The hand drawn Ladder Wagon, dates around 1910. A builders plaque that came with it (we need to re-attach it!) states that it is an American LaFrance. The name “American LaFrance” did not come about until somewhere around 1904-1905. So, we know it is post that period. We have been trying to research the serial number on the wagon, but we have not been able to figure out the exact date of manufacture.

The fact that it is hand drawn, and not horse drawn, does not mean that it is older than horse drawn equipment. Small towns that did not require large firefighting equipment did not invest in the expense of having horses.

So this vehicle may have served a small town or village, and they elected to stay with hand drawn equipment because they did not need the more capable, more expensive steam fire engines or horse drawn equipment.

Even though horses were the mainstay in the departments in that era, some communities did not want the expense of horses, so they bought apparatus that were pulled to the fire by men. This was used to carry ladders, it was also carried leather buckets for supplying water to either the hand pumper or direct application of water onto the fire.

It carried ground ladders and a roof ladder. A roof ladder is a ladder that has hooks that are spring loaded on the tip of the ladder that could turn perpendicular to the ladder so that the ladder could lay flat on the peak of the roof. The hooks would grab the ridge and hold the ladder in place so that the firefighters could work off the ladders. This is particularly helpful when there is a steep pitched roof. Especially when it is wet, it can be very hard for a firefighter to keep his footing. So, the roof ladder is used to provide better footing and safety.

It carried the famed “hook”, giving it the name “Hook and Ladder”. The hook was used to pull down damaged buildings or chimneys to stop the spread of fire by creating a fire break. The early chimneys were not all brick like today. They were made of mud and straw or grass and would burn easily. Fire would find its way into nooks and crannies. Firefighters would pull the burning chimney down with the hook to get all the fire out. The hook, chain and a rope along with a long stick that was used to get the hook up to the height to what part of the building that they needed to grab. They would use the chain and the rope hooked to the building, and a bunch of men would grab that to pull the wall or chimney down.

The ladder wagon carried hooks, with chain and a rope attached.  They would use a pole, and put the hook on the top of the chimney and use the rope or chain to pull it down. The hook could also be used to pull down a whole wall if necessary to create a fire break to keep the fire from jumping to adjoining structures. This is where the term “hook and ladder” comes from. So, this is really a hook and ladder wagon. It has a hook, it has poles, it has ladders, axes, and it was pulled by hand. And it is a beautiful asset for the Museum to own.

It also had axes , pry bars, picks, tools for doing overhaul, and for busting into buildings. It is called forcible entry today. The axes are used once on the roof to cut a hole to affect the vertical ventilation, which allows all the unburned products of combustion, the superheated gases and smoke, out of the building or house. This makes it much easier for the firefighters coming in from the ground level to extend their hose lines, and conduct their search, to be able to see, and to be in a much better climate that will not be as hot.

So, this is a ladder truck that does not have a mechanically assisted ladder, it just carried what we call ground ladders that are erected by man power. It also carried buckets on the side of it. The buckets on the side of it right now are leather replicas. We plan on upgrading these to more accurate representations of fire buckets soon. The actual buckets were leather, leather hardens as it ages. The buckets would be used to apply water directly to the fire. Or they may be used to fill up a manual pumping engine like our Button hand pumper. There would be bucket brigades getting into play, they would start filling the pump housing of the hand drawn hand pumper with water. The operators of the pump would work the pump and the water would be shot out of the hose. This ladder wagon carried those buckets.

It also carried pipe poles which are located on the top of the wagon. These were used to pull down ceilings, pop holes in ceilings, and even pull down eves. It was just limited to the imagination of the firefighter to decide what these utility tools could be used for.

After its active fire service, we believe this apparatus was used by Universal Studios in various movies and TV shows. It was purchased from the Studio by Melody Ranch. It came to us from the Phil Rutherford Melody Ranch collection ( see 1899 American Metropolitan for more on this), it is a very beautiful piece that is in nice condition.

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