This 1923 American LaFrance Fire Engine, which responded to the 1934 fire at Hotel Congress, is being restored by the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation.


We have the bragging rights, being the town that brought down the tough-as-nails criminal John Dillinger, and we won't let anyone forget our role in capturing one of America's most notorious wanted men.

Each January, we roll back time to 1934, when by a fluke of a fateful fire, Dillinger and his gang landed in jail.

This weekend, we celebrate the 78th anniversary of the gang's capture with the annual Dillinger Days at Hotel Congress. The event includes a speakeasy on Friday night, re-enactments, vintage cars, music and tours of the historic hotel where the gang was holed up when a fire broke out.

Firefighters swung an aerial ladder up to the third floor to evacuate the gang, who had registered under aliases. The fugitives were captured a few days later after an observant firefighter recognized one of them in True Detective magazine.

Dillinger Days lineup

Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.

A $10 suggested donation benefits the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation's efforts to restore one of the engines that responded to the Congress fire on Jan. 23, 1934. Attendees will also receive a 40-page compendium about Dillinger's capture and details about the gang.


• 7 to 10 p.m.: Hotel Congress is transformed into a speakeasy with a soiree recapturing the spirit of the 1930s. Activities include a display of 1930s memorabilia in Copper Hall; a premium whiskey-tasting in the hotel lobby; big-band tunes from Kings of Pleasure and music from Duo Vibrato; and a screening of "Hot Pion," the documentary about the deadly 1970 fire at the Pioneer Hotel (It includes images that may be disturbing to some viewers).


• 10 a.m to 4 p.m.: "Hot Pion" will play on the hour.

• 10: "A Nine-Ring Legal Circus: 10 Eventful Days In Tucson,"lecture by historian Andy Dowdle.

• 10:15: Music and Old Time Radio Program on the plaza.

• 11: Dillinger re-enactment, Part 1.

• 11:45: Dowdle leads Dillinger Historic Walking Tour after re-enactment.

• Noon: Music.

• 12:40: Old-Time Radio Program.

• 1: Dillinger re-enactment, Part 2.

• 1:45: "The 1930s: Tucson's Last Quiet Decade," lecture by Ken Scoville.

• 2: Music.

• 2:40: Old-Time Radio Show.

• 3: Dillinger re-enactment, Parts 1-2.

Spotlight on fire engine

One of the star attractions at this year's Dillinger Days will be the 1923 American LaFrance Fire Engine that responded to the historic 1934 blaze at Hotel Congress.

The bright red engine would have carried a crew of four, including two firefighters hanging on in the back.

The engine, which is in the middle of a four-year restoration, will be on display throughout the event, which starts Friday evening and runs through Saturday.

The Tucson Fire Department had 34 personnel in 1934, and all of their names will also be displayed this weekend. All five stations responded to the blaze.

Donations will help the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation's efforts to restore the historic vehicle. It will be used to represent the foundation at public events, which could include Dillinger Days re-enactments.

The foundation is a nonprofit that raises funds to meet the needs of fire departments and districts throughout the greater Tucson area.

The engine was new when it arrived in Tucson, and stayed in service until it went to surplus in 1949, said Mike McKendrick, a retired assistant TFD chief who is the foundation's chairman.

A few years ago, foundation members found the engine in El Paso with a collector who had acquired it from a fraternity, he said. The engine had suffered from being left to sit out in the weather over the years, and so it was completely disassembled by a group of volunteers.

Two other firetrucks have already been restored and are on display at TFD's Fire Central at 300 S. Fire Central Place.


The Jim Click Automotive Team has donated an electric 2012 Nissan Leaf SL as a prize in a raffle to raise money for nonprofit organizations. It will be displayed at Dillinger Days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. All proceeds from the $25 tickets sold at the event benefit the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation.