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Hall of Flame Museum, Part 7

This unusual-looking item is a Champion/Chrisie Water Tower — such equipment originated to fight fires in multi-story buildings. They came into use around 1880 with improvements in water supplies and steam-powered pumpers which could pump between 1,000 and 3,000 gallons per minute. When this one was purchased in 1897 by the Toledo, Ohio Fire Department, it was horse-drawn but later married to a gasoline-powered tractor built by J. Walter Christie, a noted automotive engineer.

Here is the business end of a water tower, the nozzle which would be raised and directed at a fire that was difficult or dangerous to attack with other equipment. Unfortunately, water towers were difficult to raise and maneuver — thus most fire departments preferred to use aerial ladder trucks with play pipes attached to the end of the ladder — despite the fact that water towers had seven times the water capacity. In the 1960s hydraulically-powered water towers made this type of equipment much more practical.

Next up is a Waterous Pumper built in 1918 for the town of Plainfield, Wisconsin. This is actually a transitional engine spanning the steam-powered fire engine and the motorized engine. Waterous married one of their excellent rotary pumps (which was rated at 350 gallons per minute) to a Wisconsin four-cylinder gasoline engine. The latter was a significant improvement over the steam engine with much less weight for the same pumping power. Interestingly, the gasoline engine did not require a radiator — water from the pump is circulated into the engine's water jacket and discharged onto the ground.

This next engine is an American La France Type 21 Aerial built around 1919 for the town of Danville, Illinois.

This design included a "spring assist" — two large helical springs to raise the ladder to its vertical position. Once in position, all the additional adjustments could be done by hand. The ladder was capable of effecting rescues from buildings up to six stories high.

Toward the rear of the truck, is the tiller for the steering of the rear wheels (as you'll recall, this was where I wanted to serve) which are turned in the opposite direction as the front wheels — thus allowing a much shorter turning radius.

Once at the fire, the "tiller man" would remove and stow his steering wheel then climb onto the end of the ladder as it is extended upward by the expanding springs. He was then ready to perform a rescue, enter the burning building or chop a ventilation hole in the roof. He could also connect a 2 1/2 inch hose to the "ladder pipe" mounted at the aerial's tip then spray as much as 250 gallons per minute onto the fire.

This aerial also saw service in Cairo, Illinois until about 1960. It was restored in 1986 by Don Hale.

One gallery of the museum was dedicated to those brave firefighters who deal with brush and forest fires. This display shows models of some of the aircraft that are used to drop water from the air.

I was intrigued by the largest aircraft in the case which is a Martin JRM Mars cargo transport seaplane that was converted for civilian use as a firefighting water bomber. The conversion involved the installation of a tank in the cargo bay and retractable pick-up scoops to allow uploading of water while the aircraft was taxiing. The scoops allowed 30 tons of water to be taken on board in 22 seconds. Later some of the hull fuel tanks were replaced with water tanks.

Back to human scale is a fully equipped firefighter. These men and women have to be pretty brave to offer this kind of dangerous service.

Next is a Morgan Brush Truck used by the county of Los Angeles starting in 1930. Moreland was the largest truck maker west of the Mississippi and supplied a considerable number of trucks to California fire departments.

The Division of Forestry designed its own brush truck, installing a 350 gallon per minute pump that could be operated while the truck was in forward motion, a key requirement for a brush truck. The Division also installed a 600 gallon water tank, a pair of booster lines, and several hundred feet of one inch cotton hose. Four hard suctions allow the tank to be refilled from a hydrant or other water source.

Gene Autry found the truck years after LA County had abandoned it. Gene donated it to the Hall of Flame in 1989, and Don Hale did an excellent restoration.

This obviously is not a fire engine but equally important — a Gamewell Municipal Alarm System. This one served the city of Glendale, California from 1925 to 1970. This was a commonly-used system during that time — the Gamewell Company dominated the market for over a century and is now a part of Honeywell.

There are three parts to the system. First, a street box, each with a unique number. When the trip lever was depressed that number would be sent to the central station. Second, the central station which would receive the signal from the street box and sound the box number on a gong and punch out the number on the tape register seen in the photo. Last, each fire station would also receive the gong signal and punch tape number. One firefighter was always on call to monitor the signals to determine if the street box was in their area of responsibility.

Here is the Phoenix Fire Department Alarm Room System from 1956 through 1982. There were a number of limitations of the previous systems and two Phoenix firefighters, Rae A. Echols and John Simmons designed and built this system from scratch, using a mixture of new equipment together with military surplus relays and vacuum tubes. Over the years, it was gradually upgraded until the computer revolution made this system obsolete. The replacement system is based on the "911" computer-assisted dispatch system installed in 1982 and which was superseded by a newer system in 1998. Note the sign behind the big "56" noting that the audio is from actual calls at the current central system.

I hope you enjoyed our trip to the Hall of Flame Museum and perhaps might be enticed to visit on your own one of these days.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com