Friday, June 13, 2008
Shrewsbury Ma brothers buy firetruck on eBay


SHREWSBURY— Friends and neighbors have flooded Paul and David Johnson with possible uses for their recently purchased ladder firetruck, which they bought from the town on eBay.

“Everybody has a suggestion, now that we have it,” said Paul Johnson.

Using the 26-year-old vehicle for parades has been the most common suggestion. The Johnsons’ lawnmower and power equipment company, Caola Equipment Co. on Park Avenue in Worcester, is right on the route of the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Others ideas include using the ladder to reach high places for painting and shingling jobs. Since the brothers own a three-decker apartment building in Worcester, that’s another viable option.

“I’ve had a couple of people ask if we could string up Christmas lights with it,” David Johnson said.

So, why buy an old firetruck?

“I’m afraid of motorcycles, and I can’t fit in a Corvette,” said David Johnson. “We’ve been playing with motors our whole lives. You start with go-carts and you work your way up. Bigger toys for bigger boys, I guess.”

This being their company’s busy season, the brothers plan to park the truck in a warehouse for awhile.

“This will be a January-February project,” David Johnson said.

There’s a little sentimentality attached to their purchase as well. They were both born and raised in Shrewsbury, and thought it would be fun to own the town’s old firetruck.

“Not to get all mushy about it,” David said, but their father was a longtime call firefighter for the town. When they heard from their nephew, a firefighter in town, about the truck being sold, they were immediately interested.

The Johnson brothers paid $4,900 for the firetruck, after a fairly intense auction on eBay. Nine different bidders submitted 29 separate bids, according to Shrewsbury Assistant Town Administrator Michael A. Hale.

“I would have liked a couple of fewer bidders myself,” said David Johnson, laughing. “We made our (winning) bid at the last possible minute.”

Mr. Hale said the town held the auction online to cast as wide a net as possible for potential buyers.

“I think it did much better than we expected,” he said of the sale. “We got about double what we thought we were going to get.”

Former Selectman Thomas Fiore, who posted the auction through his truck sale business’s eBay account at no charge to the town, estimated the truck might fetch a price of $2,500. The town did pay a $59 fee to eBay for the auction, Mr. Hale said.

Mr. Hale said the town advertised the sale the same way it usually would, and followed the state law that covers how municipalities sell surplus equipment. In this case, the town’s advertisements directed buyers to the eBay auction, instead of requesting that sealed bids be submitted to the town manager’s office.

Uxbridge will be holding its first eBay sales in the next 90 days, according to Town Finance Director David A. Genereux.

The town will sell two items online: an old police command van that is actually a rebuilt milk truck, and the Council on Aging van, which will be replaced soon.

Uxbridge has been cleaning out its various bits of unused equipment regularly over the past several years, Mr. Genereux said. But the traditional method of selling hasn’t yielded much success, he said. The town had an auction, with the DPW director as the auctioneer, that yielded a few hundred dollars. Other traditional requests-for-proposals sales have been really good deals — for the buyers.

“The prices we’ve been getting, we could have done better selling them for scrap,” Mr. Genereux said. The town sold a Chevy S-10 pickup truck recently for $300.

“It needed some work, but it was worth more than that,” he said.

Even so, Mr. Genereux isn’t sure what kind of bids to expect for a rebuilt milk truck and an old van.

“There are a lot of people who would like to own a firetruck, park it on their lot or use it in parades,” he said. “Our stuff is not going to have the same cachet.”

Other towns have used eBay to discard surplus goods as well. In 2003, Leominster got a winning bid of $2,949 for a 1967 ladder truck. The truck was sold to a retired firefighter and mechanic, Alden E. Piper, who had put together the specifications to buy the truck 36 years before.

It’s not every day Shrewsbury sells an old firetruck.

Usually, the town is able to trade in old trucks to the manufacturer when it buys a new one.

Retired Shrewsbury Fire Chief Gerald LaFlamme said the ladder truck that was sold had a 1962 ladder component welded onto a 1982 fire engine body. Parts were impossible to come by for the ladder, and have to be made on special order.

“There was literally nothing of value” to the vendor, Mr. LaFlamme said.

In 2002, the department was able to get $20,000 in a trade-in for a new firetruck, because that truck still had value, he said.

The town’s recent foray into online auctions was not its first.

Last year, the town sold a 21-year-old Boston Whaler police boat on eBay for $7,300. Mr. Hale said buyers were attracted not so much by the boat, but by its engine, which had been replaced only seven years before. It sold to a man who motored it up to his summer home in Maine, he said.

Mr. Hale said the idea to sell surplus town equipment on eBay came from the School Department, which sold 15 pieces of old shop equipment several years ago.

Assistant Superintendent Judith Evans said the town was astonished at how much money it earned on an eBay sale four years ago for belt sanders, routers and other heavy equipment from the high school. The sale brought in about $10,000, she said.

“It was seen by a national audience,” she said.

photo below
From left, Paul and David Johnson stand next to the firetruck they bought for $4,900 on eBay from the town of Shrewsbury. (T&G Staff/STEVE LANAVA)