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1915 fire engine comes home


A century-old fire engine once in the service of Las Cruces firefighters completed a long journey this week from a salvage yard, to a local home, all the way to Oregon and back again.

It was briefly parked, looking shiny and new, in front of Las Cruces City Hall Monday, as LCFD Chief Jason Smith celebrated its donation back to the city at the regular city council meeting.

Smith told the council it was the city’s earliest known motorized fire engine – the seventh unit of its type manufactured in 1915, and one of just two still in existence from that model year. The engine had two 25-gallon tanks of water and used a soda-acid chemical system, which pressurized water through a chemical reaction in which acid was introduced into soda water to release carbon dioxide and force the water from the tanks.

The engine sat in a scrap yard until 1937, when local volunteer firefighter Joe Melendrez rescued it, Smith explained. It remained with his family for 62 years until, in 1999, they sold it to Wesley Melo of Roseburg, Ore. After loading it onto a truck for its trip to the west coast, Melo spent a decade restoring the motor and equipment and sprucing it up until it looked shiny and new. About two years ago, according to Smith, Melo let the city know it was time for the engine to go back home.

“I was a volunteer fireman all my life; my dad was a volunteer fire chief for the town I was raised in,” Melo said. “This fire engine needs to go back to its original city … it belongs back here.”

Smith told the Bulletin the city contributed to the total cost of transporting the engine back to Las Cruces, as well as Melo’s travel.

Members of the Melendrez family were honored along with Melo during the city council meeting while onlookers were invited to look, but not touch, the historic vehicle.

Smith said the LCFD Honor Guard has been trained to maintain and operate the engine, and plans are to use it for parades and other special events when it is not on display at the new fire station being built on Sonoma Ranch Boulevard. When the station is ready, he told the Bulletin firefighters will push the vintage fire engine into the garage in keeping with tradition.