CARMEL, Ind. - "We're just preserving part of our history,” said retired Carmel Fire Department Battalion Chief Gary Dufek as he stood inside the "Carmel Fire Buffs Musuem," located inside the former department headquarters. The space is filled with restored fire engines and old tools.
"I walk in here and I'm like a kid in a candy shop,” said Tim Griffin with the Carmel Fire Department.
Inside the museum, each item has a story. One item soon to arrive has quite the tale to tell.
"I rode tailboard on it,” Dufek said. "I ended up driving it for a few years. So yeah, it has a little personal touch for me.”
Dufek worked out of this building when it acted as the department’s headquarters. So Dufek wanted to add a new display that once operated out of the building... the 1960s fire truck he spent much of his time in.
“The vision has always been to restore the truck to brand new,” Dufek said.
However, there was just one problem. That exact truck was nowhere to be found. Back then, the only way they kept track of their inventory was by adding a small "City of Carmel" metal tag somewhere on each item.
"If it didn't walk, it had a tag on it," Dufek said. "We tagged the fire stations, we tagged tools, we tagged cars, we tagged fire trucks. Everything had an inventory tag to it.”
For months, Dufek traced the truck from department to department, until learning it was last used at a small department in Kinniconick, Kentucky. The fire chief there remembered an old fire truck in a nearby salvage yard. The chief sent a picture to Dufek. The truck read "Kinniconick" all over it, with no mention of Carmel. Still, Dufek was convinced.
"I was 80% sure it was our truck, but I wasn't totally sure,” Dufek said.
Dufek then traveled to Kentucky to see the truck himself. When he opened up the door, the first thing he saw was that small metal "City of Carmel" tag.
"The hair on my arms raised up when I saw that tag," Dufek said. “So I shut the door, talked to chief Ross, and said 'I'll be back... We're gonna bring this truck home.'”
Dufek and a crew traveled down to Kentucky, and in front of a crowd of cows, they uncovered the truck and brought it back home.
“When it's all said and done, I think we’re going to be very proud of what we restored and what it represents for the community,” Dufek said.
The truck is now in Tipton, where it’s currently being worked on. Dufek says the expected cost of the project is around $150,000.
If you would like to contribute to the project, they have set up a GoFundMe account.