Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sale of Antiquated Fire Equipment in 1922 Reminded All of the History of North Pelham Fire Fighting

Early in the history of Pelhamville (later the Village of North Pelham), local residents successfully petitioned to create a fire district and to organize volunteer firefighters to fight fires in the area.  One of the early pieces of major equipment purchased by the Fire District was a horse-drawn truck used to transport ladders, equipment, and firemen to and from local fires.  With the authorization of local citizens, the Fire District purchased a horse-drawn Seagrave Truck somewhat similar to the one depicted in the image immediately below.

Within a few short years, it became apparent that more modern motorized equipment was needed.  Initially, rather than acquire a motorized fire truck, the Fire District purchased a Pierce Arrow tractor to pull the Seagrave Truck (rather than using horses).  The Pierce Arrow tractor was surprisingly fast, although over time its engine became a bit stubborn and could take up to 45 minutes to get started reliably.  

Throughout the early years of the 20th century, the tractor-drawn truck was famous in Pelham -- almost comical.  North Pelham firemen clamored aboard for a rather wild and nauseating ride during which they had to hold on for dear life.  The truck was not meant to be drawn at speeds faster than a team of horses, so it weaved back and forth behind the Pierce Arrow as the truck and tractor hustled along Pelham streets in a "serpentine" fashion as one report noted.  The contraption was so unwieldy that, according to one report, it took fourteen firemen at a time simply to back it into the fire station after use.

By 1922, old fire-fighting equipment was strewn all over the old wooden firehouse on Fifth Avenue.  Such equipment included not only the old Seagrave Truck and the Pierce Arrow tractor, but also old, unreliable wooden ladders, hooks, and the beloved Nott Steamer, a steam engine pumper that, once lit and with a full head of steam, could throw water than most modern pumpers of that day.  A new group of Fire Commissioners decided that year to clean house and to sell to the highest bidders, or to dispose of, most such equipment (except the beloved Nott Steamer).

On April 28, 1922, the local newspaper announced that the old Seagrave Truck and the Pierce Arrow tractor would be sold to the highest bidder and noted that the equipment was "out of date and only in the way."  The report further noted that all "old style lamps, hooks and ladders are to be junked."  

Selling the contraption, however, turned out to be easier said than done.  On the first attempt, Pelham firemen tried to interest an unidentified "upstate fire department."  Representatives of that fire department, however, responded to the approach by saying "if we want to commit suicide we go out on the railroad track."

North Pelham firefighters next settled on the Tuckahoe Fire Department as a potential patsy.  Tuckahoe had some older equipment that needed to be removed from service for a short time to permit the equipment to be repainted.  North Pelham firefighters convinced the Tuckahoe Fire Department to let them ship the truck and tractor to Tuckahoe for use while their own equipment was being repainted.  Tuckahoe agreed.  As soon as the repainted apparaus was returned to the Tuckahoe Fire Department, they promptly shipped the truck and tractor back to North Pelham.  

By September, 1922, it was clear to the Fire Commissioners in North Pelham that no easy sale would be made.  That month, they were able to attract two bids for the Pearce Arrow tractor alone.  Both bids were for $100 to take just the tractor, then one of the two bidders had second thoughts and withdrew his bid.  No one wanted the old Seagrave Truck, nor any of the other obsolete lamps, ladders, or other equipment.

The winning bidder was Dominic Amato (who later became Mayor of the Village of North Pelham).  He owned a local garage and intended to "remodel" the tractor for use as a "wrecking truck" in support of his business.  The local newspaper reported that the "truck and ladders are apparently unsalable and may be ordered burned as the ladders are reported dried out and unsafe."

Pelham was moving into the modern era of firefighting. . . . 

A "Nott Steamer" Similar to North Pelham's Beloved Steamer
Known as "Jim Reilly's Boiler."  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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"Antiquated Fire Equipment To Go; Highest Bidders Will Be Buyers
Seagrave Truck and Tractor Will Be Ousted -- Out of Date and Only In the Way -- Nott Steamer Will Still Stay On Guard For Emergencies.

The new Board of Fire Commissioners have taken the 'Clean-up' for their slogan.  All the old discarded material which is stored up at the Fire Hall in North Pelham is to be sold at the best price obtainable.  Old style lamps, hooks and ladders are to be junked, and the old Seagrave truck with the Pierce Arrow tractor is to be sold to the highest bidder.  The old Seagrave truck is a memento of the past.  Originally it was horse-drawn, but as things progressed a tractor was purchased for it and additional speed was thus obtained -- that is the speed was obtained when the old machine got started up.

'Those were the days of real sport,' said Driver Gorham Head.  'Sometimes it would take forty-five minutes to get the engine started, but when she once got going there was nothing could keep pace with it.  The truck used to swing all over the street, and we used to have to hang on for dear life.'

'How about the old pumper?'

'She's just as good as ever she was.'

'Yes, but how good was that?'

There was a snort as though of escaping steam from over in the corner of the firehouse where stands the old Nott steamer, nicknamed 'Reilly's Wash Boiler.'  The old Nott is another relic of the days when they had to get up steam before an engine could throw a stream.  The old engine rocked on its blocks as though anxious to defend itself against the slur cast upon its wonderfully polished sides.

'She was a beaut in the old days,' said Driver Head, 'but she had to give way to the faster pumper.'

Just then President James Reilly came into the firehouse and overheard the last few words.  President Reilly was then just 'Jim' Reilly, who used to stoke the old engine, and with him the Nott steamer is next to his heart.

'That old steamer ain't done for by a long way yet, mark you,' he said emphatically.  'She may be slow getting up steam, but she can throw a stream as good as most any of your new pumpers right now.  You can take the new apparatus for the parade in Mount Vernon but you'll find that the old pumper will be right on the job if a fire breaks out when you're gone.  She was one of the best machines of her class ever made.'  And the president of the village cast a tender glance at the old pumper, with a reminiscent look in his eye, thinking, perhaps, of the old days when Jim Reilly used to stand on the back step and feed the fire while he watched the steam gauge mount until it signified that the old wash boiler was ready to throw a stream that would knock a bridge over.

It's a peculiar slant at human nature to see the respect which the firemen bear for the old equipment which has performed such efficient service.

That goes for the old Nott steamer; but the Seagrave truck and tractor, that used to leave a serpentine trail as it weaved its way down the street with the gang clinging to its sides, out she goes to the highest bidder.  It used to take fourteen men to back it into the firehouse.

'And I guess we can't give a guarantee with it,' said Commissioner McIlroy, in speaking of its sale."

Source:  Antiquated Fire Equipment To Go; Highest Bidders Will Be Buyers -- Seagrave Truck and Tractor Will Be Ousted -- Out of Date and Only In the Way -- Nott Steamer Will Still Stay On Guard For Emergencies, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 28, 1922, Vol. 13, No. 9, p. 9, cols. 2-3.  

"Seagrave Returned.

The old Seagrave tractor and hook and ladder of the First Fire District was returned to its old resting place in the fire house this week, after being used by the Tuckahoe fire department while their apparatus was being painted."

Source:  Seagrave Returned, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 1, 1922, p. 7, col. 6.  

"Fire Board Sells Old Pierce Arrow Tractor
Dominick Amato Offers One Hundred Dollars For Old Equipment and Becomes Owner

The old Seagrave truck of the First Fire District equipment which had the reputation of making more firemen seasick than any other piece of apparatus since the days of Noah, has finally found a buyer, in the person of Dominick Amato who is proprietor of Amato's Garage on Fifth avenue.  

For a long time the Fire Commissioners have been trying to get rid of the old equipment without success.  An attempt to sell it to an upstate fire department met with a reply that 'if we want to commit suicide we go out on the railroad track.'  The old truck was originally horse-drawn and then was motorized by being attached to a Pierce Arrow tractor.  The tractor was good but the truck swayed behind it in a manner that was dangerous to all aboard.  Now it has been supplanted by more efficient equipment.  Tuckahoe Fire Department flirted for a while over a proposition to purchase it at a low figure and the truck was shipped there while their other equipment was being repainted.  It was shipped back again as soon as the repainted apparatus returned to the Tuckahoe fire house.

There were two bids of a hundred dollars each, but one bidder withdrew his offer and Amato secured the tractor alone for that price.  He intends to remodel it into a wrecking truck for use in his business.  

The truck and ladders are apparently unsalable and may be ordered burned as the ladders are reported dried out and unsafe."

Source:  Fire Board Sells Old Pierce Arrow Tractor -- Dominick Amato Offers One Hundred Dollars For Old Equipment and Becomes Owner, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 8, 1922, p. 7, col. 1.  

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Below is a list of prior Historic Pelham Blog postings that touch on firefighting, the history of firefighting units, and major fires within the Town of Pelham.

Fri., Jul. 21, 2017:  Pelham Firemen Turned Their Hoses on Trolley Construction Crew in 1898.

Fri., Jun. 23, 2017:  A Little of the Early History of Hose Company No. 2, the Pelham Heights Volunteer Fire Fighting Unit.

Thu., Jun. 22, 2017:  The Massive Fire in 1919 that Burned Down the Knickerbocker Ice Company Ice House and Damaged North Pelham Homes.

Mon., Jun. 12, 2017:  Pelham Schoolchildren Risked Their Lives Trying to Save Their Burning School in 1912.

Mon., May 22, 2017:  Early Radio in Pelham: Pelham Firefighters and Business at Pelham Picture House Installed "Radiophone" in 1922.

Tue., Jan. 31, 2017:  Fire Gutted the Old Pelhamville Train Station in 1895 Before Today's Pelham Train Station Was Completed.

Fri., Jan. 27, 2017:  Pelhamville Citizens Petitioned to Establish a Fire District In Early 1893.

Fri., Jan. 20, 2017:  A Proud Pelham Fire Department Took Possession of a New American La France Fire Engine in 1914.

Thu., Jan. 19, 2017:  Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold:  Don't Mess With a Pelham Fireman.

Thu., Jan. 12, 2017:  Six of Pelham's Earliest Firefighters Marched in the 36th Annual Fire Inspection Parade in 1930.

Tue., Dec. 06, 2016:  An Account of the Tragic Vaughan Livery Stable Fire in Pelhamville in 1907.

Wed., Nov. 16, 2016:  More on the 1889 Fire that Destroyed the Hunter House on Travers Island.

Tue., Oct. 04, 2016:  Harry R. King, Fire Chief of the First Fire District From 1911 to 1913.

Wed., Jun. 15, 2016:  Organized Volunteer Fire Fighting in Pelhamville Began as Early as 1885.

Tue., Jun. 14, 2016:  The First Annual Inspection of Pelhamville Fire Fighting Units in 1894.

Tue., Jun. 07, 2016:  When Did Pelham's Minneford Engine Company Acquire its First Fire-Fighting Steam Engine?

Mon., May 16, 2016:  Fatal Fire in 1902 at One Fifth Avenue Burned Down the Post Office and Pharmacy.

Fri., Apr. 29, 2016:  Famous Meyers Mansion in Pelham Manor Burned Down in 1897.

Thu., Apr. 28, 2016:  Pelham Manor Dutifully Extinguished a Fire That Nearly Burned Down its Hated Wooden Train Station in 1896.

Mon., Jan. 04, 2016:  Pelham Manor Voters Voted to Disband the Pelham Manor Fire Department in 1928.  

Mon., Dec. 14, 2015:  Early History of the Village of Pelham Manor Fire Department.

Fri., Dec. 11, 2015:  Evidence of An Early Independent Firefighting Unit in Pelham Named "Indians."

Thu., Dec. 10, 2015:  Grand Fire-Fighting Competition and Parade Held in the Town of Pelham in 1891.

Wed., Dec. 09, 2015:  Pelham's Minneford Engine Company Built a New Fire House on City Island in 1894.

Mon., Dec. 07, 2015:  The Code Used on the City Island Fire Bell in the Late 19th Century Used for Fire Alarms.

Mon., Nov. 30, 2015:  Another Detailed Account of the 1901 Fire that Destroyed the Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island.

Fri., Nov. 20, 2015:  Account of 1894 Fire in One of Pelham's Earliest Newspapers.

Wed., Sep. 30, 2015:  Was it Arson that Destroyed the Prospect Hill School at Jackson and Plymouth Avenues in 1917?

Thu., Sep. 17, 2015:  An Account of the February 28, 1925 Fire at Pelhamdale, A Home on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fri., Jun. 12, 2015:  The Tumultuous Reign of Pelham Manor Fire Chief J. Louis Cunningham in the Early 1900s.

Tue., Jun. 09, 2015:  Reminiscences of Firemen Who Served From 1893 Until 1923 in North Pelham.

Wed., Jun. 03, 2015:  The Bell in Firemen's Memorial Park at First Street and Wolfs Lane.

Tue., Jun. 02, 2015:  Important Early Images of the Pelham Fire Department.

Fri., May 22, 2015:  History of Pelham's Beloved "Nott Steamer" Known as "Jim Reilly's Boiler."

Thu., Mar. 26, 2015:  Fire Destroyed the Old Pelham Manor Post Office in 1945.

Fri., Mar. 20, 2015:  Fire in 1932 Devastated the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor.

Tue., Feb. 17, 2015:  More on the Early History of Organized Firefighting in the Settlement of Pelhamville.

Mon., Feb. 16, 2015: The Great Furniture Fight of 1896: Company of Pelhamville Firemen Resigned En Masse.

Thu., Feb. 12, 2015: Rare 19th Century Image of Pelhamville Firemen Who Served in Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1.

Fri., Dec. 12, 2014: Parade and Housewarming Hosted by Pelhamville Fire Department in 1894.

Thu., Dec. 11, 2014:  Pelhamville's First Attempt to Create a Fire Department in 1893 Failed Due to a Legal Technicality.

Thu., Jul. 24, 2014: Dedication of the New Fire Headquarters in the Village of Pelham on December 29, 1927.

Wed., Jul. 02, 2014: Election Shenanigans Involving Fire Commissioner Election in 1898.

Thu., Apr. 24, 2014: Information About the History of Fire Departments in the Town of Pelham Published in 1927.

Thu., Jan. 30, 2014:  The Night Pelham's Town Hall Burned.

Fri., Jan. 24, 2014: Early Days of Organized Fire Fighting in Today's Village of Pelham.

Thu., Jan. 23, 2014:  Another Account of the Devastating Fire that Destroyed the Travers Island Clubhouse of New York Athletic Club in 1901.

Wed., May 12, 2010:  Fire Partly Destroyed Pelham Town Hall in 1908.

Fri., Jan. 15, 2010: Photograph of Augustine C. McGuire, President of the Board of Fire Commissioners of the First District Fire Department in 1913.

Thu., Jan. 14, 2010: 1913 Report of the Firemen's Benevolent Association in Pelham.

Thu., Dec. 10, 2009: More 19th Century Baseball and Firefighting References.

Tue., Dec. 08, 2009: The Darling Triplets: Three Brothers Among Pelham's Earliest Firefighters.

Thu., Oct. 08, 2009: Firefighting Units on City Island in Pelham During the Early 1890's.

Fri., Sep. 04, 2009:  1901 Newspaper Article About Fire that Burned New York Athletic Club Clubhouse on Travers Island.

Mon., Aug. 31, 2009: Contest in 1891 To Determine Which Steam Fire Engine Company Could Throw a Stream the Greater Distance.

Fri., Aug. 28, 2009: Reorganization of the Minneford Engine Company on City Island in February, 1891.

Thu., Aug. 06, 2009: Brief History of the Fire Department in the Village of North Pelham Published in 1913.

Wed., Aug. 05, 2009: Pelham Manor Fire Chief Pleads for Taxpayers to Authorize Purchase of Village's First Fire Engine.

Wed., July 15, 2009: Liberty Hose Company Election in 1898.

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009:  The Old Hunter House Burns to the Ground in an Arson Incident on Travers Island on April 4, 1889.

Thu., Jan. 19, 2006: Pelham Manor's Earliest Fire Fighting Equipment.

Wed., Jan. 18, 2006:  Newspaper Report of the Infamous Vaughan's Livery Stable Fire in North Pelham in 1907.

Mon., Oct. 17, 2005:  The Firemen's Memorial of the Pelham Fire Department.

Mon., Aug. 01, 2005: An 1896 Inspection and Drill of the Fire Department in Pelham.

Tue., May 31, 2005:  The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part I of II).

Wed., Jun. 01, 2005:  The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part II of II).

Fri., May 06, 2005:  The Great Furniture Battle at Pelhamville's Relief Hook and Ladder Company in 1896.

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

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