Steam fire engines made by Clapp & Jones serve as a reminder of early firefighting companies
An 1874 Clapp & Jones steam fire engine owned by the Union Fire Company of Frenchtown, N.J. It was purchased by the company in 1888 and completely restored in 1971.
Between 1862 to 1892, Mertilew R. Clapp and his partner, Edward D. Jones, built 500 steam fire engines at a factory located in Hudson, N.Y. Prior to starting his own company, Clapp worked first for the Silsby Manufacturing Co., a manufacturer of steam fire engines in Seneca Falls, N.Y., then later started building his own steam fire engines.
Clapp & Jones steam fire engines were available as both horizontal single piston pumps and horizontal double piston pump, vertical single piston pumps, and vertical double piston pump. American Fire Engine Company acquired Clapp & Jones in 1892.
The fire engine on the front cover of this issue is a Clapp & Jones steam fire engine built in 1874 in Hudson, N.Y. The steamer was purchased second-hand for $1,400 from Boston, where it had been used by the city's fire department.
The steam fire engine arrived in Frenchtown, N.J., on July 4, 1888, and hundreds of people showed up to view it. An article in the Frenchtown Stat on that date noted that the engine, then considered state-of-the-art, "threw water about twenty feet higher than the Methodist Church steeple."
On Sept. 12, 1888, the Union Fire Company No. 1 was organized and 60 new men enrolled as volunteer firemen. The engine was first called out on March 28, 1889, for a wood shed fire. During its long career of service the Clapp & Jones responded to a total of 48 fire alarms and a number of false alarms. The engine was retired on Oct. 12, 1925.
The borough council turned it over to the fire company in 1954, with the stipulation that it could not be sold without the consent of the council.
The engine was completely restored in 1971 by a Trenton, N.J., firm at a cost of $20,000, with the money coming from contributions and fundraisers.
Today, the Union Fire Company of Frenchtown consists of firefighters and rescue personnel, including auxiliary members, junior members, trucks, a boat and an ambulance.
The Union Fire Company wasn't always this prosperous or well equipped, starting humbly, but honorably, 112 years ago for the "purpose of saving life and property of their fellow citizens from fire," as the preamble to their constitution states, and the company has been striving to "live up" to its oath ever since. History will show that they have done just that, and with the help of God and the continued support of their community they hope to be doing so for another 100 years.
Fire companies work hand in hand with us to make our steam shows a reality, and we thank you!
Information for this article and tribute came from the Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, Fire Chief Jerry Hoffman/Union Fire Company #1, Delaware Valley News, Hutch Hamilton, and Harold Seibert, president of the Union Historical Fire Society
Contact steam enthusiast Jack C. Norbeck at: Norbeck Research, 117 N. Ruch Street #8, Coplay, PA 18037
This is a tribute to the firefighters, police officers, and emergency helpers who lost their lives in the terrorist acts at the World Trade Center in New York City; Washington, D.C., and Somerset County, Pa. on Sept. 11, 2001. Many of our members have also served in the above positions and know first-hand the hurt and pain on losing a friend who has worked with you over the years to save life and property. May the needed comfort come to the many families who lost a loved one.
Sincerely, Harold Seibert, President of the Union Historical Fire Society.