A used Columbia touring car that was purchased from Union Sugar Company marked the beginning of Santa Maria’s modern day fire equipment.
Three Crakes brothers, working from Bill’s mechanic shop, lengthened the chassis two feet, thus creating the foundation of Santa Maria’s first fire truck. The truck had a hose bed, 1,000 feet of hose, two ladders, axes, lanterns, a pike pole and a 40-gallon tank for water.
The old engine was equipped with a chemical tank located below the seat. One of the firefighters would unscrew a cap on top of the tank, located between the driver’s and the passenger seats, and drop in a reacting agent. The next step would be to turn the crank on the side of the tank, and that completed the chemical reaction. The chemical extinguishing agent was dispensed through the hose reel mounted on top of the hose bed.
As crude as it looked in comparison with modern day firefighting equipment, it was a great improvement over the bucket brigade and the hand-drawn hose cart, and constituted the first modern, motorized piece of firefighting equipment for the city of Santa Maria.
The old relic remained in operation in Santa Maria and was used to fight fires up to the 1930s. By that time the city had already purchased two new engines, a 1917 and 1927 American LaFrance. When the addition of these two modern engines rendered Old Engine No. 1 obsolete, the city sold it to the Los Alamos Fire Protection District where it continued to be used.
When the Santa Barbara County Fire Department took over the responsibility of providing fire protection for the city of Los Alamos, more modernized equipment was brought in. Old Engine No. 1 was again retired from active firefighting duties and was used periodically as a parade vehicle where volunteers struggled with its three pedals, as well as its difficult shifting and steering.
Since 2013 marks the Centennial year for the Santa Maria Fire Department, and as part of its year-long celebration, the Centennial Committee contacted the current owner of the hose cart, Len Knight of Mussel Fort, and Grover Beach resident Bruce Norman, the current owner of Old Engine No. 1, asking if the Committee could borrow these items to use as part of its Centennial display.
Both owners agreed to lend the relics for a year.
In addition to the hose cart currently on display at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Museum, Old Engine No. 1 is stored in one of the fire stations, ready to be brought out to display at local functions throughout the year. Both the hose cart and the fire engine left the city more than 50 years ago.
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