New London’s Steam-Powered Combination Wagon

Updated: Jul 22

Among the most interesting and unusual pieces of fire apparatus ever to serve in New England was the 1903 steam-powered combination chemical engine and hose wagon that served in New London, Connecticut. It was one of just four such machines built and was the only one known to see service in the United States.

Steam power was an essential part of the industrialization of New England. Steam powered the mills and factories, railroad locomotives, all manner of boats and watercraft, as well as electric power plants. Steam also was important to the fire service. Horse-drawn steam fire engines allowed for the formation of paid fire departments and helped provide improved fire protection to New England communities. In 1900, steam fire engines were the state-of-the-art firefighting technology. A few dozen self-propelled steam fire engines also had been built. Examples were in service in Boston, Portland as well as Detroit and Vancouver, British Columbia. Hartford operated two Amoskeag steam fire engines. These included the 1901 engine, seen above, which served at Engine Company 4.

Steam was a logical choice for propulsion of a fire department hose wagon. Steam-powered passenger cars and commercial cars, as early trucks were called then, had proven to be reliable. Several New England firms manufactured steam cars. These included the Locomobile Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, as well as the Grout Brothers in Orange and the Stanley Motor Carriage Company in Watertown, Massachusetts. Steam cars generally were faster than horses, although they were not fast by modern standards. They were limited by the road