WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – Ever on the lookout to boost the rapport between police and the public, a Pennsylvania College of Technology patrolman has found the perfect vehicle for community outreach.
In a project that combined hobby and history, restoration and research, Penn College Police Officer Charles E. O’Brien Jr. recently turned a 1929 Ford Model A coupe into a traffic-stopping icebreaker.
“I had a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for a number of years and grew tired of it,” O’Brien said. “It had all of 300 miles on it, including the three 9/11 rides in which I took part.” So he hopped on Craigslist in May, found someone willing to trade a Model A in running condition for a late-model bike, borrowed a trailer and traveled to Mifflinville to claim his “new” find.
The acquisition (with a couple thousand dollars’ worth of donated spare parts thrown in) led to “the coolest project I ever involved myself in,” O’Brien said, although he admittedly had to find room for his hobby in an already-crowded schedule. In addition to being a full-time police officer, O’Brien is a volunteer firefighter in South Williamsport and is completing his capstone as an emergency management technology student at Penn College.
“As I started messing with it, I got the feeling that I should start looking through the history of the vehicle and its relation to law enforcement,” said O’Brien, who delved into the period-appropriate lighting and Motorola AM radio installed by the Detroit police department – including the red, 7½-inch “stop” light mounted on the front.
He also literally followed the letter of the law, replicating the font used by Chicago crimefighters in the days of Al Capone.
Topping off the package was a hand-me-down from Chris E. Miller, police chief and director of campus safety: a pair of vinyl “Penn College Police” decals, magnetized for easy application and removal, which add just the right amount of flair for public appearances.
“I have to applaud Chuck for how he goes out of his way to interact with others from outside of law enforcement,” Miller said. “He has always put public relations at the forefront of his job, whether it is with students, faculty and visitors to the college or to anyone else he encounters. He is a valuable asset to our department.”
“It’s been great to see people’s reactions,” said O’Brien, sharing a summer anecdote from an ice-cream run to a local convenience store. When he and his wife, Jennifer D., returned to the vehicle, they noticed two preteens eying it respectfully from a distance.
“Would you like to get inside?” he asked them; their answer, soon lost in the excitement of the lights and the din of the siren, was as rewarding to O’Brien as it was unsurprising. “I love to talk about the car and share some history in such a good way.”
Penn College offers an associate degree in automotive restoration, and O’Brien said faculty expertise from the School of Transportation & Natural Resources Technologies – while admittedly secondary to spousal permission and discussions with his fellow officers – was inestimable as he worked through the project.
He particularly cited input from collision repair instructors Roy H. Klinger and Michael R. Bierly, as well as Christopher H. Van Stavoren, assistant professor of automotive technology.