American LaFrance was one of the oldest and most storied manufacturers of fire apparatus in the United States. The company’s roots can be traced back to 1873 when they built hand-held firefighting equipment. They soon moved on to horse-drawn apparatus and in 1904, began fitting their equipment to truck chassis, a legacy that continued until their abrupt closure in 2014. Early American LaFrance fire engines were renowned for their toughness, exceptional quality and strong performance thanks to the massive engines. In fact, the engine was so powerful for the day, that a small run of road-going speedsters were built to showcase the power plant. The speedsters were quite big, but also quite fast thanks to the 130 horsepower, 900 cubic inch (14 liter) T-head inline six. Even when loaded up with firefighting equipment, an American LaFrance could deliver strong performance and reliability. American LaFrance understood these were huge investments for small towns and cities, so reliability and longevity were paramount. Beyond the magnificent build quality, the engines featured redundant ignition systems, with both magneto and distributor, 12V electrical systems, and robust chain drive rear axles.
This 1927 American LaFrance type 145 PWT pumper carries the factory registration number 6077. According to a respected marque database, this pumper was originally delivered to the town of Milwaukee Township, WI (now known as the City of Glendale) in June of 1927. It is unclear how long it was in service, but it has since been restored and is now in very usable and attractive, though not a concours example. The huge inline six runs strong, and shifting the 3 speed transmission is easy – though thanks to the massive torque, not something you have to do very often! It still retains a full complement of accessories, including ladders, hose, and plenty of other wonderful period details. Large wooden artillery wheels are in fine condition, and the body is straight and solid all around. The nickel bright work is in good order and displays a fine patina of a truck that has been worked hard but well maintained. Unlike some collectible fire apparatus, this American LaFrance pumper is a manageable size, making it ideally suited for the average collector who may not have a warehouse to store it in. It is big enough to make a statement but not so big that it can’t be driven on the road easily. Thanks to the reliable nature and tremendous torque, these are a joy to drive. Besides being a great conversation starter, it would be well suited for fun weekend outings or casual shows. This is a delightful piece of history with plenty of stories to tell and plenty of stories still to make.