FWD/MFD Pumpers

The FWD/MFD Pumper

During the years 1929 through 1932 the Minneapolis Fire Department Repair Shop undertook the complete assembly of eight large pumpers in response to a growing need for larger capacity pumps than could be supplied utilizing the converted Pierce Arrow touring car chassis. Chief Ringer, Master Mechanic James Lyons, and Superintendent of Instruction George Lockhart went to Milwaukee and Clintonville, Wisconsin, in April, 1929 to look at the pumpers being built by Milwaukee Fire Department Master Mechanic William F. Striebel from Four-Wheel-Drive Auto Company components. They returned to report that the repair shop could build pumpers “equal or superior” to those bought on the open market for two-thirds of the price and the city council authorized bids for the necessary components.

Design of the new Minneapolis pumpers clearly reflected the Milwaukee precedents, to the extent that the Four-Wheel-Drive company was the only bidder on components. The bids called for only those components that could not be built locally: motors, axles, transmission cases, transmission gear assemblies, propeller shafts, springs, radiators, steering gears, and wheels. Four-Wheel-Drive provided all of these, but secured the 6-cylinder motors from Waukesha. All else needed to complete the rigs – frames, pumps, bodywork, and firefighting gear – came from the MFD Shop, which undertook assembly of the entire rig.

FWD-MFD #1 went in service in 1929, #2 in 1930. Construction of #3 and #4 commenced in 1930 and finished in 1931. Components for #5 and #6 were bid in 1931, and for #7 and #8 in 1932; all four were completed in 1932. Most were assembled under the supervision of Steven Sande, who succeeded James Lyons as Master Mechanic in 1930.Although the Four-Wheel-Drive Company still built most of the components, they were supplied through E.J. Gerard and (for transmissions, steering gears, and wheels) the C.H. Wills Motor Company for #5 and #6, and through the W.H. Zeigler Company for the last pair, which used Fuller transmissions and Ross steering gears.

Depression budget cuts and political controversy halted apparatus building by the MFD Shop. The city council ordered the fire department to cease all manufacture of major equipment in the shops and reduce force drastically. In early 1933, the shop force dropped from 32 to 21 men. By the end of the year, it was down to 15. “MFD” would never appear again on the manufacturer’s plate of a Minneapolis rig.

The Four-Wheel-Drives proved among the most solid, dependable rigs that ever served in the MFD. Never able to make their rated capacity of 1000 gpm they soon had a gate blanked off and were re-rated at 750 gpm for the Penney pumps (#1 and #2) and 900 gpm for the Northern pumps. The Penney pumps were replaced by Northern pumps in 1941. High, ungainly, and hard to steer, the FWD’s could, nevertheless, surmount the roughest terrain and worst snow drifts. The last ones remained on active duty until 1955, and on the reserve roster until 1960, when “Made by MFD” finally passed into history.

FWD/MFD #5 was restored in the mid-1990’s by two retired Minneapolis firefighters – Firefighter Don Bethke and Battalion Chief Dick Quarnstrom.Its career with the Minneapolis Fire Department spanned a total of 27 years, from 1932 to 1959. During that time it served as follows:

Engine 8          from 1932 to 1935

Engine 23        from 1935 to 1946

Engine 19        from 1946 to 1952

Reserve         from 1953 to 1959

 The photos show MFD #5 running as Engine 23…

…and as it appears today.