Museum to exhibit Farmington's earliest engine at firefighter's convention

Sep 02, 2014
This 1918 American LaFrance Fire Chemical Truck was Farmington's first motorized fire apparatus and has been part of the OHTM collection since 1986. The piece will participate in a parade part of the 51st annual Maine State Federation of Firefighters Convention which will take place in Farmington Sept. 5-7.

Farmington — On Friday, Sept. 5 representatives from The Owls Head Transportation Museum will journey to Farmington to participate in the 51st annual Maine State Federation of Firefighters Convention.

The museum has been specially invited to exhibit the first motorized engine acquired by the Farmington Fire Department, a 1918 American LaFrance Chemical Truck, which is a part of OHTM’s permanent collection. The vehicle will be driven in the MSFFF Convention Parade Saturday, Sept. 6, beginning at 9:30 a.m.

This vehicle began its life of municipal service in Bridgetown, Mass. prior to being purchased by the Farmington Fire Department. According to a period build sheet, this 1918 American LaFrance Chemical Truck had an original purchase price of $1,250. Its functionality relied on a pair of 25-gallon chemical tanks filled with water into which 10 pounds of bi-carbonate soda was dissolved. Sulphuric acid was placed in a glass receptacle near the top of each tank. When the tank needed to be charged for use it rotated, allowing the acid to mix with the soda and water catalyzing a chemical reaction and sending water forcibly through the truck’s hose. When one tank was exhausted, the other was employed allowing the first tank to be charged and at the ready to relieve the second tank. This process allowed the system to operate beyond its 50-gallon capacity as firefighters worked to tame a blaze, often a lengthy process.

Though this absolutely original piece is an American LaFrance Chemical Truck, it is demonstrative of the company’s early use of the Ford Model T in the construction of early gasoline-powered fire apparatus. Due to its reasonable cost and general reliability the Ford Model T was embraced by American LaFrance in the development of its early motorized fire equipment. Thus, apparatus similar to the Farmington truck were utilized by fire departments in many small communities. In addition to chemical trucks, American LaFrance made a variety of similar fire apparatus built on Model T chassis’ including chief’s cars, hose wagons and pumpers.

After the 1918 American LaFrance Chemical Truck was decommissioned by the Farmington Fire Department it was stored in a barn for a time before it was purchased by local teenager Jerome Black. The 16-year-old paid $35 for the truck and an additional $5 each for the bell and ladders. Though the truck was no longer a sanctioned service vehicle, Black used it to fight fires, utilizing the chemical tanks as reservoirs from which he filled Indian tanks. Black drove the Model T throughout his teen years and placed it in storage in 1949.

Black donated the truck to the Owls Head Transportation Museum in 1986 where it has remained on public display as a significant piece of Maine transportation and firefighting history. Bearing its original paint, including the Farmington insignia, this piece has been mechanically maintained with the utmost appreciation for its heritage and the preservation of its authenticity. A favorite among museum staff and visitors, this 1918 American LaFrance Chemical Truck runs regularly at museum events. It was exhibited at the 50th annual MSFFF Convention in Ellsworth in 2013 where it received awards in both the chemical apparatus and pre-1925 original antique motorized divisions.

For more information on the 51st annual MSFFF Convention visit farmington-maine.org. For more information about this event or any event at the Owls Head Transportation Museum please contact public relations director Jenna Lookner at 594-4418 or by email at jl@ohtm.org.

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