Collecting and Restoring Doepke Toy Fire Trucks

Posted by: Administrator | Posted on: September 15th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Collecting and Restoring Doepke Toy Fire Trucks, Jonathan Dowell, American La France, ladder trucks

Doepke Toy Fire Trucks, American La France Ladder TruckThe year was 1950.  American toy buyers could now purchase one of the finest pressed steel toy fire trucks ever made.  It consisted of a 1/16th scale replica of an American La France 700 Series midship aerial ladder truck made by the Charles Wm. Doepke Manufacturing Company of Rossmoyne,Ohio.  Prior to 1950, Doepke’s product line of “Model Toys” had only consisted of cars and construction –related vehicles.  The new Doepke #2008 ladder truck featured a 2-section pressed steel aerial ladder, a very realistic/functional turntable base, a wind-up mechanical siren, a functional steering wheel, a pair of 18-inch long ground ladders and, last but not least, the trademark ALF bell mounted behind the front bumper, just like the real thing.

In 1953, Doepke released an improved version of the #2008 ladder truck.  Model #2014 soon became Doepke’s finest, most authentic fire piece.  Improvements featured in model #2014 included a die-cast metal aerial ladder, larger plastic control knobs for raising and lowering the aerial ladder and functional side stabilizers.  Production of model #2014 continued until 1956.

Doepke introduced the companion piece to their ladder truck in 1952.  It was the #2010 pumper, also an American LaFrance 700 series replica.  Standard features of the Doepke pumper included a midship water tank with a removable cover, a functional hand pump with a side discharge, an 8 fl-inch long aluminum ladder, one black rubber hard suction hose and two tailboard fire extinguishers.  The hose reel was mounted transversely in front of the tailboard and under the hose bed and included a red rubber hose line, complete with its own smooth bore nozzle.  This hose line was not plumbed directly to the tank, but could be removed from its reel and plugged into a plastic adapter on the side discharge.

The last Doepke fire piece to be introduced is also the hardest one to find today.  Yes, it is the infamous #2023 searchlight truck and was produced during the 1955 model year only. This “Model Toy” did not depict a real piece of American LaFrance fire apparatus and was offered only in white, while the pumper and ladder truck were both crimson red.  To make this “fantasy toy”, Doepke started with the #2010 pumper and replaced the water tank with a battery box with a large-diameter; electric searchlight truck did not have a cut-out for the transverse-mounted plastic hose reel.

Doepke was the only pressed-steel toy manufacturer to produce an American LaFrance 700 Series toy fire truck line.  All Doepke toy fire trucks were lettered forRossmoyne,Ohioand were officially licensed by American LaFrance.

Doepke’s plant was closed in 1959 as a result of competition from manufacturers of cheaper, lighter gage pressed steel toy fire truck than Doepke.

So what do you do if you acquire a Doepke toy fire truck?  Keep it – regardless of its condition.  If its condition is good to excellent, leave it alone and display it in your collection.  On the other hand, if the toy looks beat up and has missing parts, don’t discard it, instead restore it!  The process of restoration is simple, not complex.  First, you need to disassemble the toy itself, removing all components from the frame and body.  As you do this, remember how and where each part you remove was attached to the body of the toy.  Photographs of the toy taken before disassembly would be invaluable during the reassembly stages.  An extremely useful tool in the disassembly process is the Dremel Multi-Pro hobby tool.  This tool, when equipped with a grinding tip, is second to none when it comes to removing rivet tails from riveted parts like the front bumper and side hard suction hose and ladder brackets found on the Doepke pumper.  When doing so, try to grind the rivet tail only and not the surrounding steel surface of the hose bed.  Other required tools include a small flat-head screwdriver, pliers and a hammer.  If you wish to remove the black rubber tires from their Budd wheels, do not try to pry them off with a screwdriver.  Instead, simply immerse them in a small pot of boiling water for several minutes, then remove them.  Wearing gloves, immediately remove them from the wheels by hand while the rubber is still soft enough.  Remember to always wear eye protection when operating any power tools.

Once you’ve successfully dismantled your Doepke toy fire truck you will need to have it re-painted the color of your choice and have the plated parts polished or re-plated.  My preference for refinishing any pressed steel toy is powder coating instead of painting.  After beadblasting the toy in a blasting cabinet to remove paint and rust, a colored powder is sprayed on and the toy is then placed in an oven where the powder finish is baked onto its exposed surfaces.  The end result is a glossy, yet durable finish that will last the life of the toy.  You can drop a powder coated toy and not damage its finish.  Powder coating is also safer because you, the toy restorer, do not have to deal with messy, toxic paint removers, strippers, spray paints and primers.  The price of powder coating varies throughout the country and often depends on how many pieces you need to have refinished.  Prices can range between $50 and $75 for bead blasting and powder coating a single toy.  This may seem too high until you think of the value of your won time and how much of it you would spend just trying to remove paint and rust from a 50 year-old toy.   Remember that powders are available in any color just like paint.  Just ask your powder coater for a manufacturer’s color chart.

Now that your Doepke toy has been refinished, the fun part begins – re-assembly.  Hopefully, you didn’t lose any component parts or forget to remove them from the toy before it was refinished.  First, snap the tires back onto their wheels and re-attach the wheels to the toy itself.  In order for the front wheels to fit on their respective ¼” steel axle rods, it will be necessary to grind down the powder coating on the axles first.  The next step is to insert the various plated parts where they belong.  These include the side window frames, handrails, headlight rings with white lens inserts and water pump plunger assembly and taillights if you’re restoring a Doepke pumper.  Always re-insert the cab seating, which should be powder coated black, after inserting the window frames.  Use 4-40 machine screws to re-attach the extinguishers to the pumper tailboard and to re-attach the cover to the water tank plunger to the side of the pumper’s water tank.  Chrome-plated rivets with compatible push nuts work well when re-fastening front bumpers, ladder truck turntable assemblies and pumper hose beds.  Make sure the rivets you select are long enough to act as fasteners between the parts you are re-fastening and do not have split ends.  A short rivet tail will be necessary in order to slide push nuts on securely.  When re-attaching any parts not screwed down or riveted (like running boards and tail boards), J-B Weld provides excellent bonding between metallic surfaces.

There you have it – the recipe to restoring your beat-up Doepke toy fire truck.  Remember that practice makes perfect and patience is a necessity when dealing with powder coating and plating shops.  The end result will be an awesome display piece or personal gift.

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