Orange resident customizes replicas of town fire trucks

  • Orange resident John Sylvester’s customized model of Orange Fire Department's brush truck sits posed next to the real one at the Fire Station. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • John Sylvester of Orange collects and makes model fire trucks. Above, he is holding models of Orange Fire Department’s brush truck and Engine 1. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • John Sylvester of Orange collects and makes model fire trucks. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • John Sylvester of Orange collects and makes model fire trucks. Here is his model of Orange Fire Department’s Brush Truck 8 at the Orange Fire Station. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • John Sylvester of Orange collects and makes model fire trucks. Here is his John Sylvester’s customized model of the Orange Fire Department’s Engine 1 next to a real engine at the Orange Fire Station. The real engine the model was based on was retired from service. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • John Sylvester of Orange collects and makes model fire trucks. Here is his model of Orange Fire Department’s Engine 1 at the Orange Fire Station. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Model fire trucks sit on display in the Orange home of John Sylvester. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • John Sylvester of Orange collects and makes model fire trucks. Here is a model of Orange Fire Department’s Engine 1. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • John Sylvester of Orange collects and makes model fire trucks. Here is his replica of the Orange Fire Department’s Brush Truck 8. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/25/2018 4:01:19 PM

John Sylvester doesn’t need to tell you he’s a “fire buff.” It’s obvious.

Right by his bed — within an arm’s reach — is a radio scanner. Set to the local frequencies, the Orange resident can grab his scanner at any time of night and hear the firefighters rushing to do battle with the newest inferno.

Knowing he’s one of the first to know about a fire is a rush for Sylvester, he said.

But, standing in his room, what makes Sylvester’s love of the Orange Fire Department most obvious is not his scanner, or the way he animatedly describes fire equipment of decades past.

Instead, it’s the wall of replica fire trucks that reveals Sylvester’s passion.

“I’ve always liked fire trucks, in general, as you can see,” Sylvester, 35, said with a laugh.

Dozens of model trucks — some the size of a matchbox, some the size of a shoe — glisten with red paint, arranged neatly in order of their generation.

Between Victorian fire trucks, little more than steam-powered wagons; early 20th-century trucks, with exposed engines; and 1950s, ’60s and ’70s trucks, the whole evolution of fire trucks is displayed in Sylvester’s bedroom.

Three of the trucks stand out, though.

They are Sylvester’s favorites, placed front-and-center among the others. Completely customized, the three models trucks are exact replicas of the retired Engine 1, Brush Truck 8 and Squad 5 of the Orange Fire Department.

Sylvester has accounted for every last detail, and he’s had to be creative by necessity.

“This started out as just a red pickup truck,” said Sylvester, holding up Brush Truck 8.

The Brush Truck 8 model presented a challenge for Sylvester because of the large amount of customization it required. It’s also the most current model — the only replica of his that depicts a vehicle still on the fire department’s roster.

Indeed, Brush Truck 8 started as an average pickup truck model Sylvester bought from a hobby shop and assembled.

Sylvester painted the plastic model, even adding bronze-colored rust on the undercarriage.

“I just found the pictures (of the real truck) online, I made them the right size, printed them out,” Sylvester said, indicating the decals reading “Orange” and depicting the fire department’s seal.

“It took me probably a month to do this,” Sylvester went on. “You want to get the right details.”

“I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment,” Sylvester added.

Sylvester describes himself as a “hands-on” person. He’s always had hobbies that involved planning, manual work and attention to detail.

The walls of his basement — and even the beams supporting the ceiling — are wrapped with wooden miniature train tracks.

Hundreds of electric trains zip along the tracks he’s constructed, passing tiny plastic waving people, airports, parking lots and other miniscule recreations of the industrial world. Those models he’s constructed with — and with inspiration from — his father.

In his bedroom is a large, fully functioning computer that he made — yes, made — from spare parts.

He thinks his skills will serve him well in the automotive industry, and is studying to become an automotive technician through the Porter and Chester Institute

However, those skills have always served him in developing hobbies as well.

Sylvester combined his love of modeling, painting and manual craftsmanship with his interest in firefighting and, suddenly, he had a brand new, and niche, hobby: creating replica fire trucks.

“I’ve always been kind of hands-on, whether it’s with computers, knowing how things work,” Sylvester said.

Creating replicas of Orange fire trucks is just another example.

“I feel like, doing these types of things, I’ve progressed because I learn to use different materials and different technologies to make them more realistic,” Sylvester said.

Using his brain and hands together to construct things is something Sylvester naturally is inclined to do, but he creates replica fire trucks specifically because of his uncle’s influence.

Sylvester remembers his uncle, Fred Smock, a local and longtime reporter, always having the latest news about local fires, and sharing tidbits with Sylvester before anyone else — save the fire department — knew them.

“He was a big fire buff and was always listening (to the scanner) to hear what was going on,” Sylvester explained.

Growing up listening to his uncle tell tales of chasing fires is what led Sylvester to prefer building the fire trucks of old.

Engine 1, therefore, is Sylvester’s favorite model. It didn’t take the amount of customization that Brush Truck 8 did, but it encapsulates what Sylvester likes about making the models.

“It’s classic,” Sylvester said, holding up the glistening red fire truck with blazing orange stripes across the side.

“I feel like this is what people think when they think, ‘fire truck,’” Sylvester said. “It’s the biggest; it’s the coolest.”

Members of the Fire Department have taken notice of Sylvester’s recreations of the classic vehicles, and have been encouraging to Sylvester.

Sylvester said the Orange Fire Department has posted pictures online of his creations, and that Orange Police Chief Craig Lundgren wants his own replica police cruiser for his desk.

“Maybe I’ll get around to it,” Sylvester said with a laugh.

Staff reporter David McLellan has worked at the Greenfield Recorder since 2018. He covers Orange, New Salem and Wendell. He can be reached at: dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.




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