Dual-purpose vehicle returns: Rescue squad reacquires piece of history

J.D. Fadley, vice president of Mount Jackson Rescue and Fire, kneels in front of the 1961 Cadillac ambulance the department recently re-acquired. Rich Cooley/Daily

MOUNT JACKSON– It took J.D. Fadley 17 or 18 years, but he finally got it.

Fadley, a lifetime member of the Mount Jackson rescue squad, and his friend Will Gangwer, also a squad member, listened to former squad member Alvin Irwin tell a story about an old car that once belonged to the town.

“At our annual Turkey and Oyster Supper, Alvin was telling us a story about this old Cadillac,” Fadley said. “It was probably 17 or 18 years ago he was telling us this story about this Cadillac. He walked away and I told Will, ‘I’d love to have that car.’ We were going to purchase it from him and fix it up ourselves. Alvin came back around and we asked him about buying it and he said, ‘No, I’m not ready to sell it but when I get ready you boys will have the first opportunity.’ Every year at the Turkey and Oyster Supper we asked him and last year he came in and said, ‘I’ll tell you what, the department has a new building, you’ll be able to keep it out of the weather, I’ll give it back to the department if you boys want it.'”

The car, a 1961 Cadillac MM, was originally owned by the Dellinger Funeral Home because prior to 1963, there was no rescue squad in Shenandoah County.

“The funeral home, before the rescue squad started, they ran an ambulance service,” said Richard Hottle, one of the founding members of the Mount Jackson rescue squad. “It was a dual purpose (car), it was used as a hearse or an ambulance.”

J.D. Fadley looks out the rear of the Cadillac ambulance that served as a hearse and ambulance for Mount Jackson. It is being restored by the Mount Jackson Rescue and Fire Department. Rich Cooley/Daily

In November 1967, the funeral home donated the car to the rescue squad, making it just the second ambulance in the squad’s existence. The rescue squad used the ambulance up until 1975 when it was put out of commission. Irwin then donated $100 to the rescue squad and became responsible for the Cadillac.

“I was the caretaker,” Irwin said. “If someone else would have gotten it, they’d have probably cut it up. It’s a heavy vehicle and they would have cut it up for salvage.”

After keeping it in a shed for more than 40 years, Irwin donated the car back to the rescue squad in 2016. Fadley said that the rescue squad has done a gun raffle and accepted donations to get the car back out on the road. As of now, the engine runs and they’re getting ready to put new tires on it. Eventually, Fadley explained, he wants to get the car road ready to put in parades and celebrations, since the car is such a large piece of history.

“It’s basically a conversation piece,” Fadley said. “It’s got a lot of history, it was the second ambulance we had, plus we were the first rescue squad in Shenandoah County. A lot of people have volunteered their time to get this thing back on the road.”

Irwin, who will turn 86 in August, has been waiting for the day the ambulance is able to hit the streets of Mount Jackson once again.

J.D. Fadley, center, stands with original members of the Mount Jackson Rescue Squad Richard Hottle, left, and Alvin Irwin, right, in front of the second ambulance the town ever owned. Justin McIlwee/Daily

“It’s what we were waiting for,” Irwin said. “First to serve in Shenandoah County. I said I hope I can see it on the road before I pass away.”

The ambulance's rear view sports the large tail fins and tail lights. Rich Cooley/Daily

The original lettering is on the passenger door of the former ambulance, which now sits on four new whitewall tires. Rich Cooley/Daily