Ramona Airport Open House Draws Thousands

About 5,000 people, including County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, attended the 2011 Ramona Airport Open House Saturday, getting close-up looks at vintage and experimental aircraft, big-rig trucks, classic cars and “Big Jimmy,” a restored 1939 fire truck that once served the La Mesa Fire Department.

Visitors to the free event got the chance to tour the air traffic control tower, peek inside a Sheriff’s firefighting, air-ambulance helicopter, ogle several classic MG sports cars and a Shelby Cobra that was personally autographed by Carroll Shelby himself — the famous American race car driver and designer who created the car.

But the big star was “Big Jimmy.” Jacob, Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott, San Diego County Fire Authority Chief Howard Windsor and four men who actually served on the truck in the 1940s and ‘50s were on hand to dedicate the old water-pumper.

The truck was returned to San Diego County and given a $30,000 makeover after being re-discovered in Northern California where it was used to water grape fields.

Jacob said the restored fire engine would be used in parades and special events, and talked about the improvements the County has made to fire protection since the devastating 2003 wildfires.

Pimlott and Windsor spoke about the changes that had occurred in fire-fighting techniques and equipment since “Big Jimmy” was on patrol. Phil Crosby, Bob Green, Larry Ramsbacker and Don Russell — the four firefighters now in their 80s and 90s who actually served as fire crew members on “Big Jimmy” — received certificates of appreciation for their service and talked in great detail about what firefighting was like “back in the day.”

Ramona Airport holds the free open house annually. It is one of the County’s eight airports and the oldest firefighting “air attack” base in the state’s Cal Fire system. In 1960, the US Forest Service also began operating out of Ramona Airport, and the two agencies have operated the air attack base jointly since 1966, protecting roughly 1.7 million acres regionally.