Posts Tagged Robinson Fire Apparatus Manufacturing Company

Evanston Fire Department history Part 22

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment aboutHistory of Evanston Fire Department

Pensions and White Elephants 

52-year old Assistant Chief Fire Marshal J. E. “Jack” Sweeting died of stomach cancer on Christmas Day 1912, after 25 years of service with the Evanston Fire Department. Sweeting had joined the EFD in 1887 back when it was still a part-time paid fire department, and he was one of the three men appointed as full-time paid firemen in 1888. He was also the first fireman promoted to the rank of captain (in 1895), and the first promoted to the rank of assistant chief (in 1905). He spent his entire career at Fire Station # 1, serving as company officer of Motor Engine Co. 1 at the time of his death.  

Capt. Thomas Norman — company officer of Engine Co. 3 — was promoted to the rank of Assistant Chief Fire Marshal in 1913 and replaced Sweeting as company officer of Motor Engine Co. 1, and Capt George Hargreaves was transferred from Station # 1 to Station # 3 at that time.  

The Evanston Firemen’s Pension Fund was chartered with the State of Illinois in January 1913, and the first pensions were granted in January 1916 after the EFPF became fully funded. Fireman Mathew Maxwell (Engine Co. 3), who retired after 20 years of service, and Engineer William Sampson (Engine Co. 2), who was awarded a disability pension, were the first Evanston firefighters to receive pensions.

Additionally, the widow and minor children of deceased EFD Lt. John Watson (Engine Co. 2), who died of an accidental overdose of aspirin in January 1914 — he had suffered from constant back pain since being injured in a fall at a house fire in 1911 — began to receive a survivor’s pension at that same time. However, the widow and eight surviving children of Jack Sweeting were denied a survivors pension, because the assistant chief made the mistake of dying a week before the pension fund was legally chartered.

In his 1913 report to the city council, EFD Chief Carl Harrison recommended complete motorization of Fire Station # 1, which would allow the seven horses still in service there to be transferred to the street department, retired, or sold. Harrison recommended the city purchase an automobile tractor for the aerial-ladder truck, an automobile double 50-gallon chemical engine to replace the 40 year horse-drawn Babcock chemical engine, and an automobile for the chief.

The city council declined to appropriate the funds needed to purchase a tractor for the aerial ladder truck or an automobile chemical engine, but the aldermen did appropriate $800 for an “auto-buggy” horseless carriage for the chief, and an Overland roadster was placed into service in 1914, replacing the chief’s horse-drawn buggy and Barney the horse. 

While Harrison seemed to be 100% on board with motorization of the fire department — or at least replacing Fire Station # 1’s horse-drawn rigs with automobiles, just a week after submitting his annual report to the city council, a bolt broke loose and damaged four of the six cylinders of the Robinson motor-engine, putting the rig into the repair shop for a month. An exasperated Harrison told the city council that fire departments would probably always need to maintain horses, because automobile fire apparatus were just too unreliable. 

That said, when its Robinson motor engine was in service, the Evanston Fire Department was a favorite source of assistance to other North Shore towns and villages during the 1910’s. The EFD made several jaunts into Wilmette during this era, most notably to a conflagration involving a bank, a restaurant, and a grocery store on Railroad Avenue on August 3, 1916.

And could there be a more unlucky date than October 31, 1913? It was Halloween in Wilmette, and while the village slept, a fire broke out at 514 Linden Avenue, the residence of prominent civil engineer Grafton Stevens. Mr. Stevens escaped safely, but Mrs. Stevens could not get out. So her husband ran back inside to save her, but he also became trapped by the flames. Despite the heroic rescue efforts of Wilmette and Evanston firemen, the couple perished in the inferno.

The Jumbo’s finest hour would come on the morning of Tuesday, December 30, 1913, as Motor Engine Co. 1 raced up Railroad Avenue to the Village of Winnetka — flying past the Wilmette Fire Department’s horse-drawn combination truck while both were en route to the blaze — in response to a call for assistance received from the Winnetka Volunteer Fire Department. A fire at the Winnetka Merchandising Company had trapped residents in apartments located above the store. On scene just a few minutes after the call for assistance was received, members of EFD Motor Engine Co. 1 deployed the auto engine’s two, 25-foot ground ladders to help rescue five of the residents, before the Jumbo’s powerful 750-GPM pump helped extinguish the flames.

The Jumbo also performed yeoman duty at several of Evanston’s larger fires of the period, including one at the Bogart Building in 1912, another at Rosenberg’s department store in January 1916 (where it pumped through the night into the next day), and another at the Evanston Strand Theatre in December 1917.

The Robinson Fire Apparatus Manufacturing Company had a reputation for building custom fire engines that were fast and powerful, but also somewhat cranky and delicate. The engine delivered to Evanston was mostly the latter. To say that the Jumbo was a “white elephant” would not be an exaggeration. But even though it had more than its share of mechanical problems and spent a lot of time in the repair shop, there is no disputing its speed and power when it was operating on all cylinders.

At the time that the Robinson engine was under consideration by the Evanston City Council in 1911, none of the companies that would later become the leaders in the production of automobile fire engines were manufacturing triple-combination pumpers. However, once Seagrave, American-LaFrance, and Ahrens-Fox began to produce reliable and durable automobile pumpers, the temperamental hot rod manufactured by Robinson could not compete, and the company went out of business. And once the company was out of business, spare parts could only be obtained by salvaging parts from other Robinson rigs. That is, if any could be located… 

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Evanston Fire Department History – Part 19

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department

The Importance of Being Earnest 

Even though the $10,000 auto-truck fire engine bond issue was approved by Evanston voters in April 1910, the Evanston City Council took more than a year to purchase the truck. Aldermen wanted a so-called “triple-combination pumper” with a pump, hose supply, and soda-acid fire suppression equipment all in one vehicle, so as to eliminate as many horses as possible.

The only bid received was from the Robinson Fire Apparatus Manufacturing Company, which was one of the major manufacturers of automobile fire apparatus at the time. While Robinson combination pumpers were already in service in places like Long Beach, CA, Wichita Falls, TX, Billings, MT, and Ashtabula, OH, there was some concern within the city council that Robinson might not be able to meet the required specifications, since the company had never built a triple-combination pumper before.      
 
EFD Chief Carl Harrison and the three members of the city council’s fire committee visited the Robinson factory in St. Louis during February of 1911. The visit was apparently a positive one, because on May 16, 1911, the city council signed a contract with Robinson, agreeing to pay the Missouri company $9,000 for a triple-combination automobile pumper equipped with a 2nd size triple-cylinder piston-pump, a 50-gallon soda-acid chemical tank with a red-line (chemical) hose reel, and two 25-foot extension ladders. The EFD would provide the hose load and minor equipment like fire extinguishers, nozzles, hose clamps, etc. 

Known as the “Jumbo” — Robinson’s other impressive-sounding models included the “Invincible,” the “Whale,” the “Monarch,” the “Vulcan,” and the “Master,” — the apparatus was powered by a six-cylinder, 110-horsepower Buffalo marine engine, and featured a front-end hand-cranked starter, a right-side steering wheel, solid rubber tires, rear-wheel chain-drive, two-wheel mechanical brakes, and a hose bed of polished teak like one might find on a sail boat. Additionally, two ten-foot sections of hard-suction hose were strapped to the sides of the truck, each resting just above the front fenders, behind the headlights. Also, several kerosene lanterns were hung from the outside of the apparatus, and a bell was mounted in front of the steering wheel on top of the cowl. As was common for the time, the truck had no windshield.

The auto-truck was fast, powerful, versatile, cheaper to operate than horses, and designed to be manned by a half-dozen firemen or more, prompting the Evanston Index newspaper to enthusiastically describe it as “an entire fire department in itself!”

The Jumbo built for the City of Evanston, was Robinson’s pride & joy, so much so that it was displayed and demonstrated at the International Association of Fire Engineers Convention in Milwaukee in September 1911. Although the idea of combining a pump, hose supply, and chemical fire suppression system in the same gasoline-powered vehicle probably sounded crazy to most fire chiefs of the day, the Jumbo was said to have impressed many convention visitors. Evanston Mayor Joseph E. Paden and Aldermen John W. Branch, Howard M. Carter, and James R. Smart traveled to Milwaukee on September 20th to meet with Robinson representatives and arrange for delivery of the apparatus.

The fire engine arrived in Evanston during the first week of October 1911, and was road-tested over a three-day period starting on October 3rd. A Robinson engineer named Earnest Erickson drove the five-ton Jumbo up and down the streets of Evanston, reaching a mind-blowing top-speed of 35 MPH. Holding on for dear life, Evanston aldermen Branch, Carter, and Changelon and two engineers from the National Board of Fire Underwriters (NBFU), Dr. F. A. Raymond and Kenneth Lydecker, rode along on the test drive. The road-test was terminated early due to an overheated crankcase bearing, but otherwise it was deemed a smashing success. .

The Robinson Jumbo passed capacity and pressure pump tests supervised by the two engineers from the NBFU at Becker’s Pond — now known as Boltwood Park —  on Monday, October 23, 1911, successfully pumping 750 gallons of water per minute at 110 pounds per square-inch through two 2-1/2” hose-lines fitted with 1-1/4” nozzles. So the pump was officially certified as 750 GPM, rather than the typical 700 GPM of a 2nd size steam fire engine.  

The apparatus was accepted by the Evanston City Council on November 14th, and went into service as Motor Engine No. 1 ten days later. The motor engine’s first alarm was a chimney and roof fire at a residence at 319 Ridge Avenue in the early-morning hours of Saturday, November 25, 1911. The fire was discovered by Chicago FD Engine Co. 102, which had responded to Ridge & Howard for a report of smoke in the area, and the boys from 102 assisted Evanston firefighters in battling the blaze. Six months later, Engine Co. 102 would get the CFD’s first gasoline-powered automobile combination pumper, a 650 GPM Webb. 

Evanston Fire Department membership was expanded from 31 to 34 men at this time, including two newly created civil service positions, that of motor driver and assistant motor driver, which were equivalent in pay to the engineers and assistant engineers assigned to the EFD’s two steam fire engines. Specifically, motor driver was defined as a combination driver, pump operator, and mechanic. The assistant motor driver was defined as a combination driver and pump operator only. 

Only one member of the EFD circa November 1911 — fireman and motorcycle daredevil Arthur McNeil — was able to pass the civil service exam for assistant motor driver. Nobody could pass the exam for motor driver, so the city hired Robinson engineer Earnest Erickson and his trademark duster and derby hat as a temporary civilian motor driver, but only until such time as an Evanston firefighter could pass the civil service test for motor driver. Erickson would end up spending the next six years as the driver of Motor Engine No. 1.

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