05/01/09 346 W, 1 I - + 12 - 12 Rocky Mount Steam Engine

Here’s Rocky Mount’s old steamer, which we learned was originally operated by the New York City Fire Department. The 1878 Silsby steam engine was rebuilt by American in 18961, and purchased by the Rocky Mount Fire Department for $2,600. Old Number One had a positive displacement rotary gear pump that delivered up to 650 GPM. It was the department’s first pumping engine. In anticipation of the delivery, a mule was purchased in 1895 for $100. The steamer and mule were first housed in a building near Sunset Avenue and Sorsby’s Alley. Live steam was piped into the steamer, from a boiler at the fire station. This improved the response time for heating the steamer’s boiler. Upon an alarm, firemen placed wood grain alcohol under the boiler, which ignited the coal, which maintained the steam. The mule (and later horses) were moved into their harnesses as the boiler was being prepared. Hose for steamer was carried on hand reels. Water was largely drafted from cisterns or wells, until the first fire hydrants were installed in 1898. Click to enlarge: 

The steamer became a secondary pumper in 1914, when RMFD purchased its first auto fire truck. Old Number One was retired in 1922, after the flues in the boiler burned up at a car show. The steamer remains one of the oldest and most cherished pieces of equipment owned by the Rocky Mount Fire Department. It has been used through the decades as a fire prevention tool, bearing the saying “I’ve done my part, you do yours, help prevent fires.” Source: Display with the steamer, which is housed at the Rocky Mount Fire Museum at 404 S. Church Street. It's an easy place to find, as it's housed in a former fire station. Read more about North Carolina steam fire engines.

1 The manufacturer's plaque reads American Fire Engine Company. Mr. Blogger records Silsby as the builder, which perhaps was the original manufacturer? Other records call the steamer an American LaFrance, though American and LaFrance didn't merge until 1903.

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