YARDLEY >> Gene Cadwallader, who helped build the Yardley-Makefield Fire Company into one of the top volunteer companies in the state, took one final ride through town on April 22 aboard the 1937 Studebaker fire engine that he helped lovingly restore and maintain.
Cadwallader, a veteran of the Korean War, a life member of the fire company and a Pennsbury High School graduate and former school bus driver, died on April 17 at Chandler Hall Hospice in Newtown. He was 85.
Following a private service for immediate family on April 22 at the FitzGerald-Sommer Funeral Home, the Studebaker carried Gene’s casket on a final run through town.
The small procession passed by Station 0 at Main and College in Yardley Borough, Station 80 in Lower Makefield and beneath a ladder arch offered in memory of Gene and his 59 years of service with the company.
“I attribute a lot of what we have today to Gene,” said Fire Company President Larry Newman, who has known and worked with Gene in the local fire service for 35 years. “His death is a big shock to all of us. This is a huge, huge loss for the fire company and for this community.”
Newman said Gene leaves behind a legacy of accomplishments in the community and local fire service, including the construction of Station 80, a fleet of fire equipment second to none and a collection of beautifully-restored antiques.
“He was always fair. He was always honest. And he was completely transparent,” said Newman. “It’s a legacy we all try to follow. And that’s why the Yardley-Makefield Fire Company is a well-run and well-respected organization.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Gene and to his family for everything he has done for us,” added Newman.
Born and raised in Yardley, Gene served in the U.S. Navy for four years during the Korean War after graduating from Pennsbury High School. After the war, he returned to Yardley and began a lifetime of work and volunteer activity in the community.
Gene owned and operated Cadwallader’s Luncheonette on South Main Street, was a bus driver for the Pennsbury School District and worked as Office Manager for William W. Fabian & Son, Inc. in Newtown, affectionately known as “The Oil Patch.”
In 1961, Gene joined the Yardley-Makefield Fire Company serving in many capacities. Gene was president of the fire company from 1967 to 1972, treasurer for 40 years and became a life member in 1999.
In 2017, the company recognized Cadwallader’s years of dedication and sound fiscal management by establishing a scholarship in his name that will continue in perpetuity.
“When you look in the dictionary under the words honesty and integrity, there’s a picture of Gene because that is what he has stood for all these years,” said Newman in announcing the scholarship.
For 40 years, Cadwallader controlled the purse strings of the fire company as its treasurer.
He also served on numerous truck committees over the years, working closely with Pierce Manufacturing in Wisconsin to build, equip and improve the trucks used to protect not just the local community from fire, but communities across the nation.
Newman noted that one of the design improvements Cadwallader made is now referred to as the “Yardley Option” by Pierce.
His work earned him a great deal of respect and appreciation not just in Yardley, but throughout the firefighting community, said Newman.
“So much of what we have today goes back to Gene. He was the Yardley-Makefield Fire Company,” said Newman. “I’ve been a fireman for 45 years and I can tell you that I have never met anybody who could stand up to Gene Cadwallader and what he has done for the fire company. And what a good, honest dedicated individual he was.”
His accomplishments are too many to list, but some of his proudest achievements were the construction of Station 80 in Woodside in 1986. He negotiated a land swap at the time with grocer Jim McCaffrey in a deal that saved the company a lot of money.
Gene was also instrumental in having a pole barn constructed next to the Woodside Station to house the company’s antique trucks and fire police vehicles. It was later dedicated to his good friend, the late Jim Coyne.
He also was the driving force in the location and restoration of the fire company’s original fire engine, a 1937 custom Studebaker.
During World War I, the 1937 Studebaker provided the main source of fire protection in Yardley, Lower Makefield, Upper Makefield and West Trenton, which in those days were mostly rural farming communities.
After the war, the company purchased two additional trucks and added a ladder truck to its fleet. When the ladder truck was purchased in 1956, the company sold the Studebaker for $3,000.
More than 30 years later, when Cadwallader was working at Fabian’s in Newtown a gentleman came into the office and asked if he knew anyone who might be interested in purchasing an antique fire truck.
To Cadwallader’s surprise, it was the same 1937 Studebaker that serviced the Yardley-Makefield area years from 1937 to 1956.
“He wanted $1500 and I told him it would be an unexpected expense and we didn’t have that much money. We bought it for $800 and got it back,” Cadwallader later recalled.
Over the next two and a half years, Cadwallader and others spent “day after day after day” working on the restoration. “When you did something, you’d have to do it three times before it was right,” he said.
The hard work paid off, resulting in a fully restored “prized antique” that has gone on to win county, state and national recognition.
After restoring the engine, Gene took great pride in driving it through downtown Yardley during the town’s numerous Memorial Day and holiday parades. He could often be found at Station 0 tending to the upkeep and maintenance of the truck, including faithfully changing the oil and spark plugs, keeping it wiped down on top and underneath and completing other tasks.
When John Poiron was a youngster, he frequented Cadwallader’s Luncheonette, now the location of Yardley Jewelers. But it was later, after joining the fire company, that he became close friends with Gene.
“The things I remember most about Gene were his integrity and wisdom. They were his striking qualities,” said Poiron, who served under Cadwallader as assistant treasurer for many years. “He was always willing to give of himself. And he was rock solid honest. His passing is a tremendous loss in experience and knowledge.”
Poiron, along with Cadwallader and the late Jim Coyne, were known around the fire station as the Three Amigos. Together they worked on the restoration and then the maintenance of the Studebaker. They also enjoyed dinner out together every Thursday night.
In a FaceBook comment on the passinig of his friend, Poiron shared a quote by William Feehan, a First Deputy of the Fire Department of New York who perished at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Feehan said, “We are only passing through. We are the custodians and guardians of a noble tradition.”
“Gene lived those ideals out in spades,” said Poiron. “Gene passed through. He gave it all. And now it’s left to the younger generations to carry on.”
Gene’s other community associations included treasurer of the Newtown Reliance Company and Yardley-Woodside Fish and Game Club and assistant treasurer of the Yardley-Makefield Fireman’s Relief Association. He was also a member of the American Legion Knowles-Doyle Post 317, Yardley-Makefield VFW Post 6393 and the Yardleyville Protective Company.
Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, his funeral service and burial at the Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Upper Makefield will be private.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Gene Cadwallader Scholarship Fund, c/o the Yardley-Makefield Fire Company, P.O. Box 221, Yardley 19067.