Fire Co. #1
1911 Ahrens-Fox Steam Engine
On December 19, 1910 the William Milligan High School (now known as just Woodbury High School) had a serious fire. With only a hand pumper to fight the fire, a steam powered fire engine was shipped by rail car to the city from the City of Camden to assist in the fire fighting effort.
In 1911 the City ordered and took delivery and later housed at Friendship Fire Company a 1911 Ahrens-Fox steamer from Cincinnati, Ohio. The steamer was the "Continental" model serial # 184. This engine was a "3rd size" engine and rated at 600 gpm and weighs in at 6800 pounds. The steamer cost $5,150.
For more information on Ahrens-Fox steam engines I suggest you read "THOSE MAGNIFICENT OLD STEAM FIRE ENGINES", by W. Fred Conway, Brown & Bigelow, 1997 and see the companion video to the book. The book has cut-away drawings of steam boilers and pictures of various manufacturer's steam fire engines. Friendship's steamer is also listed along side of it's surviving sister engines in this book.
The Ahrens-Fox Continental engine delivered to Woodbury was drawn by a team of two horses to the fire. It has been said by the old timers that the boiler was hooked up to a pot belly stove to keep the water warm there by reducing the time required to get up a head of steam to run the pump at a fire scene. The horses were employed by the city for other duties such as hauling the ash or trash wagon. When the bell rang in the bell tower of the fire house the horses would run back to the station to be hitched up to the steamer. Some of the old timers remember stories of how the garbage men were left standing in the middle of street as the horses left them and raced back to the fire house. (read the story below).
The steamer was the front line piece from 1911 until 1916 when the city bought two gasoline powered Ahrens-Fox pumpers.
In 1962 the steamer was loaned to the Vigilant Fire Engine Company in Oreland, Pennsylvania for exhibition in a planned museum. By 1986 this museum had not yet materialized. Members of Friendship Fire Company went to Oreland and brought the steamer home.
The steam engine and pump was completely rebuilt by our members under the direction of honorary member George Champion and has been certified by the State of New Jersey Office of Boiler Inspection for operation. The operator of the boiler must be also certified by the State and we are in the process of training more operators. Member Dwayne Gartner has gotten the proper State license and we now have a crew consisting of Drew Bain, Howard Savage, Joe Doyle Sr., and Joe Doyle Jr. as trained operators awaiting State licensing. For a copy of our modern operating procedure please call us.
On August 2, 1998 the steamer was operated for the first time in about 38 years being fired by coal. The first public display was at Deptford Township Fire Department's Fire Prevention Show at the Deptford Mall which was held on October 10, 1998. The steamer pumped for over 4 hours delighting the crowd and amazing the modern fireman.
Woodbury's 1st Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, 3-17-96. Mr. Brown (driving) and his rented team of horses. George Champion is on the rear step. This picture was taken in front of the Gloucester County Court House, Surrogates Office on North Broad Street. In the museum there is a black & white photo taken in 1913 with a team of white horses, who's names were Star and Prince, driven by Thomas Bowe, in the same spot. Back then there were still trolley tracks on North Broad Street. (© Picture by Chris Barth)
The steamer was restored to it's original colors. Most of the unpainted parts are either brass or are nickel plated. There is very little chrome. Some restoration projects re-plate their pieces with chrome or brass to make it shine brighter with less maintenance. At Friendship we left the original nickel in place. It takes a lot of work just to bring it up to a dull shine. The reason for all the nickel was to prevent rust from the water and corrosion from the acids in the smoke from the boiler and the fire being extinguished. The added look of brass and nickel also added to beauty of these machines.
The Continental steamer has an Ahrens radial water tube boiler and used coal for it's fuel supply. A water tube boiler means that the water runs through water pipes "curled up" inside the boiler as the heat from the coal fire is permitted to pass around the outside of the tubes and vent out the stack. The waste steam that was used to move the pistons would also be exhausted through the stack improving the draft for the fire box. On the Metropolitan model it is reported that there is 421 feet of 1¼" tubing inside and capable of coming up to steam in two minutes. Operating pressure could have gone as high as 120 psig steam as indicated by Ahrens advertisement.¹
The pump cylinders on our steamer are 4 3/8" x 8" and the steam pistons are 7 1/4" x 8". Height is 9' 3" and over all length is 12' 11" (23' 4" with pole). The track between the wheels is 56 1/2". The pump was a positive displacement pump.
The original safety valves were set at 145 psig and 150 psig. Due to the boiler being constructed before boiler codes the State of New Jersey has certified the boiler at half the rating of original safety valves. The safety valves are now required to be set at 75 psig and 80 psig.
The pear shape dome behind the horse blankets was an air suppression chamber. This chamber helped even out the pulsation's caused by the pumping action of the pistons. The air chamber is partially filled with air. Water which is considered as non-compressible would compressed the air trapped in the chamber. As the pistons would reach the end of their stoke length the compression created by the action of the pistons would drop and so would the water pressure. The air in the chamber would expand as pressure drop pushing the water back out of the air chamber and back into the pump discharge piping or header. This in effect would even out the pulsation's of the water stream into a smooth action. This was important so that the firemen could maintain control of the hose lines. This is a common feature on most steam powered pumps.
Another feature of the Continental model was it's independent suspension so to speak. The front wheels not only turned left and right as a unit but also could go up and down as a unit independently of the rear wheels thus preventing a shift of the center of gravity that might cause the engine to over turn as a result of hitting a rock while going to a fire. This independent movement also took the resulting stress away from the frame of the engine.
When a steam engine is pumping, the violent up and down motion of the pistons is transmitted to the frame and the wheels. After arrival at a fire scene, the tie down locks or percussion stops were locked into place. These were used to secure the boiler and pump to the frame instead of free floating during travel on the springs. When locked, this transmitted the force to the springs. These locks were common to most later steam engines.
We presently use a pump operator and a fireman to operate the steamer. Although it could be done with one person, it is safer and easier to have one person pumping and the other tending to the fire and fetching more coal as needed.
In old pictures the team driver would most likely take over the fireman's duties once at the scene. He would care for his horses while also taking care of the fire. The man riding behind the boiler to the fire scene would have lit the fire before leaving and would know the status of the fire in the boiler upon arrival and could set about hooking up hoses and starting the pump.
The history of the Ahrens Company is complex and long. Woodbury ordered their engine at a time when Chris Ahrens was in partnership with American-LaFrance companies building the Continental models and did so until 1912. In 1911 he was joined by his sons and son-in-law Charles Fox and they also produced the Continental steamer under the Ahrens-Fox name until 1916. This same year (1916) they started manufacturing gasoline powered fire engines. On Woodbury's engine, the boiler plate is identified as a Ahrens-Fox boiler #184 and the associated patents while the pump has the name Ahrens. I include this information because of the overlapping companies during this time period there is great confusion among collectors. No one is exactly sure where in the merger process that this piece of equipment was ordered. But it was built in Cincinnati, Ohio and was delivered as an Ahrens-Fox Continental in 1911.
A sad note has fallen to our steamer. It light of a traction steam engine (farm tractor) explosion that killed three people at an Ohio county fair in July of 2001, the State of New Jersey has re-exam their rules on antique boilers. As of August 31, 2002 the boiler no longer has current State certification and cannot be operated. We still do not have a complete set of rules or regulations in our hand to determine what it is going to cost to have the boiler re-certified. We do know that it will involve some kind of non-destructive testing (NDT) and engineering analysis.
On August 28, 2003 the company has decided due to the uncertainty of the State rules, lack of transportation, company liability, training issues, and the amount of hours it takes to maintain the steamer in pumping condition versus the number of hours that it actually publicly pumps, to retire the steamer to just a museum piece. The steamer will only come out for the Fall Festival Parade. We have written our operating instruction down and maybe the next generation will take on the State and pump the steamer again. For now it will sit in our musueum for the public to enjoy.
The steamer was last pumped on October 14, 2001.
A little is known about the fire horses used in Woodbury. The two white horses that used to pull the steamer from Friendship were name "Star" and "Prince". The two brown horses that pulled the hook & ladder were "Charles", who was named after Chief Charles Schrenk and "Ben" who was named after fireman Ben Smith. Another horse was named "Maud" and she died in 1907.
There were two horses that pulled the hose wagon for Good Will. The first horse was named "Jack" and the last horse was named "Mac".
There are some old newspaper clips that indicate that they were in fact highly trained fire horses and that they received proper retirements after long years of service to the City. It is unknown how many horses there were all together, however as reported on the Sanborn Insurance Maps of 1915 there were "6 horses during the day available doing other city work". The last fire horse "Star" died of old age on March 2, 1934 at a retirement home for horses in Byberry, Pa.
This is the written account by Howard A. Wilson (member from 1926-1968 ) He helped write the company history after 125 anniversary). These are accounts of when he was a little boy:
Fire hose was kept reeled on a two wheeled cart and drawn to fires by hand by the firemen or anyone else who would assist in this duty; later a horse drawn hose wagon was purchased to carry more hose and to make more time but frequently the hand drawn apparatus was first to arrive at the fire.
There is an explanation for the horse drawn apparatus. The horses used came from Gus Prehls livery stable on the other side of the street from Hendry St. By the time somebody could get a horse and get harness on him, get him across the street, hooked up and start made it is no wonder the hand drawn outfit got there first. I was only a little boy but before the company moved their quarters I have seen "Mommy" Prehl climb on the seat of that hose cart and go down the street with her "sunbonnet strings" flying straight out behind. She could drive better than most men.
Again Howard writes about the horses after the high school fire:
At this time I would like to say something about the horses that were used on the apparatus. Many people who read this history have never had the thrill of seeing that wonderful team of big white horses in action. Their names were Prince and Star. When an alarm came in and the cord was pulled that opened the doors to their stalls, they would trot out and back under the harness quivering with excitement waiting for the word to go. The horses were drilled every night when the 8:00 o'clock alarm came in.
We don't want to sell short the ability of the little team of bays, Charlie & Ben on the hook and ladder, they were not as heavy as the other team but when they got under way they just seemed to skim over the ground. These animals were fed, petted and pampered by all the men of the company. Motorized equipment does not give you the thrill that you got from watching those horses take off down the street. Several times when they were out on some city work, the tower bell has rung and the team ran away and headed for the fire house to get the apparatus. They knew what that bell meant.
Most fire horses were like race horses. When they heard the fire bell the horses WANTED TO RUN as fast as they could pulling the fire engine. Once at the fire scene, the horses patiently stood in the cold, with loud noises, whistles, men yelling, all the while having hot embers from the fire and the steam engine falling on their backs. The horses were just as amazing as the men of the day.
¹ "Those Magnificent Old Steam Fire
Engines" by Fred W. Conway, FBH Publishers, 1997
175 th Anniversary
Steamer on display at the Woodbury Block Party on Broad Street
June 5, 2005
Where To See The Steamer
The steamer is the other major piece on display in our museum along with our 1799 Philip Mason hand pumper Both can be seen at the Friendship Fire Company Museum. The museum is located in the rear of our present fire house built in1898. Visiting hours are Monday through Friday 8:00 to 3:00 or by appointment. For more information call 856-845-0066 or email email@example.com
Friendship Fire Company
29 Delaware Street
Woodbury, NJ 08096
To view some You Tube videos of the steamer being pulled by horses at the 100th Anniversary Celebration of Ahren Fox at the Fire Museum of Maryland (May 20-22, 2011), click on these links.
Thank you Jealousylane and ehass1 for posting these YouTube videos.
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page was last update Febraury 8, 2013