Although today it takes six WyoTech students to move a Nott steam fire engine, the same piece of machinery was pulled by two horses when it was purchased by the city of Laramie in 1908.
WyoTech is restoring the antique steam engine, which has been sitting in storage for the last 20 years. A display area at the city’s new fire station in West Laramie will be its next home.
This week, students in the school’s street rod division are sandblasting layers of paint off the engine to reveal bare metal, which they’ll repaint in maroon and red with gold and black floral designs and striping.
Yesterday, half a dozen students rolled the engine ¾ still with its original five-foot-tall wooden wheels ¾ across the workshop to show off their progress, the empty tongue for hitching horses extending off the front.
Steam fire engines, which were built by a handful of different companies, were used as early as the 1830s. A similar engine used in Tucson, Ariz., was purchased in 1910 for $2,500.
A large coal-fired boiler is the central element to such a machine. When hot, it produced steam to work a pump that sucked water from a tank or hydrant through a hose and onto the fire. The boiler could be ready for operation in just a few minutes.
“I would have loved to see these guys in action while they were doing it,” Gary Puls, WyoTech’s street rod coordinator, said.
Many models were upgraded with engines to replace the horse-drawn apparatus and their lives extended. Many more were melted down for scrap metal during World War II.
Gary Egge, project manager for the Laramie Fire Department, said Laramie’s was a 1907 model that was used into the 1920s. It was loaned to Cheyenne in 1942 for display, then requested back in 1987. It was returned in 1990 and has been sitting in storage at the Albany County Fairgrounds since.
“Many people in the department and city thought that wasn’t a good place for it,” Egge said. “When we designed this new station, we designed a place to display it.”
That display will also include historic photographs and a plaque recognizing WyoTech and the participating students for their help.
Puls said the oldest vehicles he’s worked on at the school prior to this project have dated back to the 1920s. The first step in the restoration was to peel back layers of paint to figure out what the original design was.
“Once we blast it off, we don’t get a chance to see what was there,” he said.
Students have also stripped paint off the boiler’s hardware back to its original nickel.
“They’ve been painted and spray-painted over the years different colors. We took all that off and we’ve been polishing it,” he said.
Once all the paint is removed, students will sand the engine smooth and repaint it to mimic the original designs, of which remnants still existed underneath layers of newer paint.
Travis Bird, a WyoTech student from Brighton, Colo., said he and the other dozen students involved in the project have been researching the engine on the Internet. So far they’ve learned that not many still exist and that information about those that do is in short supply.
“It’s really hard to research,” he said.
Egge said the new fire station should be completed by early next year. (Laramie Boomerang)