Thursday, January 24, 2008

SFD in the Past

How far back does this one go?

Pictured here is is a horse drawn steam operated fire engine that was once in service for the city of Salisbury. More specifically this is an 1879 Silsby Steamer. It was damaged and rebuilt in 1899 by the American Fire Engine Co. This piece of equipment is still in the possesion of the Salisbury Fire Department and is currently stored/displayed at the Chesapeake Fire Museum in Hebron MD. It will move to permanet display in SFD heritage Center Museum when it opens later this year in the new fire station on Cypress St.

Judging by the automobiles in the background this photo probably dates to the 1960's The lot where you see the cars parked is the current location of the parking garage across Market Street from Headquarters Fire Station, (Station 16).

Engineers operating this piece could "get up steam" in a matter of minutes when an alarm was struck. Usually by the time the steamer arrived at the fire there was enough steam built up to begin pumping and supply water to the hose lines. The boiler was usually fired with soft coal. Once up to steam the boiler could continue to be fueled with coal or wood. This piece of equipment had the ability to get it's water from a hydrant system or operate from a static source such as a pond or a river. The only other thing needed to keep this thing in service was a little clean water, a few tons of oats and hay for the horses, and a shovel to clean up the exhaust products.

This steamer has never been functional in my time with the fire dept. My Dad was a boilerman in the Navy and offered his services at one time to repair the steamer and get it into working order. The Chief at the time was very receptive to Dads offer but due to the fact that pieces for repair would have to be custom made and finished it was decided to leave things as they were. I do know that over the years some repairs have been made to the tongue, axles, and wheel hubs as well as some custom restoration on the wood finish on the wheels.

I have been told the horses used for this steamer had a dual purpose for the City. They were used to tow the city's sanitation wagon each and every day in different areas of the city. When the alarm was struck, (signaled by the bell recently removed from Station 16) the driver of the sanitation wagon had to un-harness the horses and turn them loose. It's my understanding the horses knew what the tolling bell meant and on their own would run to the firehouse in order to be hitched to the steamer.

Please remember, the city was far from being the size it is today and it is very conceivable the horses could hear the bell toll and could realize the need to return the firehouse.

I'm not sure who owned the horses pictured here but I am sure they were borrowed or rented for what ever event the steamer was participating in when this photo was taken, more than likely a parade. Many times over the years the Salisbury Babtist Temple and Reverend Oren Perdue donated their horses for parade use and for that the SFD is eternally grateful.

Once again---Thanks to BC for the photo.
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William Carey said...

With my interest in horses, I've enjoyed looking up the information about horse-drawn apparatus during those times. In many instances, no matter the size of the department and municipality, there has always been some actual record of the horses being familiar with the tolling of a general bell. Departments that operated with fire alarm boxes nearly always had a historical note of their horses behavior for certain box signals. Horses would become used to hearing the sequence of numbers, say, Box 253, hearing onetow onetwothreefourfive onetwothree and begin pawing at stall doors, neighing, tossing their heads. Some were even recorded as not having to even be led to stand under the harness racks, they knew by the number of bells, that they were going out.

Also, there was always a note about the superstition of having horses of the same color.

Bill Carey

William Carey said...

I also meant to add that there are records of horses retired from fire service, yet still being used in a city, and when either seeing a company turnout, or hearing boxes being struck, they would race off as well.

I guess the urge to chase calls is primal in both animal and man, active and retired.