LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE MUSEUM COLLECTION
1903 American Steam Fire Engine
The 1903 steam pumper is the most valuable piece in the Museum’s collection. It serves as the symbolic image in the Museum’s logo. Originally purchased by the Sacramento, California Fire Department, this steamer was horse-drawn and served as that city’s Engine 5. It was operational and, in past years, has been used on occasion at musters and other fire service events in Southern California. It was torn down and is currently under restoration, the steamer’s wheels have been rebuilt, with all spokes and felloes milled from new wood by a wheelwright in Ohio.
The second size, or the second class, refers to the pumping capacity. This steam engine could produce 700-800 gallons of water a minute. A first size would pump around 900 GPM, and a third size would produce around 600-650 GPM.
This was pulled to the fire by three horses, and was in service with the Sacramento Fire Department, Sacramento, CA as Sacramento Engine 5. It was in service from 1903 until about 1904. Upon its retirement it was purchased by Fox Studios and was in use at the studios until sometime in the 60s or 70s when it was sold at auction. A private collector purchased it at that time.
During its’ movie career it made appearances in the Little Rascals, The Three Stooges, and the East Side Kids.
After the private collector had it, the steamer somehow ended up in a warehouse in the city of Carson, CA. where it was found by Los Angeles County Firefighters while doing fire prevention inspections. They struck a deal with the owner to borrow it to take it to a Department muster in 1984 in the city of Carson. This steam engine was the star.
After that, a deal was struck and the Museum purchased the engine. Two of our Museum members actually took out liens against their homes to fund the purchase of this engine for the Museum. Terry Lee was one of them, we are researching the name of the other. This deal was completed solely on a hand shake with a promise to pay them back. The museum fulfilled its side of the bargain, and the families are still our friends.
Before the muster, the firefighters took it to LACoFD Fire Station 10, and some of the mechanics and engineers, one who’s father had a steam license and had actually worked on steam fire engines, came by and started to work on the engine to get it back into service. They were successful in putting a fire in the coal box and heating up the water in the boiler, and producing steam so they were able to operate it under steam pressure. It is unknown how long it had been since it had steam pressure prior to this time. The last know certification of the boiler was 1927. We found the stamp on the boiler while we were doing this aspect of the restoration.
The Museum used the engine for musters across California and Nevada until the restoration project began. This engine won many awards for producing the quickest steam pressure, getting a hose line into service faster than the other teams and their steam pumpers, the longest stream, and a host of other categories.
CURRENTLY UNDER RESTORATION
It has not been pumped since the early 1990s, and it was completely disassembled in about 1999. We are redoing every nut and bolt in this engine, we have gone through the boiler, and cut out any corroded steel so it will be safe to operate again. We are about ready to get the boiler certified so it is safe to operate around the public.
The original pattern of gold leafing is in the process of being applied to every painted surface. Much of the original gold leafing had been worn off through a hundred years of service. As we redo the gold leafing, we are taking every step we can to be as accurate as possible in the recreation and reproduction of that gold leaf design.
We have completed plating all of the parts, as original. This project has been in process for years as we are working hard to get it perfect. When the restoration is completed, it will be one of the most accurately restored steam fire engines in the country. We are taking great pains to make sure the decoration and paint scheme is correct. As well as plating it with nickel instead of chrome. We are working on everything we can think of to be an accurate representation of what the vehicle looked like in 1903.