$396,000 USD | Sold
| Hershey, Pennsylvania
Vertical, fire-tube Fox boiler, Silsby rotating-cam steam engine, and 500 gpm rotary pump. Wheelbase: 74 in.
• Three owners from new
• Continuous history from Philadephia’s Engine Company 42
• Meticulous 15-year restoration
By the latter part of the 19th century, there were more than 80 manufacturers of steam fire engines in the United States. Most prominent among them, with more than 1,000 engines delivered during the era, was the Silsby Manufacturing Company, of Seneca Falls, New York. Originally a maker of agricultural implements, Silsby expanded to fire engines and associated equipment, building its first such unit in 1856. In contrast to other manufacturers, which held to reciprocating engines and pumps, Silsby embraced rotary principles for both purposes, using the designs of Birdsall Holly, pioneer in water power and inventor of the frost-proof fire hydrant.
This pumper is of Silsby’s final design, the so-called ninth model, introduced in 1875. Its “crane” configuration, with an arched frame, essentially replaced earlier “straight” frames, although a few straight-frame models continued to be produced. In December 1891, Silsby merged with the Ahrens Manufacturing Company, the Clapp & Jones Manufacturing Company, and the Button Fire Engine Company to form the American Fire Engine Company. In 1903, the American Fire Engine Company joined with the LaFrance Fire Engine Company, of Elmira, New York, to form American LaFrance. Demand for the rotary Silsby engines, however, was so strong that they remained in production until 1905. This Silsby pumper is one of two delivered in 1894 to the Philadephia Fire Department.
Philadelphia’s Engine Company 42 was organized on December 7, 1894. Its first piece of apparatus was this Fourth Size Silsby steamer, American Fire Engine Company number 2272. “Fourth Size” refers to its pumping capacity of 500 gallons per minute, First Size being the greatest, at about 900 gpm. In 1909, the Silsby pumper was returned to the manufacturer’s successor company, American LaFrance, where it was rebuilt with a new Fox water-tube boiler.
Pumper 2272 was decommissioned in 1922, when Engine Company 42 was motorized. It was purchased by a private owner and remained in his collection for 57 years, operated occasionally and as late as the 1960s. When acquired in 1979 by the current owner, it was unrestored and in the configuration of the 1909 American LaFrance rebuild, complete but for the Dietz brass lanterns. A 15-year painstaking restoration followed. The engine and pump were disassembled, renewed, and rebuilt. Mechanically, the unit is in excellent condition.
Paint and detailing was done by Anderson Restoration, of Kanawha, Iowa, whose work has been recognized with an abundance of AACA Grand National, Senior, and Junior awards. Since restoration, this pumper has been meticulously maintained as a display piece, never fired up nor operated. The boiler has not been tested or certified. There is, however, no impediment to a new owner having it recommissioned for pumper service by a qualified steam technician. To aid in potential future use, the owners have located a diagram of the boiler and created a booklet containing further information about the boiler, as well as general information and history that will enhance the knowledge of its new owners.
The Philadelphia Fire Department purchased 136 steamers over the course of 59 years, its last in 1914, which remained in service until 1927. In the period from 1886 to 1897, the city was one of Silsby’s best customers, purchasing 41 pieces of the steam-operated apparatus. This unit, with complete history from new, is the only known Silsby pumper remaining of the Philadelphia units, and it is certainly among the best of all survivors.