10/10/06 507 W - + 16 - 14 Detective Work

For a few decades now, those documenting the early history of the Raleigh Fire Department cited 1851 as the last year that hand engines were purchased by the city. The machines were named the Rescue and the Excelsior and two new fire companies took those names. The next new pumping engine cited was the Rescue steam engine, delivered in 1870. The Victor Company, however, still operated a hand engine until the 1890s. An annual report from 1891 identified the hand engine as made by Rumsey, a shortened version of the name Rumsey and Company.

These facts seemed fine for Mike, who started his historical research a few years ago. The last hand engines were purchased in 1851, and one of them was still seemingly used as late as 1891. No problem. Fast-forward to this summer and Mike was again immersed in research. Combing through a newfound cache of local documents, he discovered a reference to a fire in 1871. As an ice house burned, the hand engine of the Mechanics Fire Company No. 2 stopped working. They soon abandoned the engine and dissolved the fire company. It was said to have been left in the street.

Also at this time, Mike found that the Hook and Ladder Company had an earlier truck than the one obtained in 1890. An earlier piece of apparatus was purchased in 1872. Between the failed hand engine, and the replacement hook and ladder truck, Mike started thinking. Would the second 1851 engine really have continued working past 1871, into the 1880s and even into the 1890s? It didn't make sense. Mike had also started searching for images of Rumsey and Company hand engines on the Internet. What he found were considerably larger rigs than the "small engines" described as obtained in 1851.

The next piece of the puzzle was found at Handtub Junction, a web site about hand engines. Rumsey and Company, they note, produced hand engines from 1863-1890. Thus, the Rumsey engine cited in the city's 1891 annual report could not have been built in 1851. With this piece of information, Mike started reading newspapers. If the Mechanics Company 1851 hand engine failed in 1871, it stood to reason that the city's other 1851 hand engine was replaced around the same time. And since Mike was researching the Raleigh Fire Department from 1867 forward, he started that year and worked his way forward.

Glued to a microfilm machine at the Olivia Raney local history library, Mike methodically paged through filmed issues of the Daily Standard, the Daily Sentinel, and other newspapers. He focused on the "local" section of each paper, watching for mention of fire topics as well as the minutes of the City Commissioners meetings. It was slow going, requiring an hour or two per newspaper year. Plus the time to scan individual articles, which numbered over 250 by the time he was reading issues from 1873. That was today, and that's where he found the following entry in the city minutes recap: "Mr. Clawson, the City Treasurer, instructed to purchase for Victor Fire Company a No. 1 side-stroke hand engine [at a price] not to exceed $1,500." Mystery solved.

...or not. Subsequent issues of that era’s newspapers did not reflect a purchase of a new hand engine for the Victor Company. No news items indicating same, nor any of the customary parades that were conducted when a fire company placed a new piece of equipment in service. Researching forwarding, the following entry appeared in the recap of the city minutes from August of the next year: “[Committee] instructed to inquire into the practicability of obtaining a new hand engine for the Victor [Company].” So… something seemingly happened in 1873 that prevented the ordered purchase. Unfortunately, the remaining 1874 issues don’t detail the delivery of a new engine. Worse, one of the dailies of the era is missing most of its issues from the second-part of 1874. Maybe there are clues in the 1875 papers, which will be read next. It never ends.
Legeros - 10/15/06 - 13:53

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