Benson wants antique fire wagon back

Town ex-official says it is his

Staff WriterMarch 4, 2010 

— The town's Museum of Local History is getting ready to reopen in a bigger space, but it's missing one of the town's most historic items: a hundred-year-old horse-drawn fire wagon.

The fire wagon is being stored on South Wall Street, just a few blocks from the downtown museum. But the storage building's owner, convenience store owner and former Town Commissioner Nathan Blackmon, is refusing to give it to the town.

"It's part of our history, and I think it's appropriate that it should be stored in the museum," Mayor William Massengill said.

But after futile pleas to Blackmon, the town might have no choice but to sue him, Massengill said. "At this point, we've sort of exhausted every means we know to do except go to court," he said.

Last week, Benson commissioners asked Town Attorney Ike Parker to contact Blackmon's lawyer, Lavonda Wood, to see if he might be willing to settle out of court. Wood claims that the truck belongs to Blackmon, Parker said.

"At this time, there's no offer on the table from either side," he said. "I feel like the town is well within its legal rights to pursue the fire wagon. Right now, I don't know how much more talking we can do."

Wood declined to comment, citing the possibility of a lawsuit. "I don't want to taint the jury pool," she said.

Parker wouldn't say what documentation the town has to prove it owns the fire wagon, but Commissioner Ray Smith said he was on the fire department when Blackmon started storing the truck 20 years ago.

The department had used the truck in parades and other events for decades, Smith said, but the purchase of a new truck meant the fire station didn't have room for the antique anymore. Blackmon offered to store it until the department could get more space, Smith said.

Once Blackmon had it, he wouldn't give the fire department access to the wagon or let it take it out for parades, Smith said. "We've been trying to get it back for the last 10 years," he said. "He's given all kinds of reasons - he said it was given to him, but that's not correct.

"We've just been trying to find out what he wants. Hopefully we can find out, and we can reach an agreement."

Paying Blackmon for the truck is a possibility, but Massengill said he wasn't sure he could support that.

Given that Blackmon apparently volunteered to store the truck, "I personally have some concerns about paying for some sort of storage fee," Massengill said.

One way or another, commissioners are determined to get the truck back. "It's probably the oldest fire wagon in North Carolina," Smith said. "If we didn't get it back, it would really be a shame."

The fire wagon is one of several potential new additions to the museum, which until recently operated out of a cramped space in town hall. Billy Woodall recently donated slave pews believed to have been used in the 1830s at Hannah Creek Primitive Baptist Church. Museum volunteers are moving items from the old museum to the new space in the old Heilig-Meyers furniture building on Main Street. It will open in April.

colin.campbell@nando.com or 919-836-5768

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