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Horse power no problem for new Elgin police vehicle

Retired police officer Tom Ols(below) helps dissassemble replicturn-of-century horse-drawn Elgpolice patrol wagMonday transport inElgPolice Department for display this weekend during

Retired police officer Tom Olson (below) helps dissassemble a replica of turn-of-century horse-drawn Elgin police patrol wagon Monday to transport into the Elgin Police Department for display this weekend during an open house. November 26, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 28, 2012 6:18AM

ELGIN — Police Chief Jeff Swoboda likes a historical photo of Elgin’s first police patrol vehicle so much that it’s also on his computer’s screensaver.

That photo isn’t of an Edsel or a Model T. It is a photo of the very first horse-drawn wagon the department ever had, from 1891.

Now, a replica of that wagon will sit in the Elgin Police Department lobby, ready for use in the Fourth of July parade and other city events, courtesy of the Elgin Police Academy Alumni Association.

For the past year, members of the alumni association have researched that wagon to faithfully re-create it from another 100-year-old horse drawn wagon, said Jim Zaranti, 71, one of the volunteers. He found the wagon they used to re-create the Elgin one while on a trip to northern Minnesota. It had been sitting at his sister-in-law’s house in Wisconsin.

While touring a museum in Minnesota with his wife’s family, he commented that a wagon there looked like what they wanted for Elgin, Zaranti said. “My sister-in-law says, ‘We have a wagon.’ ” His brother-in-law had purchased it at auction 15 years before.

In February, a driver from Arties Towing went up and brought back the wagon, and the volunteers began putting hours in restoring and refurbishing it, all in the basement of 231 Douglas St.

The total cost for the carriage was about $2,500, all paid through fundraising by the alumni association, and 600 volunteer hours were put into it.

Old idea

The idea almost started as a joke, Swoboda said. He’d mentioned the idea to the alumni association but didn’t think it would happen. “They took the idea and ran with it,” Swoboda said.

He wanted to see the wagon become part of the Elgin Police Department’s museum, housed now in display cases in the department lobby.

Swoboda was also inspired by an antique squad car sitting in the Aurora Police Department lobby, he said.

“We stole the idea, like any good policing idea, and went with an even earlier squad — the wagon,” Swoboda said.

To get the one-horse wagon into the police department lobby, it was also made to come apart. The box, seat and wagon wheels all come off, to be put back together once inside.

On Monday, a mule was hooked to the wagon for a short jaunt and photo opportunity. It was also a chance for those who worked on the wagon to see how it would hold up to the trip.

One piece of the wood — which the volunteers re-created — split during the trip. The original undercarriage and metal of the old wagon held up better than their new work, he said.

Plans are to put the wagon back together each summer for the Fourth of July parade. Swoboda said he is more than willing to sit “shotgun” for those parades while someone else drives the horse.

A public unveiling of the wagon is set for noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the police station, 151 Douglas Ave., as part of Elgin’s Downtown Neighborhood Association’s Winter Wonderland. While warming up with hot chocolate and cider, guests can learn about the department’s history, meet a police K9 dog, participate in kids’ activities, and get a tour of the facility. The carriage’s official unveiling is set for 12:30 p.m.

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