Handbook For American Fire Engine Company Steam Engines





Copyright, 1897, By American Fire Engine Company,

Seneca Falls, N. Y., And Cincinnati, Ohio.


While some engineers of steamers may be of opinion that the greater part of the information contained in this book is needless, being of a very simple nature, it should be borne in mind that most men who run steam fire engines are not practical machinists and have but a superficial knowledge of the uses of steam and of hydraulics.

In view of this, the necessity for such plain and full directions must be apparent: and it cannot be too strongly impressed upon those interested, that the efficiency and durability of such a piece of machinery are considerably enhanced by the care which it receives.

The safety of life and property is very often dependent upon the skill and good judgment of the engineer, and as the maximum effect of such apparatus is generally required at the most critical time and under the most exciting circumstances, it is important that he should realize the responsibility of his position, and endeavor by constant and persistent practice to acquire that confidence and proficiency that will insure both a correct and decisive action in all matters pertaining to the management of the machine.

During this course of self instruction, these directions should be frequently reviewed, as the experience from actual practice insures a more comprehensive understanding of the information herein contained.

A similar book containing instructions specially applicable to engines constructed with the Silsby Rotary Pump, and another for engines with the Ahrens Coil Boiler, are published by us, and will be sent, on application, to those having charge of such engines.



All things about the house should be kept in good order and neat condition, particularly the engine, which ought always to be clean and bright. Avoid neglect, which tends to waste and decay, as dirt often covers unsuspected faults.

While standing in the house, the engine should at all times be kept ready for immediate service, with plenty of shavings and kindlings, in the fire box, and as much kindlings and coal in the fuel pan as can be conveniently carried.

In winter, if no heater is attached to the engine, the room must be kept warm, to insure against frost. The joints and connections in the suction must be perfectly tight. The stuffing boxes of the engine and pump should be well packed.

All of the bearings and journals, as well as the oil cans, should be well supplied with good oil. The best lard oil is recommended for this purpose, and in winter it should be mixed with kerosene, in the proportion of two parts of the former to one of the latter, to prevent its becoming thick.

From three-fourths to one inch of water should be indicated in the glass gauge, except there is a heater attached to the engine, when from four to five inches should be carried. The bottom of the glass tube being on a line with the crown-sheet, when one inch of water shows in the tube the water-line in the boiler is then one inch above the crown-sheet.

Every engine house should be provided with a force pump, for filling the boiler with water, as well as for washing and other purposes, fitted for one-inch hose, together with at least 25 feet of the latter.

It is advisable occasionally -say once a month- in towns where fires are not frequent, to take the engine out for practice and drill, and to make sure that it is in proper working order, after which the boiler should be blown off and refilled with fresh water, as hereinafter directed.


Before laying the fire, see that the grate and fire box are clean, also that the grate bars are fast, so they will not be liable to jar out, and that all the steam outlets of the boiler are tightly closed.

Lay on the grate some dry pine shavings -not too many -spread evenly over the grate, with a few hanging down between the bars; on the shavings put some finely-split pine or hemlock wood, then some a little coarser, and finally a quantity coarser still. It is well to put on the top some finely-split hard wood. These kindlings must all be dry and split -not sawed -and should be put in loosely, in layers, the layers being crossed, so that there will be a free circulation of air between them.

Never start a fire unless a full gauge cock of water is in the boiler.

Always keep a good torch in the fuel pan, ready for use. This can be made by taking a stick about two feet long and trying some cotton waste on one end, and saturating the waste with kerosene.


To light the fire: Apply torch, already described, below the grate, never in the door; and while doing so move the torch around to insure thoroughly igniting the shavings.

Be particular not to open the fire door oftener than necessary, especially when getting up steam.

In addition to the wood in the furnace, an extra supply is carried in the fuel pan. For convenience this is put up in bundles; their size should not exceed four or five inches in diameter, nor much over a foot in length. If these dimensions are exceeded they become cumbersome and cannot be readily passed into the furnace.

The kindling should be carefully prepared, and the quantity carried sufficient to generate a working pressure in the boiler before coal is added to the fire.

When there is a pressure to 40 to 60 pounds of steam, begin throwing in coal, a little at a time, broken up in pieces about the size of a man's fist. Bituminous coal should be used, the same as that from which illuminating gas is made. It should be of the very best quality, entirely free from slate or sulphur.

The mistake is frequently made of allowing most of the wood to bum out before putting in any coal. This should be avoided, as the kindlings must be burning nicely in order to start the coal. If the supply of wood should become exhausted, always begin throwing in coal while there is still enough wood in the fife box to ignite it, even if the gauge does not indicate any steam whatever.

Do not put the wood or coal all close to the fife door, but scatter it about and spread it evenly over the grate.

As soon as the engine is started, coal should be put in often, a little at a time, and the grate should be kept nicely covered, but not thickly -say to a depth of three or four inches. Be particular to fire evenly and regularly, taking care that there are no air holes through the fire, and to open the fire door only when necessary.

The grate bars should be kept well raked out from below, and the fire and coal occasionally stirred off the grate bars inside the fire box, using the flat side of the poker for the later operation. But do not "clean" oftener than necessary; keep the fife door open as short a time as possible, and use no more coal than is required.


The engineer should start up the machine gradually, but before doing so he ought to satisfy himself that the joints and connections in the suction hose are air tight, that the discharge gate is open and the churn valve closed, and that the fire has been properly attended to. Let the cylinder cocks be open and the exhaust nearly closed, and all the bearings and journals well oiled. The wheels should be properly blocked, especially if standing on a grade. When starting, the throttle valve should be opened slowly at first, or condensed steam will be thrown out of the stack on the dome, and is liable to stain it.

The automatic air cocks on the upper pump heads must be opened immediately after starting. They serve to promptly relieve the upper pump chambers of air, and may be closed as soon as water is ejected from their orifices.

When condensation has ceased, the engine being warm, the drain cocks should be closed and the machine speeded up gradually until a good pressure of steam is obtained.

After the engine is fairly started, do not stand too close, but let your position be a step back; and, with your face towards the machine, endeavor to train your eyes and hands to command the entire situation. While it is perfectly proper to be near the throttle, in order to promptly close it in case of bursting hose or failure of the water supply, do not acquire the habit of constantly clinging to the same, for there are other duties equally as important that require your attention.

In the general hurry and rush, avoid all excitement, and let your duties be attended to in a calm and collected manner.

Until the engineer has had some experience with the machine, and is thoroughly familiar with its workings, it is not advisable for him to use more than 90 or 100 pounds of steam, which is all that is required for ordinary fire duty, and the necessity for more than 120 pounds will never arise.

The water in the boiler should be carried as high as six or eight inches in the glass tube as soon as the engine is fairly at work and a good pressure of steam is obtained. The gauges will indicate more water in the boiler when the machine is running than it will with the same quantity of water if it is not at work. For this reason, the boiler should be kept well supplied with water; and the feed tank (when there is one) should be kept always full.

In case the glass tubes get broken, the height of the waterline in the boiler can be ascertained by means of the gauge-cocks, opening them but a trifle. If opened wide the tendency would be to draw up the water. A little experimenting will enable one to use them properly.

But sole reliance should not be placed on the glass tube at any time, and the gauge-cocks ought to be used frequently. Both the gauge-cocks and the glass water gauge should be kept clean, and water from the glass gauge should be blown out occasionally.

The uniformity of the boiler's action is materially aided by maintaining an even fire and a steady feed.

If there is a tendency to foam, the feed should be increased and the surface blower opened quite frequently to relieve the boiler of the scum and surplus water. If the foaming is unusually violent, it may be subdued by stopping the engine for a few moments and permitting the water to settle.

During temporary stops the fire should be cleaned, the clinkers removed, and the moving parts of the machinery examined and oiled.

When the engine is not running, the fire may be replenished if necessary; and it can be kept bright by slightly opening the blower valve, by means of which a steam jet is blown into the smoke-stack for the purpose of improving the draught.


The boiler is usually fed by force pumps, the plungers of which are secured directly to the yokes of the main engines. Both pumps are arranged to work in unison; and the supply is generally taken from the discharging chamber of the main pumps, and is controlled by an ordinary globe valve.

Should the water being delivered by the main pumps be unsuitable for feeding the boiler, this valve must remain closed, and a supply from some other source introduced through the opening provided for that purpose.

Every engine required to pump salt water, or other water unfit for the boiler supply, should be provided with a freshwater feed tank.

The purpose of the automatic air cock (if there is one) is to prevent the rattling of the check valves when the pumps are being only partially filled; if the supply is to be draughted from a barrel or tank, the entrance of air through this cock must be prevented.

In any engine, to feed the boiler directly from the main pump the water pressure gauge must indicate a greater pressure than the steam gauges; and it may be necessary, in order to obtain the desired water pressure, to partially close the discharge gates of the pump if a large nozzle or two or more streams are being used.

When feeding the boiler, it is a good plan to occasionally feel the pipe leading from check to boiler with the hand, as one can tell by this means whether the pump is feeding properly. If feeding all right, the pipe will be cool. If the pipe is hot, the pump is not feeding properly, and it should be attended to.

In case of low water, and it is found impossible to feed the boiler in any of the different ways provided, the fire must be drawn instantly. Don't turn on the feed, start or stop the engine, nor open the safety valve; let the steam outlets remain as they are, and allow the boiler to cool down.


This is a device attached to the discharge main of the pump, and connecting with the suction chamber, its purpose being to relieve the hose of undue pressure. It is used in connection with a shut-off nozzle. When such nozzle is either partially or fully closed the valve is operated automatically, like a safety valve, and the surplus water not required for the duty being performed is diverted from the hose into the suction chamber of the pump, without any cessation to the machinery. Its operation is similar to that of a churn valve, the difference being that the relief valve works automatically while the churn valve does not.

If your engine is supplied with a relief valve you should familiarize yourself with its construction and working. It is not practicable for us to give directions here that will apply to all the several different types of relief valves now in use, most of which are no longer made. Care should be taken, however, whatever the style of valve, to see that all connections are kept tight, in order to prevent any leakage of air into the suction chamber of the pump.

There ought always to be a valve between the relief valve and the suction chamber of pump, so as to cut out the relief valve in case same should from any cause become disabled.


The priming valves, in cases where such valves are attached to a fire engine, control small passages leading from the discharging side of the main pumps to the upper receiving chambers of the same. If the air cocks fail to show water promptly, flood the upper pump ends by opening these valves for a moment provided, of course, that the lower ends of the same have already taken suction.


In connection with good coal and good firing on the part of the stoker, the engineer must make proper use of the exhaust level, to maintain an ample working pressure of steam. When there is plenty of steam the exhaust should be kept wide open; if more steam is required push in the lever. This will diminish the opening, and the velocity of the exhaust will be increased, improving the draught, but creating a back pressure on the engine. The variable exhaust is particularly useful when fire starting, but as the boiler steams more freely open it to the fullest extent.


The principal object of the churn valve is to permit the operation of the pumps without discharging any water through the natural channels; it controls a passage by which the discharging side of the pumps is connected with the suction chamber.

In draughting water, when the pumps are first started, this valve must remain closed until the pumps are filled with water, thereby excluding the air which would find its way into the suction chamber if the same were open.

It should also be closed when the pumps are at rest, to prevent the dropping of the water in the suction pipe.

It may be opened slightly with good effect when pumping through long lines of hose, or when first starting against a heavy resistance, thereby increasing the piston speed of the machinery without actually delivering a greater quantity of water.

It also permits the force pumps to be kept in motion, for the purpose of supplying the boiler at times when it is undesirable to deliver water through the hose lines.

When the engine is put to suction, acquire the habit of feeling this valve to assure its complete closure.


Owing to the contracted diameter of ordinary fire hose, as well as the roughness of its interior surfaces when under pressure, the flow of the water is resisted; the loss of power due to friction increases directly with the length of the line and nearly as the square of velocity. In other words, if the loss due to a given flow be 12 pounds for 100 feet of hose, then 24 pounds will be required to maintain the same rate through an additional 100 feet. To double the velocity will require four times the pressure, or 48 pounds for 100 feet and 96 pounds for 200 feet. In addition to the pressure required to overcome the resistance due to friction, a margin is required to deliver the water from the nozzle with suitable velocity.

From this brief explanation, it must be plain that the capacity of any engine is diminished as the length of the line is increased; and although the source of supply may be abundant, the amount of water actually available at the nozzle is greatly reduced. Since it is necessary to keep within the limits of the strength of the hose, it is essential that the velocity of flow be diminished; to accomplish this end, and also retain the discharging pressure necessary at the pipe, a nozzle of smaller bore is demanded.

The cause and effect of the different conditions met in actual practice should be carefully observed and studied. The evils of many unalterable obstacles may be frequently modified, if not entirely overcome, by an intelligent disposition of the factors in the case.

The suction basket or strainer should always be attached when draughting water, and every precaution taken to insure tight connections in the suction. The basket must be kept well under the surface, and kept from clogging if the water be foul. Additional strainers should be provided, placed just inside of the suction inlets of the pump when the suction is carried disconnected; when the suction is permanently connected to the pump, the strainer is set in the end of the suction. These strainers must always be examined and cleaned before the engine is returned to quarters, and at all other times when there is any reason to suspect that they are obstructed.

When the supply is taken from a hydrant, satisfy yourself that the same has been fully turned on; if opened before water is wanted through the hose the discharge gates on the engine must be closed. Unless the pressure is excessive, the hydrant is usually permitted to remain open while the steamer is attached, the discharge during temporary stops being controlled by the engine gates.

Frequently the first water taken from a hydrant is stagnated; hence, if necessary to feed the boiler before any considerable quantity has passed, it is advisable to permit it to waste by opening an idle gate.

The apparatus should always be halted, or placed at a proper point, with reference to the source of the water supply. Good judgment on the part of the driver will often obviate short and awkward bends in the suction hose, and also facilitate the work of making the necessary connections. The suction hose should always receive considerable attention; oil is very injurious to the rubber, and when allowed to remain long in contact with its surfaces it will cause decay. Ordinary precaution will be sufficient to prevent injury by chafing on sharp stones or rough surfaces when the pumps are in operation.

When attached to a hydrant or plug, do not run the engine faster than you can get water to supply the pump, and if the pressure is not sufficient to allow the pump to work to its full capacity, avoid using too large nozzles.

If it is suspected that one of the joints in the suction is loose, the speed of the engine may be slackened without stopping entirely, until water is thrown eight or ten feet from the nozzle, when if the pump is taking air the stream will crack and snap instead of flowing out smoothly. If it is found that the pump is taking air through the suction, and the leak cannot be located in any other way, it may be found nozzle should be used; if 20 feet, 1-inch; and if 25 feet, 7/8-inch.

Care should be taken not to use too large nozzles if two or more streams are being thrown.


The sizes of nozzles named below will give the most satisfactory results, those in italics being the ones best adapted for fire duty.

EXTRA FIRST SIZE ENGINE.-1,100 to 1,150 gallons capacity. Through short lines of hose: One 1 1/2-inch smooth-bore nozzle for one stream; one 1 3/4-inch ring nozzle, or one 2-inch ring nozzle; 1 5/16-inch ring nozzles for two streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one 1 5/16-inch ring nozzle.

FIRST SIZE ENGINE.-900 to 1,000 gallons capacity. Through short lines of hose: One 1 3/8-inch smoothbore nozzle for one stream; one 1 1/2-inch ring nozzle, or one 1 5/8-inch ring nozzle; 1 1/4-inch ring nozzles for two streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one 1 114inch ring nozzle.

SECOND SIZE ENGINE.-700 to 800 gallons capacity. Through short lines of hose: One 1 1/4-inch smoothbore nozzle for one stream; one 1 3/8-inch ring nozzle, or one 1 1/2-inch ring nozzle; 1 1/8-inch ring nozzles for two streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one 1 118inch ring nozzle.

THIRD SIZE ENGINE.-600 to 650 gallons capacity. Through short lines of hose: One 1 1/8-inch smoothbore nozzle for one stream; one 1 1/4-inch ring nozzle, or one 1 3/8-inch ring nozzle; 1-inch ring nozzles for two streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one I-inch ring nozzle.

FOURTH SIZE ENGINE. -500 to 550 gallons capacity. Through short lines of hose: One 1 1/16-inch smooth-bore nozzle for one stream; one 1 1/8-inch ring nozzle, or one 1 1/4-inch ring nozzle; 7/8-inch ring nozzles for two streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one l-inch ring nozzle.

FIFTH AND SIXTH SIZE ENGINES. -300 to 450 gallons capacity. Through short lines of hose: One 1-inch smooth-bore nozzle for one stream; one 1-inch ring nozzle, or one 1 1/8-inch ring nozzle; 7/8-inch ring nozzles for two streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one 7/8-inch ring nozzle.


In extremely cold weather, if it is desired to stop doing duty for any reason, it is a good plan to keep the main pump constantly but slowly revolving, even if it is just barely moving, and to keep a light feed on the force pumps, to prevent freezing. This should be done, also, when necessary to change positions at fires, while the engine is being transferred. In small towns it is well to have a good supply of water in the boiler, and sufficient steam to revolve the engine and pump slowly while returning to the house.

Preparatory to the final shutting down of the apparatus, with a view of returning to quarters, permit the steam pressure to rise to the point of blowing off; also let the fire be burned clear and bright before the withdrawing the same from the furnace, which may be readily done by closing the fire door and opening the blower valve. This will burn off most of the soot adhering to the heating surfaces. Allow water to drop down to the first gauge cock, which will insure your obtaining dry steam; when the blower is opened with a high water line, water is apt to rush through the blower, and wet steam is not so effective in blowing off the soot.

There should be a steam pressure of about 30 pounds when the grate is dumped, after which all remaining soot and ashes should be blown with steam from the top of the smoke-stack down through the smoke flues into the fire box, using for this purpose the small cleaning hose. Then the soot should be blown from the fire box and water tubes, and the ashes from around them, using the cleaning hose and steam through the fire door; the grate may then be replaced.

Not less than once a month, after dumping the grate, with from 15 to 20 pounds of steam, all of the water and steam should be blown out of the boiler through the blow-off cock, in the water-leg of the boiler.


Promptly refill the lubricators and all other oil cups, and thoroughly examine the mechanism, and also the running gear, as soon as the apparatus is returned to its quarters.

If, however, the work has been of long duration or the water bad, the boiler should be thoroughly washed out before again placing the machine in service.

To do this properly, a one-inch hose with suitable nozzle must be provided, and if there be no hydrant connection or pressure, a force pump may be substituted. Remove all the plugs at the bottom of the boiler, and with the hose and scrapers free the shell of the sediment lodged therein.

While the water is out of the boiler, examine the stop cocks on the ends of the glass water gauge, and see that their openings are clear; always coat their surfaces with cylinder oil when replacing, and adjust them to be easily closed should the glass be broken.

After pumping dirty or salt water, the pumps should be emptied and well rinsed, and then refilled or primed.

After every working, and while the parts are still warm, pour a small cup of good cylinder oil into each of the oil cups on the top heads of the engines; have the pistons at a point preventing the oil from entering the ports, and after allowing sufficient time for the same to distribute itself over the piston head, give the engines several turns by hand, thereby coating the sides of the cylinders with a film of oil and effectually preserving them against rust.

No oil should be allowed to come in contact with the suction hose, which must be kept free from oil, both inside and outside, to insure its preservation.

The engine should at all times be kept scrupulously clean and well polished.


The boiler should be kept safe, clean, and perfectly tight. See that no water comes in contact with the exterior of the boiler, and if a leak is discovered it should be repaired as soon as possible. Such a defect as a small leak, unimportant in itself, if allowed to continue is liable in a short time to corrode and weaken a boiler.

It is a matter of the greatest importance that all of the joints and connections in the suction should be kept tight at all times. Every little while the engineer ought to take the wrench furnished for that purpose, and see that every joint in the suction is provided with a piece of good packing and that is perfectly tight. From standing in the house unused, the packing is liable to get dry and the joints become loose, and they should be attended to frequently.

The steam gauges should stand at zero when pressure is off, and should agree with each other while the machine is working, as well as show the same pressure as the safety-valve when that is blowing off. If a gauge is found to be wrong at any time, it should be sent to the engine builder or to the manufacturer for repairs.

If necessary to clean the glass tube in the water gauge, close the cocks on top and bottom, fill the tube with benzene, and allow it to stand an hour or two. Then draw the benzene out, open the cocks, and let water in again. Never pass a stick, cotton waste, or anything of that sort through the tube. If touched on the inside with a stick it would be liable to break the first time water is let into it.

If there is anything about the engine that is not fully understood, or if it fails to do its work properly from any cause, the maker should be communicated with at once. In our own case, inquires will be promptly answered, and required information or suggestions will be cheerfully furnished.


The fire engine is essentially an apparatus adapted to emergencies, and owing to the intermittent nature of the duty performed, it is quite likely, unless the proper precautions are observed, that its several parts, more especially its interior mechanism, will suffer more deterioration while standing idle than from actual service. It is necessary that these interior parts, as well as those more readily apparent, be cared for with a view of keeping them constantly in condition to endure the most severe and protracted strains at the shortest notice.

The engineer should aim to keep all joints tight, the piston rods and valves well packed, and all working parts thoroughly oiled.

If the journals or other working parts require taking up, remember that a little play is preferable to an adjustment liable to cripple the engine at a critical moment. To insure perfect safety, always thoroughly test the apparatus after making such repairs, by subjecting the parts effected to the strains usually encountered in actual service.

The principal requirement of the steam cylinders is proper and constant lubrication. Let this one item be attended to, and its mechanism will practically take care of itself for many years.

As in the course of years the working parts of steam fire engines -like those of other machines -will wear out. We build such parts of our machines in duplicate; we can, therefore, promptly ship any part of one of our engines. In sending orders, the number on the builder's plate of the machine should be given, as a complete mechanical record is kept by us of each engine shipped from our works.


A stationary heater for the fire engine consists of a small boiler, placed at some convenient point near the same when in quarters. It is connected with the engine boiler by means of automatic couplings and suitable circulating pipes, the entire arrangement being adapted to maintain the water contained therein at any temperature desired.

Although the best types of fire engines boilers require but a few minutes time to generate a working pressure from cold water, the general adoption of the many modern improvements for facilitating the movements of the men and apparatus has made the stationary heater an essential part of a complete equipment.

A very reliable and satisfactory heater for this duty is built by the American Fire Engine Company. It is fully shown in the accompanying illustrations, and explicit directions for operating the same are appended.

Experience proves that the life of the boiler is prolonged by being kept constantly in a state of activity, and the elevated temperature of the water insures prompt and efficient work by the steamer at the very time when a few moments delay may breed disaster.


This text was created by Mike Legeros in December 2011, using OCR software from a transcription that appears in Those Magnificent Old Steam Fire Engines by W. Fred Conway, published 1997 by FBH Publishers, New Albany, IN.


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