Buenos Aires, Argentina to Cortland, New York, two years, 17,000 miles, and now found in the CNY Living History Center. It sounds like an enthralling Hollywood movie—and it’s entirely true.
We sat down with the new CNY Living History Center Executive Director Luke Biondi as he told us the incredible story.
Luke: This is a 1925 Brockway Fire Truck that was brought up here from Buenos Aires, Argentina by four firemen and all four of them were volunteers and they only had $650.00 between them for expenses on this trip
Experience Cortland: What year was that in?
Wow so all the way from Argentina?
Yep, all the way to Cortland.
And why were they coming up to Cortland?
They wanted to get it replaced. It was their oldest piece of active equipment that they wanted to get it replaced.
And it was a Brockway truck so they had to come to Cortland--
Yes, they had to come to Cortland, New York
And there were just four that drove this up here?
Yeah—so there were four that took the trip and they brought mechanical equipment to repair the car because they didn’t bring any replacement parts with them and throughout the trip their axles broke both front and rear axles broke several times …
Because they were traversing the mountains on the border between Argentina and Chile [the Andes Mountains] you have these giant mountains and some of their axles actually broke and fell down thousand foot gorges so they had to go down to the rivers to find their axles because they didn’t have replacement parts. When they actually found the parts and they hoisted them back up to the roads they had to get them welded back together. So this process that they thought would take a couple months actually took almost two years.
Wow, that journey sounds a little treacherous and it ended up taking them two years.
Yep, it ended up taking them two years. They couldn’t go any faster than five miles an hour especially around the hairpin turns and stuff on the roads. Sometimes they had to make their own roads and clear debris and stuff.
Beautiful but dangerous journey…and this is a great [Brockway] truck.
They put some stress on the truck and again they didn’t have any replacement parts and they really wanted a new one so it was they either left it there or they go and try to find the parts to get it fixed.
That is some dedication to Brockway Trucks. So 17,000 miles, two years later they made it here and they had to replaces a lot of things…maybe even more than what they started off with what needed to be replaced.
And when they got here, they stopped in New York City and said “Alright…we’re here!” and then everyone in New York City said, “No, you’re not here yet you need to go up to Cortland.” So they went up to Cortland they [Brockway] told them that they could’ve just shipped this, why did you take all this time to bring it up here. But Cortland saw their dedication and they had a giant parade and then they actually gave them a brand new firetruck free of charge and shipped it for them [back to Buenos Aires, Argentina].
That’s so nice! I don’t know if I would laugh or be a little mad if I had found out that I could have just shipped it after a two-year journey.
I don’t know why, but they just wanted to bring it up and get it replaces because they used it for so long, almost forty years. I guess that’s part of the reason that I like the truck their perseverance just to get it all the way up here. For us [CNY Living History Center] to have it. It really shows what we’re all about and that we’ve persevered from when this building sort look old like this truck and we’ve made it into what it is now.
Do you think that this is the furthest object that the museum has in its collection?
Yeah, it’s probably one of the most unique objects that we have in our collection. To be honest there should be a movie about this truck that’s how cool this adventure was.
I can see it now.
Yeah and there is a whole lot more to the story that I’m not familiar with yet…this story has a whole lot of history behind it. It’s probably one of our best pieces here.
And all of the writing that you see on the truck were these messages…. like I’m seeing Peru, Colombia, there’s Gainesville, Georgia…so when they were travelling through people from these places autographed it [the truck]?
As these guys were travelling through they would stop at local fire stations and that would be where they would rest up. At these fire stations, they would be donated food, give them places to sleep and the guys would tell them what they were doing. The people at the fire stations thought it was really interesting and cool and they would sign their truck and that’s why all the writing is there because that is all the places that they stopped along their journey.
It’s now historical graffiti…telling the story of their journey.
Discover more of this story and see this amazing truck up close at the CNY Living History Center. The Center is open Tuesdays to Saturdays 10am to 5pm.
The incredible story of four men’s journey from Argentina to Upstate New York is remarkably true. When they finally reached Cortland, New York in May 1960, thousands lined the streets to applaud an adventure that had gripped the imagination of the entire nation. The brave four men who took on this journey of survival and endurance were Sergeant Leonardo Antico, a chauffeur and ranking officer of the group, Felix DiMango, a building engineer, Pedro Centrone, a locksmith, and Alberto Bonillo, a butcher. The only thing that these four men had in common was that they were all Argentine volunteer firemen (Bomberos) and they had an overwhelming respect and love for their 1925 Brockway truck.
The journey was to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the De La Boca Volunteer Fire Department. So they thought what better way than to take their El Viejo, or “the old man” Brockway truck on a 17,000-mile journey to its home in Cortland, New York.