Big Red Wagon

The antique fire engine returns, greener than ever.

fire engine

Rebuilt and ready for action, the Bucky Wagon rolls down State Street in the 2011 Homecoming Parade. Photo: Jeff Miller

When the 2011 Homecoming Parade began to wend its way down State Street, a familiar vehicle led the way, a symbol of triumph over the ravages of time. The Bucky Wagon, a part of the campus scene since 1971, has returned after two years of rehab and rebuilding.

Thanks to the efforts of the College of Engineering, the Bucky Wagon is back on the road, running safer and greener, with updated steering and braking systems and powered by an electric motor. “It’s taken two years,” says UW faculty associate Glenn Bower MS’89, PhD’92, “but we wanted to do it right.”

Bower advises the college’s student vehicle teams, engineering students who gain hands-on experience designing and building cars and trucks, often in competition with similar groups at other universities. The teams took on the Bucky Wagon as one of their projects — one with unique problems.

The wagon was already a bit of an antique when Jay ’49, MBA’50 and Norma ’48 Normington donated it to the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) in the early 1970s. A 1932 American LaFrance fire engine, the vehicle had cable brakes and no power steering. In 2009, a cracked transmission nearly sent it to the junkyard, as replacement parts were too hard to come by.

“At first we had only one option, and that was to sell it for parts,” says WAA’s Mark Blakeslee. “If the College of Engineering hadn’t stepped in, the Bucky Wagon today would just be a memory.”

To get parts, Bower and his students drew aid from contacts at various companies, including Pierce Manufacturing, A123 Systems, Phoenix International, Remy International, Ford, Alcoa, EnviroTech, and ZF Transmissions. The result is a fire engine that looks traditional, but is almost entirely new. After making its debut in the Homecoming Parade, the Bucky Wagon returned to its duty as an ambassador for UW spirit.

Published in the Winter 2011 issue


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