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American LaFrance: Nice too

ER Classics Desktop 2022

Most American action films have chases. Chases in which police cars - of course howling sirens and flashing lights and with V8s in them - are driven to scrap metal en masse. What you see a little less often are chase-like or flight actions in which the good or the bad races through New York with such an American icon: a fire truck from the AmericanLaFrance brand.

American LaFrance

American LaFrance (ALF) was a manufacturer mainly focused on the production of fire engines, ambulance and rescue vehicles. Originally located in Elmira, New York, the company's last branch, which closed in 2014, was in Summerville, South Carolina. There was also a Canadian factory in Toronto, Ontario, where it sold appliances under the LaFrance-Foamite name until 1971.


Launched in 1832, the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company was one of the oldest fire-fighting equipment manufacturers in the United States. Officially, the company was founded in 1873 by Truxton Slocum LaFrance and partners as the LaFrance Manufacturing Company who sold hand-powered equipment. A predecessor, the International Fire Engine Company, built some steam-powered pumps between 1903 and 1907. The aircraft built by International included horse-drawn steam fire boats, hose cars, and hook and ladders.

The LaFrance Fire Engine Company was founded in 1903

ALF delivered its first motorized fire engine in 1907. The company was sold a number of times, but kept its name. Meanwhile, the ALF fire engines were fast and reliable. Therefore, several ALF fire engines were converted into racing cars over time. That was a cheap way to get a fast and reliable sports car. The fire trucks were generally well maintained, had driven little and cost little. In 1911, the cardan shaft was no longer a novelty, but especially manufacturers of cars with large and strong engines still preferred a drive with chains and American LaFrance. By changing gears, the car could be easily adapted for use on public roads or the track.

As a fire engine or as a racer

An early ALF was not easy to ride, but it steered relatively light. Braking, on the other hand, required a lot of muscle power, because only the rear wheels were equipped with brake drums. For shifting the unsynchronized three-speed gearbox, experience was an absolute must and starting the engine was quite a job. First, pressure had to be built up in the fuel tank with a hand pump, then the ignition was set to 'late' and the choke pulled out. After opening the bonnet, petrol had to be poured into the cylinders with an oiler. The ignition coil was then turned on and the decompression button pulled, after which the engine could be cranked.

Once the engine was running, all the various levers and levers had to be returned to their original position.

ALF made fire trucks in all flavors

But the approach was that thick gasoline blocks hung. And cinematically, the enormous ladder trucks (often with co-steering and by a separate helmsman operated rear axle of the semi-trailer) turned out to be the most suitable for the American high-rise buildings.

An ALF V12 in the Netherlands

If you see such a giant standing at a Dutch classic dealer, and a ready-to-drive twelve-cylinder from 1946, then you will fall apart. And it proves that the "grumbling about traders" you sometimes hear is completely unfounded. Of course a trader has a revenue model. But if Joop Stolze is proud of and happy with his ALF, then as a classic enthusiast he scores the full bonus points.

11 Comments

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  1. In the Comedy Capers (light years ago on TV) they also regularly drove such fire trucks with a helmsman on the back, wonderful to see.

  2. Who still remembers the Dutch trio “Red, White & Blue” in this context? They were three gigantic American LaFrance sports cars that had once served as fire engines in the USA. You could meet them at car events and fairs. Very impressive.

  3. The article says V12 but when I look at the picture I see 12 spark plug cables in a row. Is it not a 2 cylinder in line. 😏

      • Dear,

        There are several spark plugs per cylinder, also check how close they are to each other. This because of the poorer quality of the fuel in the past.
        If I may be so free, with Jay Leno, from whom I learn and learned a lot, an ALF has also paid a visit, from the person who fixed it up, on that ALF there were 3 spark plugs per cylinder. Hence I have it.

  4. A few years ago there was such a gigantic red thing at Laumans that everything else was relegated to dinky toys. Impressive if you can drive (fast) with it. I think it was about 30m long. Or is that my imagination?

    • Yes, found! That is the “American LaFrance Hook And Ladder Aerial Type 31-6” from 1922. With such an extra helmsman at the back of the entire ladder combination.

  5. A nice story, I am still making one myself, driving one from 1917, with a 6-cylinder petrol engine with T-cylinder heads, stroke volume about 2,5 ltr. Per cylinder, and chain drive to the rear wheels.
    Good luck with the great stories.
    Yours faithfully,
    Wim.

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