HAWTHORNE — Craig Monahan’s truck isn’t as old as it looks.
The 1992 Silverado with red stripes is a sacred car to everyone familiar with its past.
The car is on display at the Chevrolet dealership on Goffle Road, which is parked at the end of the long showroom. The immaculate floors and windows are a striking backdrop for the pickup, the seats are ripped and the frame is now a mosaic of chipped paint and specks of rust.
The truck is being treated as a survivor of the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center.
Monahan rode it there that day, then removed it from the ashes and fallen debris. He and his fellow firefighters then used it to go back and forth to ground zero in search of missing persons in the week following the hijacking. Their fire truck ladder was destroyed when the skyscraper collapsed.
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“We turned this into our fire truck,” said Monahan, 55, of Staten Island.
“Every day we go down that pit, everyone gets into this truck,” the first responder added. “This is our new rig. It has a great purpose.”
Back to New York City
This weekend, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the pickup will return for the first time to the Sixth Avenue fire department in Manhattan. A ceremony will be held there to honor the 11 members of Ladder Company 5 who died while they were responding to the tower.
Monahan, now retired, said Silverado was privileged to return to the station for the annual event. “This thing won the first battle of our war,” he said.
But the fate of the truck after this weekend is less certain.
It might remain in New York City, or it might return to the Hawthorne showroom where Steven Barna, the dealership president, has looked after him for nearly two decades.
“This is the monument of the day,” said Barna. “It makes people realize, 20 years later, what we suffered and how much has changed.”
Barna and CJ Barhorst, a mechanic at the dealership, will drive the Silverado to the New York City fire department in a flatbed truck.
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Barhorst, a local firefighter, was among the few people driving the truck. He said it was the centerpiece of a dealer-sponsored auto show in its additional lot on Lafayette Avenue in October.
“It’s priceless,” said Barhorst. “Seeing that truck is an exhilarating thing — it just lifts your spirits.”
When firefighters drove the Silverado to and from ground zero in the days following 9/11, Monahan said, it was recognized by people lining up behind steel barricades on city streets.
The audience cheered for the truck every time it passed, he said.
General Motors Co., which owns the Chevrolet brand, later heard about the excitement surrounding the vehicle and eventually invited Monahan to speak at a trade conference. The truck was part of a 2008 commercial for the brand and was showcased at the auto show at the Javits Center in midtown Manhattan.
Barna met Monahan at a convention in Phoenix seven months after 9/11.
They developed a friendship, and Barna offered to repair some of the truck and keep it in his showroom, where it had become a conversation starter. He also offers discounts to all first responders, a gesture he says attracts a large pool of customers from outside the region.
The truck had new tires and a new windshield, but the mechanics left the exterior stained.
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The truck was pre-owned when Monahan bought it at a dealer in rural Pennsylvania, he said. His odometer showed this week that he drove 140,245 miles – or nearly the equivalent of 50 tracks between Los Angeles and New York City.
But that 1.5 mile run to ground zero is what Monahan says he will never forget.
“When it started — when that Chevy Silverado started,” he said, “people gathered around him.”
Philip DeVencentis is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.