Santa Swaps Sled for 1957 Mack Fire Truck

Happy Holidays from Mark Vaughn (far right) and the entire Autoweek staff (also pictured).
Mark Vaughn

It was two days before Christmas over a decade ago, and let's just say I knew a guy who knew a guy and before you knew it, there I was riding tail gunner on a 1957 Mack fire truck, coursing through the small town of San Gabriel, California, with no less than Santa Claus himself sitting up top waving to the good people of the town, all of whom poured out onto their balconies and front lawns and waved gleefully at the sight of the great red fat man.

Actually, anyone can ride on the rig, which crawls through the city for three evenings before Christmas, dispensing seasonal joy and the like to children of all ages. My job was to sit there and make sure none of the six kids riding on the bench over what used to be the water tank rolled out of the truck. I was told to buckle up.

This was a 1957 B 125 F Mack fire truck, with a straight-six gasoline engine and a five-speed manual transmission. It lead a long, purposeful life in the San Gabriel Fire Department before gracefully retiring a quarter century ago.

For a couple of decades it has been used in ceremonial duties such as the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, the Chinese New Year celebration, and in the annual "Santa Claus Run." Santa and Mrs. Claus sit on top, various council members and their grand children ride in back. A real fire fighter drives. Everybody has a good time.

According to an enthusiast site, the San Gabriel truck has a nice new wiring harness, two 200-amp alternators and Pertronix electronic pickups outfitted onto the original distributors, which, it turns out, are the same as those on the Chevy stove bolt six.

The truck ran beautifully. Anything runs beautifully when you have a full police escort. Just as they do when the president rides around somewhere, or when someone dies and has a funeral, motorcycle cops blocked traffic, flashed lights and blew sirens.

In addition to making sure no kids flew out the back, my job was to wave to the people like some kind of delusional tinpot dictator. I did this well.

"Merry Christmas!" I yelled. And the kids yelled back, "Merry Christmas!"

The kids on the truck threw candy canes to the kids on the curb. Parents waved, old ladies whooped and one old guy in a tank top yelled repeatedly to Santa, "I want a bike! I want a bike!"

There is no better way to meet the people in your town than this. It seemed like the entire city came out of their homes and apartments, some in night gowns, some in smoking jackets, some in their best Spider Man pajamas. Not a one of them was irked by the loud, flashing, traffic-choking cavalcade creeping down their street. Not a one.

Merry Christmas old lady wheeled out in a wheelchair!

Merry Christmas teenagers having a party in the second-floor apartment!

Merry Christmas Phuong's Restaurant!

Merry Christmas poor saps working the drive-thru at KFC!

Merry Christmas scary looking dude in the Raiders cap!

Merry Christmas ya' old Building and Loan!

There were old, old people who had been born here and who had been living in their homes since the homes were new. There were people who might have still been getting over jet lag from their flights to this new country. What a place this is, they must have thought, where the locals worship this large man and where we are thrown free candy—free candy!—by his delighted elves in the back of his fire limo! What a great country. What a wonderful world.

Merry Christmas!

A 1957 Mack fire truck similar to the San Gabriel engine.

Mecum Auctions

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