Livermore CA Volunteers Care for Aging Fire Apparatus

Livermore (CA) purchased its first fire engine, a 1920 Seagrave, after the Catholic Church in Livermore burned to the ground in 1917.

Fredrick Seagrave entered the firefighting business in 1881 in Detroit, first building sturdy ladders. Later he was asked by a volunteer fire department to build a hand-drawn wagon. The company moved to Columbus (OH)  and now is the oldest continuously operating fire engine manufacturer in the country.

The 1920 model was the first time Seagrave built its own engine. The six-cylinder motor generated 90 HP and used a three-speed manual transmission requiring double clutching. Two very large chains, like bicycle chains, transfer the power from the engine to the drive wheels.

Since the engine also drives the pump on the truck, the actual engine usage is greater than the chassis mileage. This 1920 Seagrave does not carry any water supply, but relied on fire hydrants — or, in rural areas, creeks or farmers’ ponds for water. It could pump 750 gallons of water per minute.
This Seagrave fire engine served Livermore from 1920 until 1951 before it was retired. It was moved to the Livermore City Water Treatment grounds and parked outside for about 25 years. In 1976 it was towed to the historic Duarte Garage in Livermore where the deteriorated vehicle rested, largely forgotten.

A volunteer group was then formed to restore the old apparatus. The volunteers would meet at the Duarte Garage every Saturday morning to work. Many utilized time at home to work on their particular assignment. There was electrical work, mechanical work, upholstery work, body work, paint work and wood work.

Many local businesses contributed to the restoration, including Lance Cavalieri Jewelers giving 23-karat gold leaf that Ralph Newman painted free hand on the Seagrave. Ned’s Auto Body Supply donated the red paint and Tri-Valley Body Shop painted the vehicle.

In all, over $30,000 was donated to complete it. The vehicle is officially owned by the Livermore Heritage Guild.

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