Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive



During the early 1900's, the gasoline motor had been developed to the point where the fire service began to take full notice. Until 1912, the Los Angeles Fire Department had depended on a fleet of 27 steam fire engines for supplying efficient fire streams. The gradual demise of these colorful horse-drawn steamers began in the L.A.F.D. when the department took delivery of a 1912 Robinson "Jumbo" 2nd Size Triplex Piston Pump and Combination Hose Wagon. This was LAFD's first motor pumping engine, and was assigned to Engine Co.26, and given Shop Number 28. The next six motor pumpers to be ordered were Gorham Seagrave Turbine Pumping Engines.

The Seagrave Company of Columbus, Ohio had successfully tested a motor-driven combination chemical and hose wagon in 1907 and soon after began to explore the idea of producing a motor pumping engine, but could not accept the idea of using the piston or the rotary-gear types of pumps because of the attendant problems they brought with them. The Gorham Rubber Co. of San Francisco, California was, through a subsidiary, The Gorham Fire Apparatus Co. in Oakland, California, the Pacific Coast agents for Seagrave. Both of these companies were subsidiaries of The Gorham Engineering Co. in Oakland. Gorham was producing turbine type pumps and the gasoline motors to drive them for use in irrigation, hydraulic mining, and dredging.

It is believed that it was at the urging of their ace salesman, Charlie Taber that Seagrave looked into the possibility of producing a motor pumping engine by joining forces with Gorham. In 1911, Gorham and Seagrave combined their engineering efforts to produce the first Gorham Seagrave motor pumping engines using the turbine or centrifugal type pumps to be used by the fire service in the United States. What a wise decision it turned out to be!

The agreement was that Seagrave would furnish the complete chassis and that Gorham would furnish the motor and pump. Through a novel arrangement, Seagrave completely painted and decorated the apparatus before it was shipped to Oakland for installation of the motor and pump. Its official photo was even taken at Columbus before shipping. After final assembly and testing, these giants were delivered by Gorham Fire Apparatus Co.

In July, 1912 the first Gorham Seagrave Turbine Pumping Engine was tested at the foot of the Franklin Street Wharf. After a successful 4 hour test before the eyes of many of the top fire officials of the day, it was returned to the Gorham works for final inspection and delivered to the Oakland Fire Department who placed in service during the fiscal year 1912-1913, and the sixth went into service as Engine Co.28 upon completion of their new quarters in the latter part of 1913.

LAFD's first Gorham was a Model WC-144 Combination Pumping Engine and Hose Wagon. It was destined for Engine Co.27, but because 27's new station was not ready, it was placed temporarily in service as Engine Co.20. 27's Gorham was issued Shop Number 29. Next, another WC-144 Combination went to Engine Co.29 and was shop Number 30, followed by another WC-144 Combination for Engine Co.12. This one would be Shop No.31.

Then came the only straight pumping engine of the order. It too was a WC-144, but without hose boxes or ladders. It bore Shop Number 32 and would be held in relief until completion of Engine Co.28's new quarters in late 1913. Finally the first of two WC-96's were delivered. These were also Combination Pump and Hose Wagons. The first went to Engine Co.1 and the last went to Engine Co.31 and were given Shop Numbers 33 and 34 respectively.

The WC-144 models were mechanically all the same. They were powered by a huge six cylinder motor with a bore and stroke of 7 3/4" x 9" and developed 144 horsepower. They were water-cooled and had an air starting system. The turbine pump was cast of gun bronze and was rated as an "Extra 1st Size," or 900 to 1000 gpm. There was one 6" suction intake and three 3" discharge gates bushed down to 2 1/2", all facing the rear of the apparatus. The pump itself was mounted over the rear axle. The Combinations had a hose box on each side of the pump and had a capacity of 600' of 2 1/2" hose each. The overhead ladder rack carried the regulation trussed extension and roof ladders. The WC-96's were mechanically like the WC-144's except they had only four cylinders and developed 96 horsepower. The pump was known as a "2nd Size" or 700 to 800 gpm. The hose boxes and ladder mountings were the same as the WC-144's. All were painted white with red wheels and undercarriage, replete with gold-leaf striping and scroll work.

These giants saw service in many parts of the city during their tenure. Shop's 29, 32 and 34 remained with their original assignments for the most part for nine or ten years while the other three saw several assignments.

* In 1918, Shop 31 was shopped, and changed to a straight pumping engine, and went to Engine Co.4.

* In 1922, Shop 30 was also changed to a straight pumping engine, and went to Engine Co.4.

* In 1922, Shop 30 was also changed to a straight pumping engine, and went back to Engine Co. 11.

* In 1925, Shop 34 was changed to a straight pump and went to Engine Co.1.

* Shops 31 and 32 were overhauled and painted that same year.

At least three of the changed-over pumpers had new Seagrave motors installed. All had new radiators and hoods.

* By 1929, Shops 29, 30, 31 and 32 were stored and by 1930 had been sold. Their Shop Numbers were vacated and re-issued to four new 1929 American-La France straight pumps.

1931 and 1932 found Shop 33 listed as a straight pump in relief at Engine 7's and Shop 34 in relief at Engine 21's. 1933 records indicate Shop 33 in relief at 66's and Shop 34 in relief at 6's. The official records from 1934 through 1939 don't show any assignments, but they are carried as relief pumps. The last mention of these two veterans was in 1940 when they were stored in relief; Shop 33 at 6's and Shop 34 at 30's. With the coming of World War II, it's a good bet that these two rigs saw further service with the LAFD.

These old Grams, or "Bullmooses" as they were known, were big and they were ugly, in a beautiful sort of way, but they proved that the best way to push water was with the centrifugal pump. They tipped the scales at 13,000 lbs. and cost just under $10,000. a copy. It took the other major fire apparatus builders quite a while, but they had to eventually abandon their rotary-gear and piston designs and adopt the proven centrifugal pump so they could compete in the more enlightened fire service market. Seagrave's belief in the intuition of Charlie Taber paid off in a big way. To this day, Seagrave has stood without peer as a producer of superior quality fire apparatus.

This article was prepared with information from many sources. My thanks go to Eric A. Sprenger, Dale Magee, Bob Allen (SFFD retired), Mort Schuman (LAFD Supply & Maintenance Engineering Section), Larry Arnold and the Archives of the Los Angeles City Clerk's Office.

Walt Pittman 12-4-86

This article appeared in the June 1987 issue of The Firemen's Grapevine.

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