c)3 non-profit, private now but we want it to be public," Doug Hammer said. "We want to be in a public place so more people can enjoy it."

Katryn Robinson March 21, 2011 at 06:30 PM
We are so lucky to have people like the Hammers in our community. They have always been so generous in allowing the firetrucks to be used for events and parades. On May 7, the Hammers and the trucks will be at the Art Hop in downtown Banning. There is nothing quite like the thrill of riding through town on a vinatge Hammer Firetruck. Best of all, they do these rides for FREE! Everyone can share in the fun.
DeeAnn Bradley March 21, 2011 at 11:22 PM
Hammers 's fire engines in San Jacinto Independence Day Parade last summer was brilliant. They were quite a surprise and very popular with crowd along San Jacinto Avenue. I'll search for my photos of event...

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