San Francisco History

Pioneer Fire-Engine

Pioneer Steam Fire-Engine [Photographed by W. Watkins.]The Pioneer Steam Fire-Engine.

We present above an illustration of the new Steam Fire-Engine, which has been imported from New York, by Wethered & Tiffany of this city. It is now in the hands of Monumental Engine Company, No. 6, and will be purchased by them, provided that on trial it prove satisfactory. We have had the cut made from a photographic view taken while the engine was on parade, on the occasion of the Tenth Anniversary of Monumental Fire Company, No. 6, which took place September 12th.

The annexed notice of the Engine in question, taken from the Scientific American, gives a description of it: It was built, says that journal, by Messrs. Lee & Larned, of New York, at the Novelty Iron Works. These engines are fitted to be drawn by hand, being intended especially for the use of engine and hose companies; so that villages and small cities may now avail themselves of the superior and untiring power of steam, for fire-engine purposes, with no change in existing organizations, and without the expense of a horse establishment. The engine from which the view is taken was on duty for several months, in the hands of the Valley Forge Hose Company, stationed in Thirty-seventh street, New York, and it rendered signal service on several occasions. It is about ten feet in length, exclusive of the pole, and weighs 3,700 pounds; which weight, we understand, will be reduced at least 200 pounds in engines of the same style to be hereafter built. Having large wheels and sensitive springs, it runs as easily as an ordinary fire-engine of 500 or 600 pounds less weight, and easier than the average of first-class hand engines. Its best single stream, for distance, is one inch diameter; for quantity, 1 1/8; but for ordinary fire duty, it will handle, with good effect, two one-inch streams, drawing its own water. This it did, for ten consecutive hours at a fire on the ship John J. Boyd, in January last.

The steam power is derived from one of Lee & Larned's patent annular boilers, of 125 feet of heating surface, with which steam can be raised to working pressure, in from six to eight minutes. The pump, which is of brass, and highly finished, is Cary's patent rotary, driven by a single reciprocating engine, of 7 inches bore and 8 1/2 inches stroke, with a pair of light balance wheels to carry it over the centers. It is intended to make from 200 to 400 revolutions per minute. A flange-disk, cast on the pump shell, makes one of the heads of the steam cylinder; the two, thus combined, forming a steam pump, of novel form and unequaled simplicity and compactness; occupying, indeed, so small a space (only 27 inches in length), that they are hardly seen in the engraving. The piston rod, passing out through the opposite head, acts on a cross-head of such length as to allow a connecting rod from each end of it to pass the cylinder and take hold of cranks on the pump shaft. The valve movement is obtained by means of a rockshaft, actuated by an eccentric rod from the main shaft. The boiler is supplied from an independent feed pump, but has also a connection with the main pump, which may be used at pleasure. The carriage frame is, in front, simply a horizontal bed plate of iron, of less than a foot in breadth, expanding, behind, into a ring, to the inside of which is bolted an upright open cylinder of thin, but stiff, sheet-iron, strengthened at the bottom by an angle-iron ring, the whole forming at once a seat and a casing for the boiler, which is placed within it. This end of the bed or frame is hung on platform springs, arranged like those of an omnibus, by means of tension rods and braces, taking hold of the angle-iron ring. The center of weight is directly over the hinder axle, which opens into a hoop allowing the boiler to hang within it. The springs are plates of steel, one or more to each, of uniform thickness, but tapering in width from the middle towards either end. In front, two springs of this form are used, placed one above the other, in line with and directly under the bed, receiving the weight of the machinery at the middle or widest part. These serve the two-fold purpose of spring and reach, taking hold in front, by means of forked ends, on swivel-boxes at each end of a short vertical shaft, forming a universal joint with the front axle; giving thus a single point of front suspension, annihilating the tendency of the bed to wring and twist under its load in traveling over rough roads, saving all the weight of metal needed under the ordinary arrangement to counteract that tendency and secure the necessary stiffness, protecting the machinery perfectly against the concussions of travel, and dispensing with the complication and friction of a fifth wheel.

These engines are built of several different sizes; the one we have described being the smallest. The next size larger, weighing 5,200 pounds, is also a hand engine (though either can be fitted to be drawn by a horse or horses, if required), and being of proportionally greater power, it is to be preferred where the condition of the streets is favorable, in respect to surface and grades, and the compiny is strong enough in numbers to manage it. This engine throws a 1 1/4-inch stream 260 feet, a 1 3/8-inch 228 feet, and for fire duty not unfrequently plays a 1 1/2-inch stream with great effect. The Manhattan engine, which, in the hands of Manhattan Company, No. 8, of New York, did such admirable service at the severe fires of the last winter, and which was, according to the estimate of competent authorities, the means of saving property to the amount of at least a hundred times its cost, is of this size. 

Source: Hutchings' California Magazine. October 1856.

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