By Todd G. Dickson
Las Cruces Bulletin
She’s seen better days, but residents in the Mesquite Street neighborhood are working to find a way for the City of Las Cruces to preserve an 83-year-old fire truck that has long been a feature at Klein Park.
The 1930 La France fire truck is more than just an non-functioning antique with rust and chipping paint. It is the city’s second fire truck, making it one of the oldest artifacts illustrating the reason Las Crucens incorporated as a town in 1907 – which was to level taxes for full-time fire protection with modern equipment.
Lizzy, as the fire truck is called by local residents, was Fire Engine No. 2. Las Cruces’ first fire engine was a machine using a chemical reaction process to spray water, one of only three ever made, but it was acquired by family members of one of the town’s founder, Pablo Melendrez, who sold it to a collector in Seattle, said David Chavez of Las Esperanzas, a neighborhood preservation group.
Although generations have grown up playing on Lizzy, last year the city’s risk management division found it to be unsafe, said Las Cruces City Councillor Miguel Silva at a meeting with Mesquite Street residents Thursday, March 7. That left the city with the options of repairing it or removing it to sell as either an antique in an auction or, more likely due to its current condition, as scrap metal, Silva said.
City Parks and Recreation Department Director Mark Johnston said after risk management put the city on notice about the fire truck, his workers can’t touch it – not even to put on a fresh coat of paint – without bringing it up to Americans with Disabilities Act and playground safety standards.
“As soon as I modify, I have to comply,” Johnston said.
In addition to daunting ADA requirements, playground safety standards today are a far cry from the playgrounds manygrew up knowing, he said.
“That’s why there are no more teeter-totters on playgrounds,” Johnston said.
To bring the fire truck up to the modern ADA and safety standards could cost $60,000 or more, he said, and the end result would be Lizzy losing all of her antique charm through soft edges.
“We realize it is something that has been there a while so there are a lot of emotional ties,” Johnston said. “By today’s standards, I just can’t do it. … I’m on notice now.”
Silva said he wanted the meeting to also address what would be done with the park space if the truck was removed.
“We just couldn’t pull the truck and leave a vacated space,” he said.
Residents at the meeting, however, insisted on making preservation of the truck the only focus of the discussion.
Horacio Zertauche said he found it upsetting that the city was considering scraping Lizzy. He said that the Dońa Ana County Sheriff’s Department has antique vehicles adorningthe exterior of its portion of the government center on Motel Boulevard.
“Why move it? It’s not hurting anybody,” Zertauche said.“All you’ve got to do is paint it and put a fence around it. It’s a part of Las Cruces history.”
Joe Herrera agreed that the most efficient solution was to put a fence around the fire truck and leave it at the park.
“We don’t want the truck to go away for the kids,” he said. “You don’t sell history for scrap metal.”
Chavez said residents have become much more sensitive about historical preservation following the losses of so many old buildings in the original Downtown area.
“You could say this is where we’re drawing a line in the sand,” Chavez said. “We’ve seen enough of the city’s past and older buildings gone. We have to fight for every piece of history we have left.”
The fire truck is part of the city government’s history, so city officials have a responsibility to preserve it, he said.
“I don’t want to see it auctioned off or sold on eBay,” said Wilma Hutson who also lives near the park Residents asked if the private sector could raise funds to help preserve it on-site and keep people out via a wroughtiron fence – a common architectural feature in the Mesquite neighborhood. Johnston said he would be very willing to look at that kind of partnership, so long as it was clearly understood that it would be for preservation and historical value, not as a functioning vehicle, or for children to play on.
“That would at least keep it preserved at this point in time,” he said.
While Chavez said he doesn’t like that children would no longer be able to play on the truck, he understands the city government’s liability exposure. But it should remain as an historical artifact and an educational tool, he said.
“The poor girl has been sitting there just melting away,” Chavez said.
Since the meeting, Chavez said there has been a lot of discussion for raising funds to pay for a restoration and fencing approach.
Silva said he wants to see firmer estimates on costs for different approaches to restoring the fire truck and revisit the options with residents in about a month.
That Lizzy was almost on a fast-track to the junk yard concerns residents such as Chavez, who are concerned about historical preservation. He said the city needs to make it a matter of policy to first look at preservation before disposal of its older property.
“I’m glad we’re talking about trying to find a solution instead,” he said.
Left, Partrick Marquez, 4, and his brother, Ivan, 5, play next to a 1930 red .re truck in Klein Park Monday, March 11. In the above undated archival photo, it was in the center of the city's .eet of public safety vehicles.
Las Cruces Bulletin photo by Steve MacIntyre
Las Cruces Bulletin photo by Steve MacIntyre
Children play on an adjacent jungle gym to the old red fire truck in Klein Park Monday, March 11.