From the Pierce A. Miller Carriage Collection
c. 1901 Nott Fire Engine Company Steam Fire Pumper
A rare artifact of Americana from a bygone era
Rarely seen in any condition
Ideal basis for restoration
Offered from long-term ownership
In the late nineteenth century fire suppression among the largely wooden and densely packed structures of the time was a daunting challenge.
Steam, as it was so often in the time, was the answer. Introduced in mid-century by New England mill owners to protect their massive investments, companies like Amoskeag in Manchester, New Hampshire, took the lead in developing the art and science of high powered, durable steam engines for pumping large volumes of water reliably.
Stockton, California suffered its first great fire on December 23, 1849, consuming the entire business district. A hand pumper acquired from San Francisco in 1850 was the first act of the new Fire Police. Stockton acquired its first steam pumping engine in 1862, brought by ship around Cape Horn. The fraught fire-fighting conditions of the time are reflected in these excerpts for Stockton's fire-fighting logs:
"[I]n its issue of April 3d, the Evening Mail had the following: 'The firemen found that they had not an incipient fire to wash out with a single stream of water, but a full-grown fire fanned by a fresh breeze from the northwest, and increased in violence by the drafts from the chutes in the mill. To fight against this they had but two engines and a Babcock with 'a garden hose and a puny stream' which was of no avail in a fire of such a size. The old relief engine 'Betsy' was stationed on the wharf and did good service, remaining on duty for twenty-four hours. ... Chief Engineer Rolf and Sheriff Cunningham were to be found in the thickest of the engagement, the latter holding the pipe and playing into the hottest of the fire, with as much zeal as if he were pursuing a gang of horse thieves.'"
It wasn't all cooperation, however, as the logs from 1883 recall:
"[A] general alarm was turned in for a fire in a hay shed in the rear of the house occupied by the Hook and Ladder Company. All the companies responded and within a few moments after their arrival a free-for-all fist fight was in progress. The row was accasioned [sic] by a member playing a stream upon a member of a rival company. No serious damage resulted, and, as usual, everything was adjusted amicably after the hose had been rolled up; somebody suggested a drink and the dove of peace resumed her customary place on the alarm bell."
It wasn't easy fighting fires in the 1800's.
The arrival of this Nott Steam Pumper in Stockton is not recorded in its history but is commemorated on the plaque that it has worn for many years in the Miller Carriage Collection.
William S. Nott was a successful merchant in Minneapolis who manufactured leather industrial belting. He also had a penchant for fire equipment, representing several manufacturers in sales to fire companies in the upper Midwest. In the 1890's when cartels were formed to consolidate all fire equipment manufacturers, Nott resisted and set up his own fire apparatus company. It soon captured a large market across the Mid and Far West. Nott was the only independent to challenge the International Fire Engine Company with a competitive steam pumper, such as the example offered here.
Nott enjoyed wide success as an alternative to the cartel and introduced a number of innovative designs including a spiral water tube boiler and the characteristic cylindrical accumulator tank evidenced on this example which appears to be an early twentieth century model with crane-neck frame, sprung front axle pivot and cylindrical pressure chamber.
Elegant, purposeful and highly effective, steam pumpers like this Nott could raise usable steam pressure from their big, efficient boilers in four to five minutes and continue to fight fires for hours, and even days, on end with the steady, profligate streams of water needed to quench nineteenth and early twentieth century urban fires. It has been preserved in remarkably complete, original condition in the Miller Carriage Collection for years and represents a straightforward restoration project to operating or resplendent cosmetic brilliance.
Polished, painted, trimmed and gilded, it is a reminder of the pride, danger and bravery of fire fighters.