PIERRE THIBAULT (1918-1989) HISTORY
The history of the Canadian fire truck industry and the name Thibault go hand in hand. From humble beginnings in rural Québec, the Thibault family created a dynasty in fire truck manufacture in the province. Although Pierre Thibault Fire Trucks is no longer in operation today, the name Thibault is still found throughout fire departments across Canada and around the world.
In 1908, Charles Thibault (1873-1958) started building hand pumps in Sorel, Québec. Over the next few years, he built a variety of horse-drawn apparatus, some mounted on sleighs for winter use in small communities in Québec. Accounts differ somewhat, but in either 1918, 1928 or 1930, Charles' son Pierre opened a small shop in nearby Saint-Robert to help the business handle increasing orders. Before building this shop, Pierre had worked for the local telephone company. In 1918, the company built its first motorised unit, a Ford for Campbellton, New Brunswick. The twenties were apparently a quiet time for the company and the Great Depression didn't help matters. Camions Pierre Thibault was formed officially in 1932. In 1938, Pierre combined the two plants and moved the operation to Pierreville, Québec, which was blessed with ample electricity from nearby hydro facilities.
During the Second World War, the company was extremely busy building crash tenders, trailer pumps and hose fittings for the Canadian government. After the war ended, the company expanded its efforts in selling fire trucks to municipalities. It started building its own line of pumps, similar to Hale pumps. In 1950, Thibault introduced a custom chassis (known as the WIT - likely an acronym) and the first unit, a pumper, was sold to Valleyfield, Québec. A cab-forward version (the AWIT - the "A" may stand for "avant," French for "forward") came in 1957.
In 1955, Thibault delivered its first custom-built aerial ladder. Having previously supplied trucks equipped with aerials built by other manufacturers, this was a breakthrough. In a 1963 ad, Thibault boasted of the strength of its aerial by hanging a sling containing a Volkswagen Beetle from the tip. Fire departments appreciated this feature and this new product became very popular. In addition to aerial trucks built by the company in Pierreville, many aerial assemblies were supplied to American builders (Hahn and Ward Lafrance in particular) where they became part of new ladder trucks for communities large and small.
For many years, Thibault was one of the few, if not only, Canadian company that could claim the complete manufacture of vehicles from start to finish - pumps, chassis and aerial ladders. Most Canadian apparatus manufacturers tend to assemble components purchased elsewhere. By the end of the 1950s, Thibault apparatus was spread across Canada. The 60s saw considerable expansion into the U.S. market and some sales in the Caribbean and Latin America.
In 1961, Pierre died at the age of 63. By this time, all of Pierre's nine sons were heavily involved in the company. They were:
Réjean (1934-2019 )
Guy (1937- )
Pierre also had a daughter, Pierrette (1929-2018), but there is no indication that she was involved with the operation of the company.
As of February 1963, René was president, Marion Vice-President, Yvon secretary-treasurer, Réjean industrial designer, Gilles accountant, Pierre-Paul & Julien directors, Guy publicist and Charles-Etienne the plant superintendent. The company continued to flourish and the manufacturing facility was modernised in 1965. 1965 also saw the introduction of a new line of custom chassis, using the ubiquitous Cincinnati cab. However, in 1968, a dispute arose among the sons. Some wanted to sell the old family firm, while others wanted to keep it going. Consequently, sons René, Julien, Marion, Charles-Étienne and Yvon sold their stakes in Pierre Thibault and opened a competing firm, Pierreville Fire Trucks Limited in nearby Saint-François-du-Lac. The remaining brothers sold their interest in Pierre Thibault (Canada) Limited in 1970 and the company was sold to interests outside the family.
For several years, both companies continued to manufacture fire trucks for the Canadian and international markets from the same town. However, all was not well with Pierre Thibault. As Pierreville expanded, the original company fell on hard times. In 1972, the old firm declared bankruptcy and was sold to Montréal interests. It was quickly resurrected as Pierre Thibault Canada (1972) Ltee. In 1979, the old company went bankrupt again and was put up for sale. The five brothers at Pierreville (plus many of their own sons) decided to purchase Pierre Thibault and bring their father's company back into the family fold. It was decided that son René would handle the negotiations, and plans were made to consolidate the two operations. Material and orders were sent from Pierreville to the Thibault plant. However, it was soon learned that René had actually purchased the company for himself. Once the other brothers learned of this development, René and his two sons were quickly removed from Pierreville. René reformed the company as Camions Pierre Thibault Inc.
René's sons Carl and Léon continued to run the company after René's death in 1981. After Pierreville Fire Trucks went under in 1985, Thibault assumed most of the assets and assumed the crown of Canada's largest fire truck manufactuer. Aerial ladder innovations continued with the introduction of the SkyArm, AkyFour and SkyFive aerial devices. Despite this, and hundreds of rigs built in the 80s. Camions Pierre Thibault Inc. declared bankruptcy in 1990.
This was not the end of the story. In 1991, a group of investors led by a former Bombardier Inc. executive purchased the assets of the company and, with the assistance of the provincial government and the investment fund of the Québec labour movement, started Nova Quintech Corporation. The company continued to produce pumpers and aerials for domestic and foreign use, including the popular SkyPod and SkyArm platforms and SkyFive aerial ladders. It fulfilled a 21 pumper contract for the Canadian military and delivered several trucks to municipalities across the country and in the U.S. In 1994, Bombardier Inc., a huge Québec manufacturing concern with investments in the fields of urban transit and aerospace became a major investor in NovaQuintech. The company was a division of NovaBus, a large municipal transit coach manufacturer, at the time of the deal. In Spring 1995, NovaQuintech announced that it would cease producing pumpers and concentrate solely on aerial ladders and platforms. In 1997, the company sold its line of aerial ladders to Pierce Manufacturing of Appleton, Wisconsin, finally ending the saga of Pierre Thibault Fire Trucks.
While Pierre Thibault and Nova Quintech may no longer be in the business of manufacturing fire trucks, the legacy remains impressive. Several other companies carried the family name in the fire truck business. In 1985, brothers Marion and Yvon (along with Yvon's son Jean) formed Phoenix Fire Apparatus in Drummondville, Québec, but it folded in 1992. In 1979, brother Guy founded Tibotrac Inc. as a manufacturer of garden tractors. After determining that this market was too crowded, they began making utility bodies for Hydro-Québec. In the 1986, they entered the fire truck industry and built a large number of fire trucks for the Canadian and international markets before declaring bankruptcy in 1998. Today, Camions Carl Thibault (René's son) manufacturers a full line of fire apparatus for the Canadian market from the original Pierre Thibault plant in Pierreville. In addition, C.E. Thibault (also of Pierreville) builds portable pumps and skid units for fire departments across North America. They also built and repaired ladder assemblies in the past. C.E. Thibault refers to Pierre's son Charles-Étienne. His sons Stéphane and Sylvain run the company today. In addition, René's son Léon now operates Atelier Lafleurs Ltee, a manufacturer of rescue trucks. Finally, in an interesting twist for a family that started a company that exported Canadian fire trucks all over the world, Pierre's grandson Jean founded Thibault & Associates (now L'Arsenal), a dealer for Pierce Manufacturing.
As mentioned earlier, Pierre Thibault's companies left an impressive legacy. Thibault apparatus can be found in departments large and small throughout Canada, in every province and territory. The company also sold dozens of trucks in the United States. The Northeast was the most popular destination, particularly Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York. Indianapolis, Portland (Oregon) and Pittsburgh were also major customers, and the City of Los Angeles bought six Thibault tiller aerials in 1972 and 1973. Several trucks were also sold in Washington state, Ohio, California, Texas and Minnesota. The US Army also ordered several aerials on Duplex chassis in 1983. In the latter part of the decade, the American military also ordered a number of Thibault aerials in conjunction with 3-D Manufacturing. In addition, several pieces of apparatus were sold to Jamaica, Columbia, Chile and a few to the Middle East. Unique trucks were many. For example, in the early 80s, Thibault built two "Popemobiles" for the 1984 Canadian visit of Pope John Paul II.
Coupled with the fact that Thibault manufactured many of their own components at one time or another, it's easy to see how this family made its mark in Canadian fire truck manufacture.
Pierre Thibault used several different serial number formats over the life of the company. We have no information about Thibault serial number format from before the mid-1950s. Some trucks recorded have only a three-digit number, others letters and numbers, occasionally including SP and NC. Starting in 1955, company records refer to serial numbers beginning with C, followed by the year, then a three or four digit number (e.g. C56-1042). However, the pump plates on the trucks themselves may bear completely different numbers and the C numbers may not appear on the truck at all. Sometimes the truck test plates show a six-digit number beginning with 392. This may be the serial number of the pump itself. Another format observed on trucks are three-digit numbers, sometimes beginning with a "T."
In 1959, company records show a new five-digit system, with the last two digits being "59." Again however, 1959 trucks "in the field" seem to have the 392 numbers. As noted below, one more than one serial number system was used during production, so this may explain some of the different sorts of numbers and the discrepancies between company records and the serial numbers actually found on the trucks.
From 1960 to 1967, serials followed a five-digit format. For example, the serial number 15601 would be interpreted as follows:
1 - dummy (null) number
56 - year inverted; 56 is 1965, 36 is 1963, etc.
01 - production number in sequence.
In 1967, a new system was adopted, possibly due to the fact that more than 100 trucks were built in 1966, necessitating 167 numbers for trucks built toward the end of that year. Serial numbers changed to a six-digit format. All serials began with the letter "T" (presumably for Thibault), followed by the year, a dash, then the production number (usually starting with a dummy one, or a two if there were more than 100 units delivered that year). For instance, T67-170 would be the 70th production unit of 1967. The dummy number one is the subject of some speculation. These T numbers remained in use until Thibault ceased operations in the late 1980s.
In addition, many aerials and other non-ULC rated trucks do not have serial numbers, or at least none that could be found on trucks. In a few cases, these numbers can be found in company records.
After examining Thibault company documents, it appears that the final serial number that ended up on the truck was not the only one used during the production process. Each order was assigned a job number - a three digit number between 100 and 999. These numbers were used more than once. Some company records from the late 1960s show "nombre factures," which seem to be job numbers with years added - e.g. 64-1024, 67-1879. The five-digit number beginning with 1 and the T numbers noted above are the numbers actually found (in most cases) on the Underwriters plates of the fire trucks. The system of production numbers appeared to change in the early 1970s after one of the major ownership changes at the company.
Any additional information on Thibault serial number systems and how they work would be greatly appreciated.