Old Presque Isle Ambulance Being Brought Back to Life
Some things never change much at Presque Isle State Park. The water. The beaches. The trees. Nature. But, some things have changed over the years, including the ambulances that respond to medical emergencies.
This is the story of an ambulance that served the park 70 years ago. It was purchased brand new in 1953 after a fund raising campaign by the Doc Ainsworth State Park Lifeguard Association, now known as the Presque Isle Lifeguard Association. The shiny new ambulance was the pride of the peninsula back then. It was manned entirely by the lifeguards who treated the patients and even drove them to the hospital.
The ambulance ended up at the Erie Firefighters Historical Museum after the vehicle was retired from service in the late 1970s. It sat idle and unseen in a storage garage for years and years. In 2008, the museum director called Don Benczkowski, of the Presque Isle Advisory Committee.
"He contacted me in an effort to see if there was any way that the ambulance could be displayed at the Tom Ridge Center,” remembers Don.
The ambulance was in no condition to be displayed after sitting in the storage garage for all those years. Don was still working full-time for the state D.E.P. in 2008 and did not have time to spearhead a restoration campaign. But now, in 2023, Don is retired. He never forgot about the offer to showcase the old ambulance.
"I wanted to make it a priority, not only for Presque Isle but for the Erie community and for the sake of saving some history here about Presque Isle,” says Don.
Don approached George Lyons, the president of Contemporary Motorcar of Erie. Restoring cars is a big part of his business. George is willing to do all he can to restore this vehicle.
"It's just exciting to see any motor vehicle that has a local connection to Erie still being preserved. I like that a lot. That's a big trigger for me,” he says.
George says the ambulance will need a new engine, but finding a 1953 Ford V-8 Flathead engine may be difficult and could be expensive. But, just like 70 years ago when the lifeguard association purchased the new ambulance, today's lifeguard association will handle the fund raising for the restoration work. Jim Vieira is the association president.
"As you can imagine, the cost is becoming more significant because we're finding out, 'Now it needs this. Now it needs that,” he said.
The public is being asked to help with the funding. Financial grants are also being pursued to get the historic ambulance running again. Don not only wants the ambulance to be displayed at the park, he also wants the vehicle to participate in parades and in education events throughout the area.
To help the restoration campaign, contact the Presque Isle Lifeguard Association at 814-833-0526 or at [email protected].