Side note: chiefengineer11 and Rescue101 were both on the truck committee for this piece.
City fire engine back home for its 100th birthday
Monday, March 2, 2009 5:23 AM EST
By William Kaempffer, Register Staff
NEW HAVEN — The correspondence came unbidden and unexpected: There’s a 100-year-old horse-drawn fire engine that may belong to you stored in a barn up here in Massachusetts. Do you want it back?
And so began the journey home for New Haven’s 1909 Westinghouse pumper — Engine 9 in its day at the Ellsworth Avenue firehouse — which for the last half-century had been on loan and forgotten. The last 17 years it was tucked away at a 60-acre farm in Townsend, Mass.
“They gave it loving storage all these years. They didn’t have a particular interest in it, but we did,” said William Celentano, a city funeral director and former chairman of the New Haven Board of Fire Commissioners. “That this lady found me in the first place is amazing.”
It was 100 years ago next month that the Fire Department took possession of the four-cylinder, gasoline-powered engine that could pump 800 gallons per minute. Less than a dozen were produced, and New Haven’s was a powerhouse, with duplicate systems in case one failed.
“History,” observed Tony Capuano, the Fire Department’s master mechanic in charge of keeping its multimillion-dollar fleet operating, as he eyed the antique. “Obviously, you can’t compare it to today, but in its day, it was the Cadillac.”
It also would quickly become obsolete. The city took possession of a Model T seven months after the first Ford came off the assembly line, and by the mid-1910s, motor-driven fire engines had become the standard. New Haven’s Westinghouse went into reserve in 1919, although subtle monuments to that era remained decades later. When he came on the job in the 1970s, Fire Chief Michael Grant recalled, the now-closed firehouse on Dixwell Avenue still had horse stalls and a hayloft.
No one in New Haven can precisely trace the path of Engine 9 after it left the city. After some research, Celentano found a picture of it on the Green in the 1940s. A decade later, at some point, it ended up with James Filleul, a Manchester, N.H., collector who hoped to open a fire museum. It was in his blood: His father was the superintendent of the Amoskeag Steamer Co. in Manchester, which produced old steam-powered fire engines.
How it went to Townsend was serendipity. Filleul died in 1962, and Fire Chief Billy Greenough and pal Arthur Borneman, another volunteer firefighter, drove out to retrieve an old Townsend steamer that was part of his collection. His widow offered them the Westinghouse as well, although she couldn’t recall the original owner. In Townsend it changed hands a few times, ultimately ending up with farm owner David Hoffman in 1992, when Greenough, who had stored it for a decade himself, asked if he had a place to keep it.
“He was wondering if I would take it, on the condition that I try to find out where it came from. He asked me to find the original owner,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman made periodic efforts and always reached dead ends, but the Information Age made short work of the decades-old mystery. He enlisted the help of a “computer whiz” and gave her the list of names on a plaque welded to the side of the motor. A few days later, back in 2007, Celentano received the first e-mail: Hi, can you tell me if a Rufus R. Fancher was a fire chief in New Haven in 1909?
Today, the old engine is back, in storage at the Bayer campus in West Haven, owned by Yale and overseen by Francisco Ortiz, the retired city police chief and now a fire commissioner.
The Westinghouse has been added to a number of other New Haven antiques that are in storage. Like Filleul, Celentano (who in 2005 collaborated on a book about the history of the fire service) has mused about opening a museum for older apparatus and artifacts that have been collected over the years.
For Hoffman’s part, he said he was pleased that he got to honor a pledge, while expressing some sadness in parting with the old engine.
“It’s such a handsome thing. I loved to show it to the guys. I would have liked to keep it,” said Hoffman last week.
“He’s happy as hell that you guys got it now,” said Borneman, 75, “and I am too. It’s where it belongs.”
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03-03-2009, 01:45 PM #1
City fire engine back home for its 100th birthday"Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."
03-03-2009, 05:57 PM #2four-cylinder, gasoline-powered engine that could pump 800 gallons per minute.
That's an excellent find.
03-04-2009, 08:34 AM #3
NOTICE it had DOUBLE redundant systems and no f#$%&*# COMPUTER? Yeah,I can probably run it. Your point? Hehe T.C.
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