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Preserving a Waterous Fire Engine and Local Heritage

Volunteers restore a 1908 horse-drawn Waterous fire engine that was thought to have been retired in the 1920s.

| May 2019

Fairmount engine
The restored 1908 Waterous fire engine, in all its glory.

When Kraig Tracy was a kid growing up in Fairmount, North Dakota, he and his buddies found entertainment in a relic of the past: an old horse-drawn pumping fire engine. “It and an old truck were stored in an old building behind the bank that was kind of a city shop,” Kraig says. “We used to go in there and mess around with that old stuff. We’d sit on the seat, turn the steering wheel and beat on the bell.”

The fire engine's manufacturer tag.

The engine was built in 1908 by Waterous Engine Works Co., St. Paul, Minnesota. The company traces its roots to Brantford, Ontario, Canada, where it was launched in 1844. Charles H. Waterous joined the firm five years later. By 1860, the company was renamed C.H. Waterous & Co.; in 1874, the company was incorporated as Waterous Engine Works Co., Ltd. A branch of the company focusing on manufacture of fire hydrants and related equipment relocated to St. Paul in 1884. That company remains in operation today.

In addition to the time he spent rebuilding the wheels, Paul Jacobson polished the engine's bell, hubcaps and other brass parts. He also added a pair of lanterns. "They were missing," he says, "and I surmised where they were supposed to hang".

A 1908 article in Fire and Water Engineering heralded the Waterous gasoline fire engine as an affordable alternative to steam-powered engines. “The price at which these valuable and efficient little gasoline fire engines may be procured makes it possible for smaller towns to procure them,” the article noted, “whereas the original cost and expense of maintaining the old-fashioned steam rig makes it impossible for many towns to procure and maintain one of the more expensive rigs.”

Shown here in a 1949 parade in Wahpeton, N.D., Fairmount's horse drawn Waterous engine has long been a crowd pleaser. The engine's original drawbar had been replaced at some point by a short drawbar designed for use with a tractor. "I'm 85 years old, and I knew it was horses that had pulled it," Paul says. Photo courtesy Jason Davis.


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