In 1930, the Wilmington Water Department received a gift from one of its commissioners. Louis T. McMahon donated his 1923 Reo touring car to the department. The employees converted it to a service truck.
The department and the water system were quite new at that time, only three years old. The Brown’s Crossing pumping station was built in 1928.
McMahon, Caleb Harriman and Alden Eames started the department and served as commissioners for decades. McMahon (1885-1950) was in the third generation of a family that has remained prominent to this day. He served as assistant town clerk in 1926 and 1927, and was on the Board of Appeals from 1925-38, Cemetery Commission 1926-50, Board of Library Trustees 1927-50, and Water Commissioners 1927-47. He was employed by Filene’s in Boston as credit manager.
The Reo was a T-6 touring car with a 50 hp engine. Reo was a brand that was started by Ransom E. Olds, who originated the Oldsmobile in 1896. That company forced him out in 1904, so in 1905, he started another firm, named with his initials. By 1907, it was in the top three auto manufacturers. Oldsmobile, meanwhile, became one of the founding firms merged into General Motors.
Touring cars became fashionable in the early teens, large open-topped convertibles suitable for Sunday drives or parades. By the late 1920s, the auto industry had changed. Henry Ford shut down production of the Model T in 1926. When Ford reopened, it was making the Model A. Touring cars were becoming passe.
Reo stopped making cars in 1934 but continued as a truck manufacturer for another four decades.
The men in the Water Department, working during the winter, overhauled the engine and went through the entire chassis. They cut out the back seat and rebuilt the Reo as a truck. There were compartments for large and small tools and other compartments for rubber gloves, hats, coats and boots. There was a floodlight system and a magnetic underground locator, handy for finding a water main break under a paved road.
The truck was capable of serving as a fire engine, with 250 feet of 2-1/2-in. hose, 350 feet of 2-in. fire hose and 200 feet of 1-in. hose, together with adapters and nozzles for each size.
It was painted a beautiful green with gold striping and gold letters. The work was done by Water Supt. Donald Foster, Elmer Eaton, George Foote, Eddie Sargent and Art Williams, who became the regular driver of the truck. The lettering and striping was done by Turner Body Works in North Reading.