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White Elephant Ambulance


This article appeared in the Dayton Journal on March 10, 1941


Police Force Has “White Elephant” In Sleek, Streamlined Ambulance
14-Year-Old Patrol Wagon Serves as Poor Substitute

By Sylvan Fred


     The police department is having ambulance trouble despite the act that it possesses two vehicles which serve as combination ambulances and patrol wagons.

     Newest of the two vehicles is Sally, the “white elephant” of the department. She is sleek, streamlined, and high-powered with the legs of a Marlene Dietrich and the body of a Kate Smith.

     Purchased in 1937 at the cost of $2,600, this ambulance has been in the city repair garage at least once a month since then, costing the city’s taxpayers $2,144 in repairs alone, according to Fred Walton, city building superintendent. This is only $500 less than the purchase price of the new car.


Known as “Black Maria”


     The second or auxiliary ambulance is a heavy, cumbersome vehicle of some 14-year vintage which is familiarly known as the “Black Maria.” It is reminiscent of the days when all police beats were foot ones and patrolmen wore the round topped helmets of yesteryear.

     This ambulance at best serves as a very poor patrol wagon in which to haul prisoners and much worse as an ambulance for injured persons, women a few moments away from childbirth, and indigent hospital cases.

     Walton points out that the main difficulty with Sally is that she has a pleasure car chassis which is too light to care for her heavy body. The light chassis cannot support the bulk. Hence, springs, brakes, the clutch are constantly in need of repair.


Overturned On Run


     To add to the trouble, a few months after Sally became a member of the police family, she was overturned while on an emergency run. She skidded some 75 feet on her side, bashing in the body and twisting the frame. Although repaired at the company factory at a cost of $1,400, Sally has never been the same again.

     Police are confronted also with this problem: the ambulances are kept in central police station, a half-mile east of Third and Main streets. To make a run into Edgemont, the west side, Dayton View, or Riverdale – in fact to any section of the city except the east end, north Dayton and Belmont – the ambulance must cross the business center of the city.

     This wouldn’t be so bad, except that the ambulance crew never knows whether it will reach its destination. Sally may decide it is time for another vacation in the garage. In the minutes lost while police transfer into the cumbersome Black Maria or call a private ambulance, a life may hang in the balance.