Saturday, December 19, 2009

Some Tacoma Apparatus from Engine 17's Era

That is, the 1970 era and forward a bit.

Since I still do not have early pictures of 17, I'll have to paint it for you using other photos. I'll probably go off on a lot of silly tangents. I apologize for that in advance.

This Mack is the sort of piece that was front line when Fire Station #17 was opened in 1955. This is one of a handful of apparatus that the Tacoma Fire Department has quietly held on to. They also kept one of Engine 17's sisters, though I don't know yet which one it was. My Engine 17, the dalmation-painted engine in Florida, and the one Tacoma still has, accounts for three of the eight sisters, leaving five unaccounted for. I suspect that at least one was stripped for parts while still with Tacoma, but I am not sure. Anyway...see, I digress! So... about this Mack, I can't see which unit this is marked as, but I am going to use this era's door markings to go forward. The circle reads TACOMA on top and FIRE DEPT on the bottom, and has the unit number in the middle. I think it might say No. 5 but I am not sure. Not that it matters for this ramble.

Moving forward about fifteen years, here is one of the famous (in my mind) eight 1970 American LaFrance Type 900 sisters, one of which is my Engine 17. Times were different then... note the firefighter standing in the jumpseat well behind the cab, looking over the roof. This sister was marked as Engine 6 when the photo was taken, and shows the door lettering that would be used on all new deliveries at least through 1980. Note also the hand-painted unit number on the nose, and between the windows on the side.

The next two photos are from the 1974 Daffodil parade. When Tacoma obtained the eight sisters, they also took delivery of two Snorkel truck companies and a tiller-drawn aerial (TDA) ladder truck. Actually, two TDAs were ordered, but one of them was damaged when the train it was being shipped on derailed. American LaFrance offered to repair it, but Tacoma opted to wait and get a new one (which was eventually delivered in 1972), while the damaged aerial was repaired and sold to another fire department. Anyway, these two photos show one of each of these types of units in their original livery.

Right around 1983 or 1984, Tacoma decided that the old-style lettering was not visible enough at distances. The solution was to fit each unit with large, reflective company numbers. You saw an example of this a couple of posts ago in the old photo I found of Engine 5 (shown as assigned in later years to Engine 8). What you can't see in this photo is that the side numbers on the cab between the windows were allowed to stay, and the large reflective number was placed on the bottom rear compartment doors on each side. At least the original door paint remained.

The rig below was originally Truck 3. When it got its huge reflective numbers, the hand painted stuff was allowed to stay for the time being. The Snorkel boom on the identical Truck 4 was later damaged and removed, and Truck 4 took the identical rig from Truck 3 when Truck 3 got a new and much shorter rig better suited for north Tacoma in 1980. Oops... another tangent... so anyway, when old Truck 3 got assigned as Truck 4 later, the hand-painted "3" between the cab windows was replaced with a smaller version of the reflective decal concept at the same time that the rear big decal was swapped from a "3" to a "4". The hand painted door lettering was also removed, and replaced with Tacoma's new standard maltese cross door insignia - a design still in use today, over 20 years later. When the fad of huge reflective numbers wore off, Tacoma moved forward again and adopted the concept of interchangeable placards, a system in use all over the country today. This was actually a good change. Now, swapping units was easy when crews had to exchange units when relieving each other after long incidents, and especially when using a reserve rig. It was no trouble at all to slap your company ID on whatever unit you were going to use. So ... anyway, here is Truck 3 during its later time as Truck 4, all hand lettering is gone, the reflective number decals are still there, but made redundant by the new placards.

That's progress. It ain't all bad, I guess, but for the work I hope to get done on Engine 17, I want that original hand-painted look. I will throw crucifixes and garlic at large reflective decals and placards.

Here's your parting shot though: Today's Tacoma Engine 17 in all her glory:

Thanks for reading.


  1. I'm really loving reading about all this history and trivia! And I for one don't mind the tangents. :D

  2. Gah! Frank! I don't want to hear about Tangents! I'm going crazy with logs in pre-calc as is!

    Oh, wait, THOSE tangents are fine. I'm a big fan of dept. history ;)