On loan from the Minnesota Historical Society, this Steam Fire Engine, dubbed “Ogahmah No. 1”, was built by the Waterous Fire Engine Works, St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Thief River Falls (MN) Volunteer Fire Department at a cost of $2,850. It was delivered on March 8, 1894, just a day after fire destroyed the town’s Great Northern Depot. “Ogahmah” is an Ojibway word meaning “Leader” or “Chief”.
Up until 1912, the engine was pulled by the ‘first team of horses to reach the stable’ after the fire bell rang — the winning team was paid $5.00. In 1912 the city purchased its own team and the fire department kept teams of horses until 1934 when the “Ogahmah” was retired and the last team of horses were sold to a farmer who lived outside town.
The “Ogahmah” was replaced by this motor fire truck, a 1934 Luverne, built on an FWD chassis and equipped with a Waterous pump.
Waterous Company Archive photo
Although this steam fire engine was replaced in 1934, it wasn’t put out to pasture. It was used for several years in parades and occasionally, until 1941, by the Thief River Fall Street Department to clean the streets. By 1945 the water pump had stopped working, but the steam boiler was used to melt ice in catch basins during the spring thaw. In the early 1950’s, the engine was sent to a scrap-metal dealer in Thief River Falls.
In 1953, the owner of Waterous Company learned the fate of this pumper — one of less than 20 surviving Waterous steam engines in the United States. The company rescued the engine and took it to St. Paul for restoration work, which included a paint job, four new wheels, new suction hose, and new brass accessories. The company used the engine in parades and other promotional appearances.
In 1966, the Waterous Company donated this engine to the Minnesota Historical Society along with several other Waterous fire engines from years gone by. It had been on display at the Minnesota History Center as part of their – “Minnesota A to Z” – exhibit from 1992 until 2004 when it was loaned to the Firefighters Hall & Museum.