In 1896, with its second-hand piston-pump Steamer "in very bad shape, not fit to run to a fire," an 1896 third-size Silsby Steam Fire Engine, Type 2D, #2483 was purchased for the Wissahickon Fire Company in September of that year for $2,800. The horse-drawn Engine was built by the former Silsby Manufacturing Company of Seneca Falls, NY. Silsby, along with Clapp and Jones, Ahrens Manufacturing Company, and Button Fire Engine Works, merged to form the conglomerate American Steam Fire Engine Company in 1891. The Steamer was capable of pumping 600 gallons of water per minute, and weighed 5700 pounds, requiring a team of two horses to enable it to quickly respond to fire calls. The Steamer was housed with a parade on Thanksgiving afternoon of that year.
The horses used to pull the Steamer also doubled in service pulling the street repair wagon and sprinkling the borough's dirt streets to reduce the despised dust clouds. When the fire alarm (an old locomotive tire) sounded, the driver would bring the horses back to the fire station to be harnessed to the Steamer. The horses knew their job, and sometimes when the alarm sounded and the driver wasn't aboard the repair wagon, the horses would take off for the station before he could climb aboard.
In the early 1900s, the Company depended heavily upon Kate, Lady George, Fanny, Bill, Arthur, Frank and Lou, all horses that were used to pull the Company's apparatus to the fire calls.
The Silsby Steamer was used for many years before being replaced by motorized apparatus. In fact, in 1916 the Company trades the Steamer to American-LaFrance for $200 to help pay for their new apparatus. In a gesture of good will, and probably helped by a limited market for used horse-drawn equipment, American-LaFrance returns the Steamer to the Company, where it's remained ever since. The Silsby Steamer stands today as a piece of our history, tradition and pride and frequently leads our firefighters in prominent parades across the state.
The Company is proud to have its Steamer prominently displayed during 2008 at theAmerican Museum of Natural History in New York City as part of the museum's "The Horse" exhibit, with an expected 500,000 visitors.
In preparation for its visit to the museum, the Company removed a half-century of black paint from portions of the Steamer to determine what the original colors were. In doing so, we uncovered the original red paint and an intricate gold-leafed pattern, along with a prominent logo depicting "AFD", assumed to be Ambler Fire Department. While the Steamer is on loan, plans will be developed to restore this keepsake to its original appearance upon its return.