1927 American LaFrance Triple Combination Pumper Model 93
The very beginnings of American LaFrance go all the way back to 1832 when hand operated and horse drawn fire fighting equipment was manufactured. This type of fire equipment building in the early 1800’s typically was performed at blacksmith shops. Prior to Truckson LaFrance and partners forming their company, LaFrance Manufacturing Company in 1873, there were several earlier companies that would go on to eventually form the American LaFrance that we know as the twentieth century fire truck builder. This was the company that would go on to build a variety of fire truck equipment such as ladder trucks, airport crash truck equipment, chemical engines and snorkel trucks. By the mid 1920’s American LaFrance had produced over 4,000 fire trucks.
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 rear axil rear axles.
While the American automakers were required to halt civilian car production during World War Two and begin building military vehicles, American LaFrance continued building their fire trucks for towns and cities across the nation and shipped many overseas per government contracts.
Over these many years American LaFrance built a solid reputation as being America’s number one builder of emergency equipment.
The company Freightliner acquired American LaFrance in 1995 and then ten years later the company was transferred to a New York investment company. Three years later American LaFrance filed for bankruptcy and then several months after that they emerged from bankruptcy. Today the company builds a large variety of heavy truck equipment. Fire truck cabs, refuse trucks and general rescue and utility trucks are manufactured from their Summerville, SC factory.
One of the oldest fire equipment maker in the U.S. was the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company founded in 1903 in Elmira New York. Interestingly enough, this company also built roadster automobiles starting in 1907 until 1914. The story here is that American LaFrance built only twenty-two automobiles. The company’s very first motorized fire truck was manufactured in 1907.
Two interesting side notes are that American LaFrance built some steam powered fire engines during the first decade of the 1900’s and unveiled their first six cylinder internal combustion engine in 1911.
The 1927 American LaFrance pumper featured here is among the most popular series that the company produced. The truck came with a six cylinder engine delivering 130 horsepower. The truck was also equipped with a 500 gallons per minute pump. The truck weighed in the neighborhood of 10,000 lbs.
This 1927 American LaFrance Type 75 Fire Truck would have sold new in that year for about $10,000.
My Car Story:
This 1927 American LaFrance type 93 PWT pumper carries the factory registration number 6077. According to a respected marque database, this pumper was originally delivered to the town of Byrne, IN in June of 1927. It was used in front line service until the 1950s, It was then pressed into service and used by local volunteer department use until the 1970’s when it fell in the hands of Fire Apparatus collector in Northern Michigan. I bought it 1987 commemorating by son Maxxwel’s birth. After all, who didn’t want to own a fire engine. The ultimate convertible. No doors windows or top. It sits high above the ground and you people will always get out of your way when you hit the siren and flash the lights. This served as a regular highlight for my kids birthday parties for years.
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.