Two-hundred hours of labor performed by 16 inmates has restored a 1949 LeFrance fire truck to sparkling condition.
Inmates at the New Mexico Central Minimum Correctional Facility on NM 314 in Los Lunas participated in the educational Auto Body Program to restore a fire engine belonging to Friends of Smokey Bear Balloon Inc. The truck will be used as a chase vehicle in the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, and school children will see the truck as part of a fire prevention program, according to Bill Chapel, the balloon’s pilot.
Mark Gefroh and Roger Dominguez, auto body instructors at the prison, hope the restoration experience that inmates gain will help them obtain productive jobs when they are released.
They removed old paint, right down to bare metal. Old holes were filled and, where necessary, body filler was applied to the vehicle. It was originally built in Elmira, N.Y., and then sent to a Colorado Springs fire department. After the body work was completed and primer applied, the 1949 truck received a sparkling, bright red coat of paint.
“We stripped it right down to nothing,” Gefroh said. “There wasn’t a part on there that they didn’t take off and paint. They took a lot of pride in fixing it up.”
The men basically had to work in what Gefroh described as a “glorified hay barn,” to restore the vehicle. The prison’s Auto Body Program operates on a shoestring budget of $1,500 annually, and it’s the only prison auto body shop in the state, according to Gefroh. With limited funding, inmates have fixed and restored pickup trucks, tractors and bailers.
“Some of these guys have a lot of talent,” said Gefroh, who has been working at the prison for the past seven years.
He tries to pair the men who have body repair experience with those who have none to help further the learning process. Often, at least six men worked on the truck at the same time.
Chapel said that some rewiring had been done on the truck before taking it to the prison for body work. Chapel was pleased with the restoration work done on the truck and plans to enter the fire engine in parades in Rio Rancho, Corrales and Socorro.