Frank’s Note: Mort Schuman was an electrician/ supervisor at the LAFD shops and instrumental in helping preserve and retain many of the apparatus the LAFDHS have today. He wrote this article for the Grapevine from the standpoint of it coming from the Wagon, Shop Number 43. A great story from a great man. R.I.P Mort.
OUT OF THE PAST
-JUST A WAGON-
By Mort Schuman, Box 15 Club of L.A.
“You and I know that mechanical things are just a bunch of parts designed and put together by man to function and fulfill a necessary need. A machine has no feelings, it cannot think or make judgments on its own. When one of its parts breaks or wears out it just stops. That’s it, it cannot fix itself, man must do the fixing or design a better model. This is normal rational thinking, and the way it should be. What if mechanical things had feelings and other human traits? I know this is “Twilight Zone” thinking, BUT WHAT IF????
My name is, well I really don’t have a name, just a fire department shop number (#43). Everyone called me the wagon, nothing more.
I was manufactured in the year 1899 by the Fire Extinguisher Company of Chicago, Ill. Then loaded on a flat car and shipped to Los Angeles via the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads. I arrived dirty and grimy from the long trip, but happy that it was over. I was unloaded off the flat car and delivered to the corporation yards behind old Fire Station 1, at Pasadena Ave. and Hayes Street. Hayes Street later changed to Ave. 19. The corporation yards were later changed and today are known as Supply & Maintenance Division.
After a thorough washing and inspection by the equipment officer I was accepted, much to my delight, eager and ready to serve the L.A.F.D.
I was loaded with 1000′ of 2 1/2″ hose, 250′ of chemical hose, one 3 gal. chemical extinguisher, two ladders, my 60 gal. soda-acid chemical tank filled and a box full of wrenches and other fire fighting equipment were put aboard. Next came the two beautiful Morgans who were hitched up and I was off to my first assignment. No fanfare, no parade, just a wagon going to work. The steam pumpers were a different story. The steamers when delivered were given names of famous and important city people, parades and festivities held with the mayor and city council leading the parade. We wagons were envious. Well, a wagon is just a wagon.
As I proudly served the department I watched as the city grew and prospered. The 10 stations that we had at the turn of the century had doubled by the end of 1905.
I spent my active days as the wagon of a two piece Engine Company, always admiring the beautiful and stately steam pumper that I ran with. Those were the “Good Old Days.” But like always those good old days were numbered. A strange new contraption was about to enter our lives.
At first we ignored the strange looking contraptions that chugged and snorted past our station with nothing pulling it, a strange sight indeed.’
Rumors through the station were that some of the Eastern fire departments were replacing the horse with gasoline motors. Chief Archie Eley was ordered to take a trip back East to evaluate the horseless fire engine. Although we had just acquired a 1908 50 horse power tourist with the annexation of Hollywood, the City Council deemed the trip necessary.
As time passed I continued my job with no complaints. The horses did their job, always ready. The more fires we went to the more I noticed those strange horseless contraptions pulling our steamers and even saw one pumping water without a smoke stack or fire under it. (1912 Seagrave Gorham.) The horse enthusiasts of the department were not happy with the changing times. Neither was I.
In June of 1921, I was hitched up and quietly left 17’s, my faithful crew sadly watching as I was slowly pulled onto Seventh St. returning to S&M wondering what was going to happen to me. Was I going to be sent to City Salvage and maybe sold to an old junk dealer, or maybe just cut up and used for fire wood? I secretly hoped that with some luck, like some of my contemporaries my wheels and undercarriage would be removed and the rest of my carriage mounted on the chassis of a new Moreland, Gramm or Seagrave. The L.A.F.D’s official name for the converted apparatus was “reconverted combination chemical and hose wagon on chassis.” Some of us old wagons would proudly serve again.
Time passed slowly and I was completely ignored. Covered with dirt and grime, my once beautiful finish is tarnishing from the sun and weather. My future looks grim and my spirits are extremely low. Some weeks before a stately steam pumper was parked next to me awaiting an uncertain future. This was the L.A.F.D.’s first major purchase after the department became fully paid in 1886. The 1887 Amoskeag J. Kuhrts #3 was to be my companion for many years to come.
A visit to S & M by Chief Engineer Ralph J. Scott was to be the turning point in our existence. After a thorough inspection by the Chief, the steamer and I were transported to Fire Station 21 and parked in the storage shed behind the station. Although all the fire department horses were gone, we were placed on reserve status in order to keep City Salvage from claiming us. We are still shown on the L.A.F.D. apparatus roster as of this date.
During the ensuing years I was periodically taken out of storage, washed and served in parades and movies. In one early M.G.M. cowboy movie I played the part of a runaway wagon in a wagon train scene. The studio carpenter removed all of my hose bed floor boards and built a special platform allowing the stunt man to lay flat and steer me with hidden cables. This set-up could not be seen by the camera. It was feared that I might fall apart in these high speed downhill runs. I completed the scenes with little damage and was soon back in storage at 21’s.
I made my first and last television debut late in 1956 when KABC Channel 7 borrowed me for a T.V. special. A very proud day for me indeed. When horses were available I would participate in Fire Service Day celebrations, sometimes carrying the famous Fire House Five, plus two. Those were the fun days.
My parade days came to an end in 1965 when our 1931 Seagrave Chemical Hose Wagon Ship #1058 was converted to our present L.A.F.D. official band wagon.
Again I wondered what was to become of me and I remembered a wagon is just a wagon. For the next 12 years I patiently waited for someone to rediscover me. Now enter Engineer Ron Robey and Captain Bob Foster and a new story begins.
One of Robey’s many interests was directed to historical fire apparatus, and as luck would have it the old Chemical Hose Wagon was now in storage in one of the back sheds at Mountain Patrol 1 and Fire Station 108. Coincidentally, it was also where Robey was assigned. Robey was not pleased with the deteriorating condition of the old wagon and consulted with then L.A.F.D. historian Captain Bob Foster to start a restoration project. With permission granted, work was started and continued till Robey was transferred to Fire Station 90. Mountain Patrol closed and Engine 108’s was moved to Coldwater Signal office. This move occurred in 1977.
The wagon joined Robey at 90’s where the restoration continued till nothing else could be accomplished at the station. Space being a premium at 90’s, due to sharing the area with the crash and helicopter companies, the old wagon needed a new home. Fire Station 82 was selected as the new home for the wagon because of the available space in their garage.
With the L.A.F.D. Centennial year fast approaching, and the restoration of the horse drawn steam pumper “J. Kuhrts #3” right on schedule, it was decided to finish Engineer Ron Robey and Capt. Bob Foster’s restoration of Shop #43, our 1899 Fire Extinguisher Chemical Hose Wagon. A plan for continued restoration was laid out by Steamer Restoration Chairman Captain Bob DeFeo (now chief) who presented it to Chief Peter Lucarelli for approval and then to Chief Engineer Donald Manning for approval through channels. Permission was soon granted, and with the 100% cooperation of the shops, another stall would be available for the wagon. Since the wagon was in storage at Fire Station 82, Captain Greg Carle of 82’s volunteered to have himself and the station personnel do as much as possible additional restoration right in the station Thanks to Capt. Carle and crew many valuable shop hours were saved.
When 82’s finished with their part of the restoration, the tractor company transported the wagon to the shops. Capt. Carle and crew came in on some of their days off and continued to work on the project. The steamer restoration crew, when stopped for lack of parts would then work on the wagon.
A special thanks to F.F. Dale Thurow who provided invaluable assistance and was instrumental in locating and procuring the horses that pulled our steam pumper at our Centennial Muster.
Many many thanks to Louie Carle, Captain Greg Carle’s dad for providing the beautiful horses who pulled our Chemical Hose Wagon in our Centennial Muster parade. A very successful event to say the least. Now our wagon is not just a wagon.
Author’s Added Note: Engine Company 17 was fully motorized in June of 1921. Shop# 43, our 1899 horse drawn fire extinguisher combination Chemical Hose Wagon was replaced by Shop# 129, a 1921 Seagrave combination Chemical Hose Wagon. Shop# 11, an 1899 horse drawn LaFrance, 700 G.P.M. steam pumper was replaced by Shop# 11, a 1921 Seagrave 1,000 gal. pump.
To add to the frustration of the L.A.F.D. historians in the bygone days the apparatus shop numbers were very often reused. Hence the duplication of Shop# 11 in the above paragraph.
Restoration projects require the cooperation of many dedicated and talented people. They continually give of their time with no financial gains as their goal. The satisfaction of knowing that they have contributed to the preservation of our history for us and future generations to enjoy, are reward enough. To these people I offer my profuse gratitude.”
This article appeared in the January, 1990 issue of The Firemen’s Grapevine. Photos added by Frank Borden, LAFDHS