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The Knox Model 8 Motor Pumping Engine

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

(Photo courtesy of Walt McCall)

Early motor fire apparatus came in a variety of configurations.  Among these was the buckboard style.  This placed the driver at the front of the apparatus.  The Knox Model 8 motor pumping engine was the pinnacle of the buckboard style and its most elaborate expression.  The Model 8 was the only buckboard style motor pumping engine to be built significant numbers.  Model 8 pumpers served in fire departments across the United States.

September 18, 1904.

The Knox Automobile Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, was one of the early pioneering firms in the development of motor cars and trucks.  Knox also was one of the most important pioneers in the development of motor fire apparatus.  Between 1906 and 1913, Knox probably was the most prolific builder of motor fire apparatus in America.  

1906 Knox chemical engine at the 1907 New York Automobile Show 

as seen in the January 16, 1907, issue of The Horseless Age.

In 1906 Knox built its first piece of fire apparatus.  This was a chemical engine using a Knox touring car chassis.  In September 1906, Knox delivered it first fire apparatus.  This was a squad wagon that was delivered to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Model R5 hose wagon circa 1908.

Over the next three years, Knox sold scores of chemical engines, hose wagons, combination wagons, squad wagon and fire patrol wagons.  The included buckboard style models as well as conventional engine-ahead models.  Knox is not known to have built any type of ladder trucks.  A significant amount of the body work for Knox fire apparatus was sub-contracted out to the Combination Ladder Company of Providence, Rhode Island.  

The prototype Model 8 being pump tested.

It would not be until mid-1910 that Knox announced the development of its first motor pumping engine.  This was designated as the Model 8.  The standard Model 8 was built on a heavy-duty buckboard truck chassis with a 170-inch wheelbase.  The Model 8 came with a 60- or 90-hp six-cylinder water-cooled engine.  It had a road speed of about 30 miles per hour and could make ten miles per hour while climbing a ten percent grade.  In late 1910, the prototype Model 8 was tested.  

(Photo courtesy of Walt McCall)

The Model 8 was built as a pumping engine-hose wagon combination or in a triple combination configuration.  The Model 8 had a 600 gpm two-cylinder double-acting piston pump, which was designed by Knox engineer Albert Chappel.  These pumps had a large air dome that was visible above the pump and ahead of the hose box.  Some sources state that the pump was rated at 700 gpm, but National Board of Fire Underwriters records confirm that the pump’s actual rated capacity was 600 gpm.

1911 Type 8 West Haven, Connecticut.

On the Model 8 the driver and officer sat over the engine and ahead of the midship-mounted pump.  Ladders and hard suction sleeves were carried on either side of the hose bed.  On triple combinations, the chemical tank sat in the hose bed behind the pump.  The fuel tank sat immediately behind the driver and officer's seats.  Some Model 8 pumpers were built with flared hose beds of the "Springfield" style.  The Model 8 pumper was priced comparably with other mid-sized pumping engines of the period.  Pump and hose combinations cost about $8500, while triple combinations cost around $9000.  

Fireman’s Herald, September 28, 1912.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Model 8 was underpowered.  The 1911 model that was delivered to Ithaca, New York, was built with a 90-hp horse-power engine.  Usage proved that the engine had inadequate horsepower.  Knox agreed to replace the engine with a new 115-hp unit at no cost to Ithaca.  

1912 Type 8 built for New York City.

A Knox Model 8 pumper was  built under contract for the FDNY in 1912.  Upon delivery, it failed the stringent FDNY four-hour pump tests.  It also suffered other mechanical problems and reportedly it caught fire after stalling out while being driven back to the FDNY shops.  It was rejected by the FDNY.  

Knox Model 8 at the 1913 IAFE pump test.

In September 1913, a Knox Model 8 was entered into the 12-hour pump test at the convention of the International Association of Fire Engineers in New York City along with 10 other pumpers.  These included pumpers built by the Ahrens-Fox Fire Engine Company, the Seagrave Company, the Luitwieler Pumping Engine Company, and the Waterous Engine Works, as well as pairs of pumpers built by the American-LaFrance Fire Engine Company, the Nott Fire Engine Company and the Robinson Fire Apparatus Company.  


Pumpers at the IAFE pump test.

The Knox pumper completed the 12 hour test, but its performance was lackluster.  It sustained 596 gpm for the first two hours.  In the third hour it had to shut down for 15 minutes for repairs. In the seventh hour it had to shut down for more repairs.  Despite the repairs, it could barely managed to get through the balance of the test.   

Springfield, Massachusetts, Engine 8 was this 1912 Model 8 Knox.

Knox Model 8 pumpers are known to have served in Springfield, North Hampton and Chicopee, Massachusetts, Ithaca, New York, Willows and Tropico (Glendale), California, Lexington, Kentucky, New Castle, Hagerstown and Greencastle, Pennsylvania, West Haven, Connecticut, and Richmond, Virginia (two), as well as Panama City, Panama, and San Jose, Costa Rica.  It is unknown how many Model 8 motor pumping engines Knox produced before leaving the fire apparatus business in early 1914.

San Jose, Costa Rica.

At least four examples of Knox Model 8 pumpers survive today.  Remarkably, two of the Model 8 pumpers that were exported survive.  Both pumpers are reputed to be the oldest trucks of any type in their respective countries.  The 1910 pumper that was sold in 1913 to San Jose, Costa Rica, now is displayed proudly with other antique fire apparatus in that city.  It has a replacement radiator and front end, but otherwise is remarkably intact.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that this may have been the prototype Model 8.  

Los Bomberos de Panama, Panama City, Panama.

The 1911 Model 8 that was sold to Los Bomberos de Panama is displayed at a Panamanian fire station.  It recently underwent restoration.  It has a Packard motor and a unique cow catcher type front bumper.  

Lexington, Kentucky, as delivered.

The Fire Department in Lexington, Kentucky, still owns its Knox Model 8 pumper.  This rig served as a front line piece until 1927 and then was in reserve until 1949.  It presently sits in the Lexington Fire Department’s Mechanical Division Garage.

(Photo courtesy of Walt McCall)

The fourth surviving Knox Model 8 served in Ithaca, New York.  It was retired from service after the Second World War.  It spent more than four decades slumbering in a barn in upstate New York before it was purchased by Ken Soderbeck.  He later sold it to Keith Franz, for whom Soderbeck restored the rig.  This beautiful piece now is in the collection of the Venerable Fire Collection Museum in Slinger, Wisconsin.  


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