Of the original big three fire engine manufacturers in the United States, Ahrens Fox, Seagrave and American LaFrance, it was the third that was the most economical.

This was evidenced most clearly with the conversion of Ford Model Ts into motorized fire equipment. In 1910, American LaFrance officially began offering motorized gas fire engines, and the Model T was immediately embraced. Due to its reliability and low cost, the Model T was frequently the first motorized fire apparatus in many small communities. American LaFrance offered chief’s cars, hose wagons, pumpers, and chemical cars like the one seen here.

This absolutely original chemical truck was purchased used by the Farmington Fire Department from another town, and according to a period build sheet, sold new for $1,250. The two 25-gallon chemical tanks operated much the way an Alka-Seltzer tablet or a child’s baking soda and vinegar volcano work. The tanks are filled with water, into which 10 pounds of bicarbonate soda is dissolved. Sulfuric acid is placed in a glass receptacle near the top of the tank. To charge the tank, it is merely rotated to allow the acid to dump and mix with the soda and water. The result is a chemical reaction that forces the water out of the hose. When one tank is expended, the other is activated while the first is recharged, extending the service of the tanks beyond their 50-gallon combined capacity.

After the end of its service life, this Model T was acquired by Jerome Black, then a teenager in Farmington, Maine. He purchased the truck for $35, paying an additional $5 each for the bell and ladders. He used the truck to fight fires when he was 16 years old, utilizing the chemical tanks as reservoirs from which he filled Indian tanks. He drove the truck through his teen years and then placed it in storage in 1949. It was donated to the Museum in 1986 and has been operating here since.

Specifications: Model T; engine four-cylinder, in-line, water-cooled; bore 3-3/4 in., stroke 4 in., displacement 176.7 cu. in., 20 hp.

Accession no. 1986G65

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