BEDFORD, Ky. (January 2004) A search for the whereabouts of
a 1917 American LaFrance fire engine has come to a dead-end in Bedford,
Ky., leaving the man behind the quest wondering exactly what became
of the old engine.
James Longmire, 43, of Austin, Texas, has since the early 1980s been
on a quest to locate as many as possible of the piston-pump type fire
trucks manufactured by ALF in the early 1900s. Through his search,
Longmire uncovered records about such an engine that was purchased
by the city of Bedford in 1937. Thereafter, the trail mysteriously
provided by James Longmire
fate of a truck like this one is unknown.
A former fireman, Longmire became interested in ALF piston pumpers
after he restored one owned by the Orange, Texas, fire department,
where he began working in 1979. The fire engine, circa 1917, had been
stored for several years in a side bay at the departments central
firehouse when, for fun, Longmire took on the task of restoring it.
My mom instilled in me an appreciation for antiques, said
Longmire. The idea of bringing history back to life was really
big for me.
In his spare time, Longmire scrubbed from the trucks nickel
and chrome surfaces layers of gray paint. The truck had been painted
in the 1940s during the war in order to prevent its shiny surfaces
from reflecting light, according to Longmire.
Longmire not only restored the outside of the fire truck, but also,
with the help of a retired mechanic, got the engine going in time
for a trip to ALFs 150th anniversary celebration in Elmira,
N.Y., where he drove the restored piston pumper in a parade. Not long
after, Longmire began what has turned into a more than 20-year search
for the remaining ALF piston pumpers of the same era as the Orange,
Texas, truck. I have sort of taken it on as my mission in life
to locate as many of these as possible and document their history
as best as possible, Longmire said.
Through Internet searches and a letter-writing campaign, Longmire
has uncovered empirical evidence of only two other ALF piston pumpers
still in existence. The Indianapolis Fire Department, he discovered,
purchased another such engine in 1917. Longmire has traced the ALF
engine to Bedford, Ky., where the trail goes cold.
ALF technical services coordinator Rob Haldeman confirmed that a brand
new Type 37 American LaFrance pumper with a piston-type fire pump
was shipped to the Indianapolis Fire Department on Feb. 10, 1917.
My notes tell me that it was the first Type 37 produced and
that the motor was nickel plated, not painted. The piston type fire
pumps used a large pressure tank, which would have been mounted behind
the seat, Haldeman responded to an email inquiry.
The ALF Type 37, factory No. 1446, was in service with the Indianapolis
Fire Department until 1927, when it was sent to the repair shop where
it was used as a reserve engine, according to fire department historian
Greg Roembke. After a brief assignment as Engine 16, the ALF engine
was once again put in reserve service, Roembke said.
When the Ohio River left its banks during the great flood of 1937,
many river cities, including Madison, requested assistance. When possible,
the Indianapolis Fire Department and other of the states fire
departments sent pump trucks to aid in the pumping of floodwater.
On Jan. 27, Engine 20 was sent to Madison. Engine 20 broke down
en route, and was replaced by Engine 6. On Jan. 28, Engine 6 was replaced
by a reserve engine, the American LaFrance, said Roembke.
The ALF engine remained in use in Madison until Feb. 9, 1937, when
the chief of the Indianapolis Fire Department repair shop was sent
to pick it up. At that time, They were requested to demonstrate
the pumper at Bedford, Ky., and after checking with the chief back
in Indianapolis, it was sold to Bedford for $500, confirmed
Instituted in 1832, as the LaFrance Manufacturing Co. of Elmira, American
LaFrance Corp. has since secured a sterling reputation among the worlds
leading fire apparatus manufacturers. American LaFrance fire engines
could be expected to last many years, according to retired fire chief
Gordon Whitney of Madison. American LaFrance was like the Cadillac
(of fire engines), Whitney said. Accordingly, it was not unusual
for used engines to be re-sold. When Bedford purchased the 1917 American
LaFrance in 1937, it became the towns first automated fire engine.
Former Bedford mayor and a member of the towns second volunteer
fire department, James Black, 80, recalled the citys acquisition
of the engine. The late Joe Frost, former water department head, was
responsible for the purchase, Black said.
Bedford used the fire engine for several years before it was retired
from service for the last time, according to Black. He recalled that
for many years, the engine sat in a field beside what is now Cultons
Auction House on Hwy. 42 in Bedford. It sat out in an open field
until it rusted and fell away, Black said. Weeds grew
up around it, the tires all fell off of it and the wooden spokes deteriorated,
he said. Then, one day the old engine was gone.
Black said he did not know what became of the engine after it was
removed from the field. The most likely fate seems to have been the
junkyard, he said.
A search of the Trimble County Public Library and Trimble County Historical
Society records has offered no clue as to the final fate of the old
engine. Longmire has spoken with several people in the area, including
Trimble County resident Joshua Olds, whom he said seemed to remember
seeing the remains of the old engine somewhere in the woods. To date,
no evidence of the engines whereabouts have been confirmed.
Longmire said he continues to hope that someone will come forward
who can offer a definitive answer about what happened to the 1917
ALF, No. 1446. In the meantime, he continues to look for other ALF
engines and hope to have a website dedicated to his search up soon.
Anyone with information concerning the 1917 ALF fire engine
No. 1446 is welcome to contact the RoundAbout Entertainment Guide
at 1-800-343-3005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.