Doug Thompson, of Royal Oak, owns a 1978 Ford F-700 firetruck pumper unit. The truck, nicknamed “Tornado Alley,” previously served the town of Sedan, Kansas, and was retired from service in 2013.

Doug Thompson, of Royal Oak, owns a 1978 Ford F-700 firetruck pumper unit. The truck, nicknamed “Tornado Alley,” previously served the town of Sedan, Kansas, and was retired from service in 2013.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Behind the Wheel: After long career, firetruck finds new home in Royal Oak

By: Jennifer Sigouin | C&G Newspapers | Published September 21, 2018

Photo by Deb Jacques

Photo by Deb Jacques

Photo by Deb Jacques

Photo by Deb Jacques

ROYAL OAK — Doug Thompson, of Royal Oak, has owned a variety of classic vehicles over the years, but out of all of them, he said, nothing beats the fun factor of owning a firetruck. 

Thompson currently owns a 1978 Ford F-700 firetruck pumper unit that’s all-original, unrestored and still pumps. He previously owned a firetruck for about 13 years, but he sold it due to how much work it required. Eventually, though, seller’s remorse started to kick in.

“I missed having a firetruck so much that I realized I had to get another one,” said Thompson. “It’s just a blast. It’s just stupid, crazy fun.”

Thompson, a retired General Motors Co. engineer, bought his latest firetruck on eBay from a collector in Flint in 2015. Before that, the truck had a long career that spanned multiple states and fire departments.

Although he’s still researching the truck’s history, Thompson said he has determined that the firetruck was purchased brand-new in 1978 by a fire department in Pennsylvania, and then it moved on to a fire department in Missouri. It made its way to Sedan, Kansas, in the mid-to-late ’90s, where it stayed in service until 2013. 

“It was a real, honest-to-gosh working firetruck,” said Thompson, who named the vehicle “Tornado Alley” in reference to the region where it spent much of its career. 

While the firetruck likely saw its share of severe weather, it has been well-preserved over the past four decades. Being from a southern state that doesn’t use road salt, the truck has remained rust-free, and when Thompson purchased it, all it needed was some minor mechanical and electrical work. 

“I really like the appearance of it,” Thompson said. “It has that full optional chrome grill. … I love the gold leaf graphics. They’re very unique.”

Thompson explained that in the ’70s, real, engine-turned gold leaf was used for detail on many firetrucks.  

“That was a real art form,” he said. “To work with it was very challenging.”

While the firetruck isn’t an everyday-driving vehicle, Thompson makes sure to show it off — and give the lights and sirens a whirl — whenever he can at parades, cruises and car shows, including the Frankenmuth Fire Muster; FireFest in Chatham, Ontario; and the Ferndale Emergency Vehicle Show. 

“I have a great deal of respect for firefighters and the job that they do,” he said, adding that he takes great care not to misrepresent himself as fire personnel. 

Overall, he said, spectators “love the truck,” and it always gets a positive response. 

“It’s generally one of the most photographed vehicles at any event,” he said. “Little kids love it. They just eat it up.”


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Do you own a vehicle that has an interesting history or a special meaning to you? Contact Staff Writer Jennifer Sigouin at jsigouin@candgnews.com, and you could be featured in an upcoming edition of Behind the Wheel.