By Ashley Rader
When Steve Dunlap drives the Elizabethton Fire Department’s 1923 Model T fire engine in this Saturday’s Christmas parade, it will be the 40th parade for both Dunlap and the fire engine.
Dunlap started driving the antique fire engine during the Bicentennial Parade in 1976 when he worked for the EFD as a firefighter. When he retired in 2002 after 30 years of service, he continued the tradition of driving the engine in the city’s parades.
“I got started doing it and I couldn’t quit,” he said. “Clifton Deloach was the shift captain at the time, and he talked me into it. No one else wanted to do it at the time.”
It was the bicentennial parade that started a tradition that many parade-goers in Elizabethton look forward to. Since that first parade, Dunlap has driven the antique fire engine in the town’s Christmas and Fourth of July parades. The engine was also a part of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, but Dunlap did not drive it to the exhibition.
Dunlap drives the antique engine in a place of honor, near the start of the parade. He explained this was originally the case because the engine would overheat if the engine had to sit idling in the procession waiting to go in the parade.
“Usually I get finished pretty early and am able to come back and watch the rest of the parade,” he said.
The fire engine usually carries a local or state government official along the parade route, or Dunlap is joined by his 6-year-old granddaughter Emily Dunlap.
“I like that I get to ride in the parade,” Emily said. “I like waving to people and I see some of my friends.”