Innovation of the Era!
Early to Mid 1900s

To Convert or Not to Convert…That was the Question

In the early 1900's, many fire companies began to phase out horses in favor of the gasoline powered apparatus, due to cost and efficiency. So, the firemen had to say goodbye to their beloved horses. For fire companies that made this decision, the next choice was whether to buy a gasoline powered apparatus, or to convert their steamer or other apparatus. In the case of steamers, a conversion was accomplished by adding what was called a gas powered tractor to the front of the apparatus to move it to the fire. A converted steam pumper would still use its steam power to pump the water. Conversions were done for a couple of reasons. First, many firemen did not trust the new gasoline powered apparatus: they could be unreliable in the early days. So, firemen felt that having the steamer continue to pump the water was best: it could always be pulled by horses to the fire if the gas engine did not start. Secondly, it was much more cost effective to add a tractor to an apparatus that was already owned than to buy an entirely new apparatus.
It was estimated in 1910 that it cost $85 a year to run a gas powered apparatus while it took $660 to maintain horses for a year to pull the apparatus. Thus, many fire engines and steamers were converted to gasoline power for conveyance or a new engine, like this one, was purchased. Pictured: 1924 American LaFrance Brockway Torpedo.
This picture shows a steamer conversion with a tractor. Although the steam engine was still used to pump the water, the gasoline powered tractor that pulled the steamer was the means used to convey the apparatus to the fire.