ROBINSON FIRE APPARATUS
By Steve Hagy
"Robinson Machines are Wonderfully Efficient, Dependable and Economical." This was the claim in a advertisement appearing in the October 6, 1915 issue of Fire & Water Engineering for Robinson Fire Apparatus Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, Missouri. Robinson was one of the premier manufacturers of fire apparatus during the early days of motorization.
Their line of available apparatus included pumpers, hose wagons, city service truck, chemical cars and tractors for horse-drawn units. The company flourished during the teens and delivered apparatus across the United States. Early rigs were assembled on Chadwick automobile chassis while later deliveries were on a custom chassis.
Although the apparatus itself was sturdy, the power plant wasn't necessarily so. Los Angeles, California purchased a 1911 Robinson "Jumbo" as their first motorized engine. The rig was constantly having mechanical problems and was retired from service in 1919!
More fortunate in their purchase of a Robinson "Jumbo" were the firefighters of Staunton, Virginia. Their engine stayed in working order until 1971 when the motor gave up for the third time. The rig survived and was restored (To see the full story on the Staunton rig, see Enjine-Enjine! Volume 1984-3) and now occupies a place of prominence in the Staunton Fire Station.
For a company that advertised a great deal, sales apparently weren't significant. The hometown department of St. Louis, Missouri appears to have been the largest user of Robinson rigs, although Canton, Cleveland, East Liverpool and Youngstown, Ohio, along with Boston, Massachusetts, Chicago, Illinois and New York, New York, all had multiple Robinson rigs in their fleets.
The company began deliveries of motorized apparatus as early as 1908 and was in business until around 1923. A letterhead from the company dated 1922 states that they supply: "Firefighting Apparatus and Equipment for All Chassis". In researching the company, I have been unable to locate any Robinson rigs that were assembled on another manufacturer's chassis.
Today only a handful of Robinson rigs are known to exist. In addition to the Staunton rig, a pumper that was delivered to Globe, Arizona in 1915 and was acquired by Hila Bend is now on display at the Hall of Flame in Phoenix.
Early this year, an incomplete Robinson pumper was advertised for sale on the Unofficial SPAAMFAA web site. A fourth Robinson is owned by a private collector in Sioux City, Iowa. The hose body from a 1912 pumper was transferred to a 1923 Hawkeye chassis by the S.C.F.D. and placed in service as a hose wagon. This equipment was placed on a new 1935 International Harvester chassis by the department and survives in that form today.
Viewing the Staunton rig sparked my interest in Robinson apparatus and I began assembling a roster of Robinson apparatus and acquiring photos of Robinson rigs. If you have any information regarding the delivery of Robinson apparatus or of additional surviving units, please let me know. Also, if you would like to have a copy of the listing, just send me an email at Steve Hagy and I'll send it along.
Shown below are some of the images I have depicting Robinson rigs.
Cortland, New York operated this 1910 Robinson chemical and hose wagon. The turret pipe on the side looks like it could really knock down some fire!
The Diamond Fire Company of Hazelton, Pennsylvania also operated a chemical and hose outfit. The young man at the wheel strikes a proud pose with the newly delivered rig.
Engine 26 of the Detroit, Michigan F.D. operated this "Jumbo" model with a 750 gpm piston pump. This 1912 delivery still had torches on the rear grab rail. Robinson rigs were delivered with a distinctive radiator cap with an eagle perching on top.
A combination of gasoline powered and horse drawn apparatus was in use when this photo was taken of the Alliance, Ohio department. From the left, the apparatus shown are a Chalmers Chief's car, Sampson truck chassis chemical and hose rig, a 1912 Robinson pumper (a small rig with a BIG bell) and a horse drawn chemical and hose wagon.
One of Robinson's better customers was Youngstown, Ohio. The Y.F.D. had four of these 700 gpm pumpers in service and a Robinson hose wagon. Shown here is Engine 2 of the Y.F.D., a 1912 model that was the first Robinson delivered to this department.
This postcard view from 1913 shows Engine 12 of the Paterson, New Jersey F.D. The hard suction hose draped over the front fender was a typical Robinson feature.
Chelsea, Massachusetts purchased a pair of rigs from Robinson. Engine 2 operated a "Monarch" model pumper while Ladder 1 had a chemical tank equipped city service ladder. The ladder truck carries 280 feet of ground ladders the largest being a 55 footer. Can anyone identify the make of the Chief's runabout?
The U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps purchased at least two Robinson pumpers for use during WW I. The pumper is a 1917 Robinson while the vehicle on the right is a 1918 Dodge-Northern type "K" chemical rig. The doughboys here are stationed at Camp Humphreys, Virginia.
To view an image of a Robinson advertising mailer from 1911, click on the image below:
For additional information about Robinson apparatus, visit the following links:
Los Angeles Fire Department Archive. The Los Angeles Fire Department's First Motor Pumping Engine, The Robinson "Jumbo" - article by Walt Pittman.
The Hall of Flame.
Staunton, Virginia Fire Department