Of America Information
Technical & Repair
Cushman Model ID
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Cushman Time Line
Other Scooter Pictures
Cushman Show Pictures
|Breathing Life into
By Matt Noblitt
Public Information Officer
Columbus, Indiana Fire Department
Public Information Officer for the Columbus Fire Department in Columbus
Indiana, my job is to let the local radio stations and newspaper know what
the Department has done on fires, EMS runs, and HAZMAT runs. Other
obligations, such as giving talks at local schools and community
organizations and scheduling our Fire Safety House are thrown into the
bargain as well.
Our Fire Safety House is a fantastic tool that we use to educate first and
second grade children on how to deal with a fire in their home. Stop, drop
and roll, crawl low under smoke, stay away from matches and lighters, candle
safety, and escape plans are just some of the information the kids get from
the program. I thought I could do more, maybe for younger kids of preschool
age. That’s what started me thinking about what kids would have fun doing
and help them learn some valuable tips to boot. So I jumped on the Internet
to see what I could find and I came across “The Little Fire Truck Company”
It is located in northern California, and is a tiller truck that was built
for parades. It looked like a great idea; after all, what preschooler
wouldn’t love to ride on a “real” fire truck. So I went to Gary Henderson,
the Chief of the Department, and ask if I could attempt to build something
like that. Of course his answer was - quote - “go for it”.
I knew the key would be to find some type of vehicle to use to pull a
trailer that the kids could ride on. I nosed around and got a few tips on
where I might locate an old Cushman Utility Vehicle. After a couple of
disappointments I struck pay dirt at Columbus Regional Hospital. They had an
old Cushman Truckster that needed some work but ran great…. Perfect.
That’s where “I” stopped building “Tilly” and “We” started building Tilly. I
found out that I had no clue how to get this job done.
I called on Mark Williams, our assistant mechanic, and asked for the
much-needed help rebuilding the Cushman Truckster. The shocks and springs
were just lying under the front end and were rusted completely out. Brakes
were, let’s say, less an adequate, and we had to remove the dump bed and
fabricate some sort of bed that would accommodate a fifth wheel hitch that
was donated by a fellow firefighter and his wife. The little truck was
looking like it might work. Curt Carlson, the mechanic for the City Police,
gave me an old light bar and Mark and I cut 9 inches off each end and put it
back together so it would fit the Cushman’s 30 inch cab width.
Now we needed the trailer for the kids to ride in…hmmm….well if in doubt
call Dad. My father, Robert, is a retired Draftsman, Mold maker, Business
Owner, and heck, he knows everything, so who better to ask for help? I
explained to Dad what I was up to and he couldn’t wait to get started. We
went to the maintenance garage where I would be spending a lot of time for
the next 4 months. We measured the Cushman top to bottom, back to front.
Then we measured a full size ladder truck (did I mention Dad was a stickler
for detail). In no time Dad had a complete set of drawings for the trailer.
Now I needed to find yet another Cushman to rob the front end out of so we
could steer from the back as well. That came from some fine folks at
Hawthorn’s Golf and Country Club. With design in hand, I went to Ivy Tech
welding teacher Bill Kahrs and he accepted it as a class project for his
welding class. Metal donated by Kroot Corp. was delivered to the school and
things were coming together.
Mark and I took the Cushman to Classic Auto Body and Jimmy Bennett gave it a
great red paint job to match the painted aluminum that we planed to use for
the skin. David’s Fabricating donated their time and equipment to cut out
the skin and bend diamond plate for the bumper and trim.
Ivy Tech called and said the trailer was ready to go and we started welding
in the rear steering. Then we took the whole rig to Dad’s garage to put
treated plywood on the floor and sides. Test drives proved that the
Cushman’s 22 hp OMC engine would be plenty strong, but it wasn’t until later
that we found out that it would pull the rig even in high range and in third
gear. Top speed is only about 25 mph, so we needed a second trailer to haul
Tilly and her little trailer on, and it had to have at least a 27 foot bed.
A local company was taking out some old house trailers after purchasing some
land, and I stopped and ask if they could save me a frame. They had one the
next morning that was 28 feet long and 55 inches between the wheels. That
left us 2-1/2 inches on each side to get Tilly on board. That is a little
close, but hey, it was donated and it will work.
Tilly is not as large as the fire truck in California, but Dad had found
room for 9 feet of bench seats on each side for the kids to ride. I started
looking for oak. It is hard to find someone to donate 15 oak 1x4’s, but
Southern Indiana Mill Works stepped in and gave us all the oak we needed,
and Dad and I sanded, stained, routed, and sealed, and installed it.
Now it was time to bend some more skin and diamond plate for the back half
of the truck. Oh-oh - David’s is swamped with work - time to regroup. Scott
Maley is a firefighter on the department and works his days off at DLI, a
heating, air, and ding ding ding metal working company. We gave Dan Ledwinka,
the owner, a call and he let me use the equipment at his shop. With Scott’s
help the trimmings were ready in a couple of days.
It took Dad and I two weeks to get the skin, diamond plate, and electrical
installed. The project was shaping up nicely now, and it was time to install
the fancy things. ASC graphics told me early on that they wanted to donate
the striping and lettering. Wow, what a difference the graphics made! It
really looked like a fire truck now. All we needed was a couple of axes and
ladders and the outside would be done. Two polished brass axe heads were
given by one of Mark’s buddies. They were polished on one side, so Dad and I
were going to put one with the head forward and one with the head backward.
Next day I found that Dad had polished the backside of one of the heads to a
mirror finish (did I mention Dad was a stickler for detail) so both axes
could face the same way. Dan Lanham, our Deputy Chief, gave me an old
telephone company ladder with wood rails and aluminum rungs, but the wood
was in terrible shape from lying on the ground for years, plus it wasn’t
really the size to meet the scale we needed. Well, that wouldn’t do so back
to the mill to ask for some wood. They were gracious enough to donate four
Poplar 2x4’s, so we sanded, stained, routed, and sealed the rungs for what
would be our new rails. We used a saws-all to cut the rungs down to size and
built and installed the ladders. Now the project was close to finished.
We still need some tunes for the kids to listen to. I went to where my Son
was working and ripped out his c.d. player. I installed it in Tilly’s cab,
then went to Wal-Mart and bought a set of outdoor speakers for a boat and
put them behind the cab so the kids could hear M.C. Axe and the fire crew
sing songs about fire safety while they ride.
We still needed to find someone to put a headliner in and the door covers
on, but otherwise it was ready to go. Dad and I loaded it on our trailer,
took it back to the maintenance garage, took the booms off, and -BANG- the
trailer bent in the middle, all the way to the ground in the rear. Now what
are we going to do! Mark is on the job and he said all we needed to do was
cut the fenders off, cut the axles out from under it and add ¼ thick 2x4
square tubing to the rails with 3 inch channel iron supports between them. I
couldn’t even think of what all this was going to entail, but in no time he
had it road ready.
This was a 6-month project and I owe so many people thanks, not to mention
all the rides I promised to those that donated. In all it has been a great
experience for me to spend some extra time with Dad working side by side. I
was pleasantly surprised at how all the people in the community stepped up
at the mention of the project. It is positive proof for all to see that
everyone will do what they can to keep our most valuable resource, our
children, safe. I hope Tilly will be a tool we use for years to come in
order to teach our children the importance of fire safety.
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