Note: This feature is in the Oct. TT&C 2018 issue.
Richard Sikora, of Buffalo, N.Y., laughs when he says, “I’ve been a fire ‘buff’ all of my life, but I didn’t join the Buffalo (N.Y.) Fire Department, as a laborer, until I was 48 years old.” Richard may have been a late bloomer in some fire buffs’ eyes, but he remained with the Buffalo Fire Department until he turned 70 years old, so he put in his time, saying, “I loved my job. When I retired, it was like someone cut off my arm.”
Richard began working earlier than most people. “I grew up poor,” he said. “So poor that I used to joke that my family had to save money in order to be poor.” As a young boy, he learned the value of a dollar with a paper route, but not much of that money was used to purchase toys. “Most of my money went to helping with family finances,” he added. “I had six brothers and sisters, so I helped out all I could.”
Still, his paper route allowed him to buy a few toys, which were all fire-related.
“All boys play with toy fire trucks,” Richard added. “I was not any different.” His favorite childhood fire trucks were Tonkas. “Tonkas were made of steel and nearly indestructible,” he said. “The biggest problem was losing parts, such as ladders, hydrants and bells.” Today, many Tonkas offered on eBay are offered without these parts.
“I also like large-scale Texaco pumpers, but, again, it was easy to lose parts. I’ve found these pumpers, over the years, at flea markets selling for $5, but the bell, gumball lights or hose were all missing.” At one time, Richard had 40 of them in his collection, but only three were complete models.
Richard has a theory that “all boys and some girls are natural-born fire buffs. They live in awe of fire engines and fires.” Unfortunately, children usually outgrow this fascination. This did not happen with Richard, who never forgot that he was a fire buff. However, he believes that if a teenager’s interests can be kept focused until age 16 or so, then they are hooked for life as a collector. “Such was the case with my son, Ken,” Richard said.