American LaFrance Steam Fire Pumper

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Aug 25, 2009
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Greetings, I just found this awesome website. There sure is a lot of great items being built and a wealth of information available. So I thought I would jump into the middle of the pond and share what I have been working on for the past 16 months. I purchased the drawings and castings from Coles Power Models for the American LaFrance Steam Pumper. The attached picture is where I am at in the build. Since I am not a purist at heart, I have taken some liberties as to the overall look of the unit. I have seen several full size units and have several reference books. So I am taking those items of interest and incorporating them into my custom made Fire Pumper. I will be glad to post additional pictures and building techniques I use as time permits and if interested. By the same token, I am very open to constructive criticism and will be glad to read any comments. Larry

American LaFrance.jpg
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Welcome to the forum. I'm sure I will not be alone in saying that there's interest!
Your engine looks good so far, looking forward to following your progress.

Cheers, Joe
Larry, welcome to HMEM! Very nice pumper you have there. Looking forward to seeing this one come along!
Looks like some fine work so far. Welcome.
Welcome , and beautiful work on the wheels 8)

IronHorse said:
Welcome , and beautiful work on the wheels 8)

What He said and just look at the turning on the chimney :)

Nice looking pumper! Is that a B&S mill behind it?


Welcome to our forum. wEc1

Nice pumper :bow:

Best Regards

Welcome Larry,

The engine looks fantastic and so does the shop behind it. Maybe you can post some more pictures of the shop as well. Wel LOVE pictures :big:


Welcome to HMEM.
I have been following this build over on SmokStak, and you know I will be following it here as well.

Jim in Minnesota
What a gracious welcome you have extended to me, thank very much ! QuickJ, glad to know that you are part of this forum, I hope to catch up on your projects as well. Yes, I have been making posts on the Smokstak forum since the inception of this build. This web site was brought to my attention again a few weeks ago. So I have decided to do a double posting to reach out to as many model makers as possible. Let me explain, if I may. First, I am 66 years old and have been retired for the past 2.5 years. I have been part of the scientific community all my working career designing and building hardware, instrumentation and mechanical items for research and development purposes. I have been places and done some things that people do not even know that exist. Second, the knowledge, machining techniques, and design capabilities I have developed can not be bought over the inner net or found in books. Third, at my age, it is getting more apparent that the knowledge that I have accumulated will go with me when I leave this world. So I want to share with as many as I can what I have learned and developed while I am here.

When I started to serve my apprenticeship under my father's watchful eyes, he encouraged me to watch the other model makers in their approach to problem solving, machining techniques, machine setups and even the way they sharpened there drills and tool bits. He encouraged me to take what I saw and develop it into what works for me, because no two machinist will accomplish a job in the same manner. The end results will be the same, but different paths will have been followed.

Having said all that, by no means what I may share on this forum is the right way of doing something. They are techniques that have worked for me that I am glad to share with anyone anytime. I love to look at other model maker's projects and see what I can glen from their work.

Do you, fellow model makers, realize that we are a breed set apart ? That we alone can take a piece of paper with lines on it with or without dimensions and make a physical piece out of metal, wood or whatever ? That there are no real apprenticeship programs setup for the world of model making ? Gentlemen and Ladies, "WE" are the last of the "Mahicans".

Steve, thank you for the link. Chuck and I have been sharing some comments over the past few months. He truly has an awesome task on his hands. Great looking workmanship. His approach to the wheels was a little different than mine. I will share my method later.

Pete, the chimney wound up being two pieces. I started the base first and found a lot of blow holes that could not be cleaned up in the top portion. Cole would have replaced the casting, but I had to much time in it to scrap it. So I bought another piece of bronze from "Speedy Metals" for the top section.

Dave, you do what I do, I love to look in the background of a picture to see what I can see. Sometimes the background is more interesting than the subject matter of the picture. Sorry, it is not a B&S. It is a Kearney & Trecker #2 horizontal milling machine. I was able to buy it at surplus with all the attachments and a zillion cutters. It was a great help in building my 1/3 CASE 65 engine.

Bill, I will be glad to post some pictures of the shop at a later date.

Jim, again it was good to hear from you. To you and the others, thank you for your support and interest.

Please excuse me for my ramblings.
steamin said:
It was a great help in building my 1/3 CASE 65 engine.

Please excuse me for my ramblings.

Larry: Ramble all you want, it's interesting. Any photos of the Case would sure be interesting too!

Cheers, Joe
My dad, a fire department mechanic, was at the Lafrance factory for one of their big anniversarys probably 30 years ago. They put on an old fashioned firemens muster, which is a competition.

Lafrance brought out two brand new modern diesel pumpers, and for a while were the kings of the stream competition, where your department and engine see how far you can throw a stream of water.

Well, a team from New York brought their big Lafrance steam over 2000 gallons a minute, it beat the diesels quite handily....The Lafrance brass wasn't sure if they should be embarassed or proud! :big: :big:

Can't beat a positive displacement pump!

Dave, what an awesome story about your father. I can just see the top brass looking at each other right now in amazement. Thank you for sharing. I a book on American Steam Fire Engines that have similar stories about manufactures competing on how far and how high their could shot a stream of water in order to make a sale.

Anyway, since I can not sleep, I thought I would do a little rewind for you on the La France. When I received the castings, I was very disappointed in the quality and detail of the want to be leaf spring packages. So I purchased a coil of 3/8" wide by 0.030" thick blue tempered spring steel. I cut and bent by hand the leaf springs that are shown in the first three pictures. The brass pieces on the ends of the top leaf were roughly shaped. A hole was drilled and tapped (2-56) in it. A clearance hole for a 2-56 brass was made in each end. The two pieces were screwed together and silver soldered. The brass screws were filed away. As I would develop each leaf, I would lay the spring package on the print and massage the leaves as needed. The first picture shows how the brass piece was silver soldered to the ends of the top leaf of the individual spring packagers. The second picture is more of an overall view of the front suspension. I have since done away with the "U" bolts holding the springs to the front axle. I am using the same method as I did with the rear axle as shown in the third picture. I did add a radius rod to keep the rear axle in place. This was not called for on the prints. Instead I was asked to tighten all the components so nothing would move. Doing what I have done has now given the La France a fully functional 'live' suspension.

Joe, the forth picture is of the 1/3scale CASE 65 sitting in my workshop just before we finished up the sheet metal guard for the differential gearing guard.




Engine 1.jpg
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Hi Larry,

Nice details on that, The trailing arm coming off the boiler foundation ring seem typical.

I was at Manchester NH Airport and in the main lobby on display was a steam pumper, I think it was an Abernacke....In any case I remember that it was made in Manchester.

The frame of the chassis went forward under the (horse) drivers seat as a support and terminated near the front where it became the standpipe!.....Those old boys could design back then.

Hi Dave,
There is a reference, I do believe, about the engine you saw in my book "History of The American Steam Fire Engine". If I have the right one, it was manufactured by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Co. which was a part of the Manchester Locomotive Works in New Hampshire. It was quite the engine at the time. The first one was built in 1895. It could play two streams of water to a height of 203 feet in seven minutes after the fire was lite. I will try to scan and post an illustration of the engine.

Some more rewind on the La France:

Picture #1 is a typical hub assembly. The hub material is 12L14 steel. The material is considered "free machining" due to its high lead content. It also has the trade name "Ledaloy". If you put a slight radius on your turning tool and use emery cloth for polishing it will polish up to a very bright luster. This type of steel is un-weldable. The hub cap is brass. I did not want to machine hexes on the hub caps, so I drilled and tapped a 2-56 thread in a short piece of 1/4" hex stock and use a flat head screw from the inside of the hub to hold the hex piece to the hub. The hub was put back on a mandrel and the hex was machined to the finished dimensions.

Picture #2 is a stack of red mahogany wood blanks for the wheel rimes. Sitting on top of the wood are the two aluminum patterns that were used to rough out the rim shapes.

Picture #3 shows some of the rim blanks being glued together with "Loctite" Control Gel. Great stuff !

Picture #4 shows a rear wheel blank mounted to the jig plate that was developed for turning and drilling the front and rear wheels rims.

Continued to next post:

Wheel Hub.jpg

Rim Blanks.jpg

Gluing Rim Blanks.jpg

Jig Plate.jpg
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Picture #5 shows a wood rime with its OD & ID turned still mounted to the jig plate. I am starting to drill the holes for the ends of the spokes.

Picture #6 illustrates a cheap hold down clamp. I bought some fender washers at the hardware store and bent them to give me the right clamping height. In this case they are on the outside of the wood rim so I can turn the ID.

Picture #7 shows a group of three spokes having the taper milled on the ends that will be under the hub. I stated with 3/8" square stock. A 9/32" dia. was turned on one end. Then the shoulder was used to locate the pieces on a sine bar for the milling process. Once one side was milled, the pieces where flipped over and the other side was milled.

Picture #8 shows the pieces developed to machine the taped on the spokes. The block on the left has two dowel pins located such that when the taper slides into the block the spoke self-centers itself around the center line of the 7/8" diameter that will be placed into the collet of the lathe. The steel piece to the right is basically a cap that is a sliding fit on the 9/32" diameter of the spoke. There is a center hole in the opposite end to ride in the live center of the lathe.

Continued to next post:

Drilling Holes.jpg

Hold Down.jpg

Spoke #1.jpg

Spoke #2.jpg
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Picture #9 shows the spoke with its attachments for turning the taper mounted in the lathe. I am fortunate to have a taper turning attachment that made the turning process very easy. After tuning a very light sanding produced a very smooth finish ready for the finishing process.

Picture #10 shows the assembly process of spokes to a rear wheel rim. Once all the spokes were in place, I used "Loctite" Control Liquid for the gluing process. Two spokes were glued together. Then the next two and so-forth. Then pairs were glued together. This gave me a chance to tweak and tune the assembly. Once the gluing was completed the jig plate with the assembled wheel was placed into the milling machine so the hub mounting holes could be drilled on the centerlines of the wheel.

Picture # 11 shows a completed wheel ready for use. The finish on the wood portion is Valspra satin finish spar varnish. I applied two coats and then used Scotchbrite between coats. I do not like to use steel wool, because it leaves little metal particles in wood. The final finish was a paste wax by Miniwax. The wood rims and each spoke were pre-finished before assemble. I just had to make sure I had no wax on the areas that where to be the glue joints. The tire for the wheel was turned from a piece of tubing that I bought from Speedy Metals. They had a size that allowed me to turn the OD and ID to my desired dimensions. The big plus about Speedy Metals is that you only have to buy what you need. Check out their web site the next time you need some materials.

I thank you for your time, interest and support.

Turning Spoke.jpg

Wheel Assembly.jpg

Finished Wheel.jpg
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Really nice Job Larry :bow: - Keep them coming :)

Kind regards, Arnold

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