Hall of Flame

Museum of Firefighting


Motorized Apparatus


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The listing below contains information on seven of the museum's major holdings of motorized apparatus.  Return to the listing of all motorized pieces by clicking Here.


Page 1




Christie Tractor for 1897 Champion water tower. Ex Toledo, OH

Water  towers came into use around  1880 to fight fires in multi-story buildings. Improved water supplies and steam pumpers made them possible, since they were designed to pump between 1,000 and 3,000 gpm.  This one was originally horse drawn. 

The Toledo, Ohio Fire Department purchased it in 1897. Water towers were used only for large fires.  The  lack of hydraulic power to raise and extend the tower made it unwieldy and difficult to maneuver. Most departments preferred to use aerial ladder trucks equipped with play pipes attached to the end of the ladder to play water on fires in tall structures.  

Although aerial play pipes could only handle a water flow at about 15% the capacity of a tower pipe, the aerial was much easier to maneuver than a tower. It wasn’t until the 1960s that hydraulically powered water towers, called snorkels or Squirts, made the water tower a truly useful firefighting tool. 

 In 1915 Toledo motorized its tower with a gasoline fueled tractor built by J. Walter  Christie, a noted automotive engineer.  It remained in service until 1950. 

Merryweather Fire Engine.  English. Ca. 1913. Braidwood body style fire engine. Ex - Lima, Peru



This English engine employs a novel three cylinder piston pump that  was used on English fire engines as late as 1940.  It was sold to the city of Lima, Peru in 1920, where it joined the International Engine Company 14. Retired in 1957, it came to the United States in 1979. The Museum acquired the rig in 1984, and it was restored by Don Hale in 1985. 

In Peru the original hard rubber tires were replaced with pneumatics, but little else was done.  English fire apparatus was very popular with South American nations, and Merryweather, England’s oldest manufacturer, dating back to the 18th century, made very high quality apparatus. 

It has what is called a Braidwood body, named after the design of a London fire chief of the 1830s, who designed horse drawn manual engines that allowed the crew to ride to a fire  atop the rig’s hose “bin”.   

The design proved unsafe for motorized rigs, which could easily throw a fireman from his seat in a crash or violent turn.  In the twenties English makers introduced engines with bus like bodies that protected firemen.  A  few American makers introduced similar designs, but they were unpopular. 

Closed cabs for American fire crews were not made in significant quantities until the forties, and even then many American firemen rode the tailboards or running boards of their rigs.  Accident rates from falls were very high.


Brockway Chemical and Hose Truck.  1915.  Ex - Kutztown, PA



The Brockway Truck Company of Cortland, New York built a few fire trucks such as this light duty rig purchased by the town of Kutztown, Pennsylvania.  It was restored in 1985 by Don Hale. Few commercial truck makers built fire equipment because it couldn't be mass produced.  After about 1920 Brockway confined itself to making chassis for companies which specialized in fire apparatus. 

It is worthwhile to compare this rig with the 1924 American La France Chemical Car from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.  Both trucks have identical purposes and equipment, but the American La France cost over twice as much as the Brockway.  The ALF, however, has a much more rugged engine and frame, well matched to the 650 pounds of weight of the chemical tank, plumbing, and booster hose, plus the 800 to 1,000 pounds of large diameter hose in the hose bed and the 600—800 pounds of firefighters riding the tailboard.  The Brockway is too light and underpowered for this equipment.  It has a lighter chemical tank and could carry only a few hundred feet of hose, plus a crew of four. It was minimally acceptable for the few runs generated in such a small community over the course of a year.  On the plus side Brockway parts were readily available.  It was also as much of a rig as a small volunteer department could afford.

The museum owns another Brockway that was built in 1921 as a half ton pickup truck called the Torpedo.  American La France purchased Torpedo chassis, equipped them with a variety of chemical tanks, and sold them at affordable prices to small departments.  Our Torpedo was sold to the town of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.  It's on exhibit in the museum’s wildland firefighting gallery. 


American La France
Triple comb. Type 40 fire engine. Ex - Paxton, IL.  Original chemical tank missing.


American  La France built this "junior" fire engine for the volunteers of Paxton, Illinois.  Equipped with a rotary pump rated at 350 gallons of water per minute, as well as 800 feet of hose, a forty gallon chemical tank with a couple of hundred feet of booster line, a twenty foot extension ladder and a twelve foot roof ladder, the Paxton VFD had an effective piece of apparatus.  The rig's four cylinder T-head design engine provided more than enough power for the pump. 

Curiously, the department never upgraded the tires to pneumatics, but they did get rid of the chemical tank in favor of a booster tank.  The rig was restored by Don hale in 1988.


American La France
Triple comb. Type 10 fire engine. Ex - Mamaroneck, NY.  Champion chemical tank.


Mamaroneck, New York bought this Type 10 La France engine in 1918.  It retains its original Champion chemical tank, but its original hard rubber tires have been replaced by modern pneumatics.  The rig was refurbished by a gentleman named Russell who used it in parades and named it after himself. During the 1970s he donated the engine to the Hall of Flame.  It is called a triple combination because it has a pump, a chemical tank, and carries over 800 feet of 2 ½ inch hose.  

American La France
Triple comb. Type 75 fire engine. Ex - Edgerton, WI. Original Champion chemical tank replaced by ALF 80 gallon booster tank.


 Edgerton, Wisconsin bought this  engine in 1921.  Pumping capacity is 750 gallons per minute at 120 pounds per square inch of pressure at the pump. A few years later the EFD removed its chemical tank and added a “booster” tank.  This is simply a water tank connected by a hose to the engine's pump.  Water from the tank flows by gravity into the pump, which can discharge it onto the fire through a small diameter rubber hose stored on a reel near the tank.  

Water can be applied at once and in a small enough quantity to minimize water damage.  The tank can be refilled from the pump once it starts drawing water from a hydrant.  It made no sense to equip pumpers with chemical tanks instead of water tanks, but a few chiefs insisted on their purchase until as late as 1935.  Many engines, like this one, were retrofitted with the more capable booster tanks.  The engine also features hard rubber tires.  Pneumatic tires were common on automobiles and light trucks by 1910, but were not reliable on heavy trucks.  

Fire engines makers conservatively stuck with hard rubber tires until the mid twenties, although reliable heavy truck pneumatic tires were available by 1920.  By 1930 most departments had replaced their rigs’ hard rubber tires with pneumatics that increased the trucks’ speed and greatly improved traction on wet or snowy streets.  For some reason Edgerton chose to stick with the hard rubber tires. 


American La France
Type 31-4 aerial truck. Ex - Danville, IL



Asa La France patented the design for this "spring assist" aerial in 1903.  Originally built to be pulled by horses, the design was adapted to motorized tractors and was manufactured until about 1940.  Because of its long wheel base it is steered from both the front and rear.  The “tiller man” turns his wheel in the opposite direction of the truck’s driver, providing impressive mobility for such a large vehicle.  Many modern aerial trucks still employ a tiller man.

It uses two large helical springs to elevate the ladder to the vertical position. Every action after that is performed by hand.  At a fire the “tiller man” removed his steering wheel and placed it to the side.  He  then stood on the end of the ladder as it was lifted skyward by the expanding springs.  The rig’s crew  then turned the cranks to extend the ladder to its 75 foot length and rotate it on its turntable.  The tiller man was now in position to enter a burning building to search for victims or to rescue people waiting in windows for rescue.  He might also climb from the ladder onto a roof to chop a hole and “ventilate” the fire, allowing smoke and hot air to escape.  In other cases the tiller man would connect a length of 2 ½ inch hose to the “ladder pipe” mounted at the aerial’s  tip.  He could then play as much as 250 gallons of water per minute onto a fire.  

This rig was built for the town of Danville, Illinois. It could make rescues in buildings up to six stories high. It also saw service in Cairo, Illinois until about 1960.  It was restored in 1986 by Don Hale. 


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