This engine marks the beginning of the Hall of Flame. Museum Founder George F. Getz, Jr. received it as a Christmas present in 1955 from his wife, Olive and his son Bert. He had expressed a casual interest a few months earlier to own a vintage fire engine for giving rides to children at their Lake Geneva, Wisconsin home. Mr. Getz used the truck to provide rides. It still runs very smoothly. He soon became an enthusiastic collector of fire apparatus and memorabilia. He began the National Historical Fire Foundation, which supports the Hall of Flame. Today the Hall is the nation’s largest firefighting museum. Mr. Getz died in 1992. His grandson, also named George, is now the museum’s president.
Called “No. 1” because it was the first object in the collection, the pumper was used by the fire department of Oshkosh, Wisconsin until the 1950s. Sometime during its career it was repainted, its chemical tank was replaced with a water tank, and its hard rubber tires were replaced by pneumatic tires. At the request of Mr. Getz, the rig was restored in 1991 by Don Hale to its 1955 appearance rather than its appearance when it was shipped by American La France in 1924.
American La France was the nation’s largest maker of custom apparatus in the 1920s, and the Type 12 was probably its most popular model with city fire departments. It used a 1,000 gallon per minute rotary gear pump driven by a six cylinder engine that generated well over 100 horsepower and a considerable amount of torque, the twisting power that really defines an engine’s capabilities. American La France built its own engines because commercial truck engines usually lacked the torque and the endurance to drive a stationary 1000 gpm fire pump for hours at a time without overheating or damaging pistons, connecting rods and valves. In its advertisements La France printed a letter from a fire chief in Alaska who had pumped his Model 12 at a mine fire for three days in freezing temperatures, stopping only to change engine oil and replace broken sections of hose. His Type 12 drafted water from a murky tailings pond and pumped it over 1,000 feet to the seat of the fire. A performance of this scope would tax the capability of a modern engine.