HAMPDEN, Maine — Want to own a piece of local history? Now’s your chance. The town of Hampden is selling a 1955 Willys Jeep to the highest bidder.
The vintage military vehicle has been with the Hampden Fire Department since at least the 1970s, when former fire Capt. Raymond Lord bought it from Civil Defense as surplus for a $1 bill, fire Lt. Frank Coombs said Wednesday.
“He was our Civil Defense director at that time, a captain with the fire department and a full-time firefighter who just recently passed away,” Coombs said. “He was in his 80s.”
Until as recently as two years ago, the Jeep was used to get Hampden firefighters — and water — to fires in remote, off-road areas, he said.
“It was our brush truck. We used it to get to trash fires, brush fires out in the woods,” Coombs said of the old jeep.
The Jeep acquired its nickname — “The Little Red Jeep” — from the crowds attending the annual Special Olympics Maine parade, said Coombs, a fire department history buff.
According to Coombs, the jeep was military green when the town acquired it. It eventually was painted bright yellow and more recently, fire engine red.
As of Wednesday afternoon, three bids had been submitted.
“One gentleman who’s been in said if he gets the bid, he doesn’t want to try to put it back to the original military [colors]. ‘This is to throw the kids in the truck and take them to the ice cream shop on Sundays,’” Coombs said.
“For another gentleman who was just in, it’s his wife who wants it,” he said.
The vehicle has been modified to suit firefighting needs over the decades. Roll bars were installed at some point, as was a grille for the front end made from a piece of recycled sewer grate.
“This is the last piece of history that this town has that goes back to the old [fire] house” he said. The old station originally stood near the intersection of Main Road and Western Avenue.
Now retired, the Willys has been replaced by a new brush truck, which Coombs described as a “550 Ford on steroids.”
“That truck was designed for off-road fire fighting, but we tried to fix this jeep to make it work for off-road fire fighting,” he said.
“At one point, we had a 55-gallon drum strapped on the back that hooked up a garden hose to and that’s what we did,” he said. “We went out into the woods with it.”
“The [federal grant] agreement was that once we got that money to buy that truck downstairs, the jeep had to be totally out of service,” he said. “We could not even use it to transport people to the scene.”
Sealed bids are being accepted until noon on Thursday, May 16, according to a notice posted on the town’s website. Bidders must enclose a deposit equal to 10 percent of their bid. Deposits will be returned to unsuccessful bidders.
Arrangements to check out the jeep, located inside the Hampden Public Safety Building, can be made by calling 862-4586.