A parade always generates rhythms of its own. As each unit passes, the spectator’s interest level rises and falls. A few weeks ago, the City of Winston-Salem, with a lot of help from the Jaycees, put on a parade to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the consolidation of the town of Salem and the city of Winston to become the modern city of Winston-Salem.

Among the units that raised the most interest were two fire engines, one a 1905 La France steam pumper which had belonged to the old Salem “Rough & Ready” fire department, established in 1784; the other a La France gasoline powered pumper of the consolidated Winston-Salem fire department from the 1920s.

Salem became one of the first towns in America to have a “fire engine”. After a disastrous fire which destroyed the Salem Tavern, one of the most important parts of the local economy, in 1784 they organized a community fire brigade and purchased an European made “fire engine”, which arrived in 1785. That first engine was found wanting, so some local engineers took it apart and made improvements. Over the next 90 years, Salem would purchase several other manually pumped engines


Salem’s original 1785 fire engine. It required assistance from a bucket brigade. The buckets shown were made of leather.

The first steam powered fire engines were developed in the first third of the 19th century. Early adopters included New York, Chicago and San Francisco, all around 1850. In December, 1880, a fire destroyed most of the west side of Winston’s courthouse square. Five days later, the first moves toward creating a Winston fire company were made. In April, 1882, the town took bids from the Silby and La France companies for steam fire engines. Both bids were for $4,000. The town offered La France $3,800, which was accepted, and they took delivery on the first steam La France fire engine in May, 1882.


Winston firemen pose with the communitiy’s first modern fire engine, a La France steam pumper, in front of the Rosenbacher & Son general merchandise store on the south side of courthouse square sometime in the mid to late 1880s. The inscription reads “Winston Fire Company No. 1, Organised, Feb, 1882”. The name of the photographer, S.E. Hough is inscribed at lower left.

1905 La France.jpg

Winston-Salem firemen prepare Salem’s 1905 American La France steamer for its appearance in the May 11, 2013 centennial parade. The key identified parts were standard for all steam powered fire engines of the time. The frame arch was necessary to allow the front wheels to be turned at a 90º angle at the scene of the fire to help prevent the vibration of the engine from causing the engine to creep forward.

The air chamber was an important innovation, because early engines, being cyclical, caused the water to emerge in squirts. The air chamber allowed water to rise into the chamber, compressing the air, thus damping the squirting effect and giving a steadier stream.


Three years after Winston received its first modern steamer, Salem ordered their first steam engine, seen below, from Button.


By the early 1900s, Winston had two La France engines. In 1905, Salem ordered their first La France engine. Upon delivery, they transferred the 1885 Button to the newly formed West Salem fire district.


Salem’s 1905 American La France steamer, sometime around 1908-10, in front of the Salem “Rough and Ready” fire station at the corner of Liberty and Cemetery Streets. The driver is Andy Peddycord, who was the chief wagon driver for the town of Salem. His oldest son was also qualified to drive the Salem fire engine.

At the time of the consolidation of the two towns in 1913, the Sanborn Insurance maps showed the following information as to the fire fighting capabilities of the two towns:


Later that year, the city of Winston ordered its first self powered fire engine, an American La France Type 12 Triple Combination Pumping Car. The price was $9,000, to be paid $2,500 down, another $2,500 at the end of the first year and $2,000 at the end of each of the third and fourth years. The type 12 was delivered on August 5, 1912.


In March of 1913, Winston suffered one of its most infamous fires, in the O’Hanlon drugstore building at the corner of Liberty and Fourth Street. Edward O’Hanlon’s drugstore had been built following yet another disastrous 1880s fire. He had enjoyed great success in his new building and had been talking for some time about taking it down and building a much improved “skyscraper” with several floors of office space above his drugstore.


The 1913 O’Hanlon drugstore fire attracted quite a crowd of onlookers. The O’Hanlon building is at dead center. A city streetcar is halted at the right, in front of O’Hanlons fiercest competitor, V.O. Thompson’s drugstore. Smart citizens visited both each day, because if you missed the gossip, you were not clued in on what was happening in town.


A detail from the O’Hanlon fire of 1913 shows the crowd. Note that everybody in the picture is wearing a hat. Boys are wearing cloth caps. Men are wearing mostly either fedoras or homburgs. Women are sporting the latest styles from Paris. And the lone little girl, at left, is copying them. No self respecting citizen, male or female, would have dared leave home without a hat. Also note that some of the women are wearing only white blouses. These must be “office girls”, because no respectable married woman would have appeared in public without a jacket. Times do change, don’t they?


Another detail from the 1913 O’Hanlon fire shows one of the local steamers on Fourth Street between Liberty and Trade Streets. From the overall configuration and the dark band on the boiler, we can be pretty certain that the steamer is one of Winston’s American La France engines.

The outcome of the O’Hanlon fire was nebulous. The O’Hanlon building and some neighbors were gutted, but not destroyed. O’Hanlon opted to demolish them and proceed with his dream of a high rise building. The result was the tallest building in Winston and Salem at the time.

Over the next few years, the new city would acquire more gasoline powered fire trucks. By 1920, Winston-Salem, after its first annexation of the northeastern part of Ardmore, had become the most populous city in North Carolina at 47,000 plus. But population growth was so fast that by 1926, after two more Ardmore annexations, the city had over 71,000 residents. City services struggled to keep up with the demand. In 1923, the city authorized the purchase of an American La France pumper, priced at about $40,000 and paid for in three equal installments. But it immediately needed at least two more.

As the city grew, more and more was spent on improved fire engines. But financial reality kept the old engines on the force. At some point not too long ago, the local fire chief proposed surplussing of the last of the 1920s engines. Fortunately, some of the local firefighters rose up in defense of the 1923 La France engine. It was quietly moved to an exhibition space at the fairgrounds, but was never actually removed from the official roster, being retained as a “reserve” engine. But it has not been capable of actually running for many years.

Last year, in anticipation of the 2013 Centennial parade, the 1923 engine was moved from the fairgrounds to Fire Station #1, downtown on North Marshall Street, where local firemen began trying to get the engine into shape for the 2013 parade. In January, WXII TV did a marvelous report on the progress.





Last year, a minimum security prisoner in San Diego stole the unit’s fire truck and escaped. He was caught two days later at the trolley station in Lemon Grove. After the parade on Saturday, our 1923 La France fire engine also went to jail. It will be strip searched and then meticulously restored by a North Carolina prison unit’s auto repair class. Maybe soon it will be able to leave its trailer and drive on its own in a future parade.



Neilson, R. W., History of Government; City of Winston-Salem, NC: All American City, 1766 – Bicentennial – 1966. Winston-Salem, 1966.

Salem People’s Press, weekly newspaper, 1851—1892.

The Union Republican, weekly newspaper, 1873(?) — 1952.

Winston-Salem Journal, daily newspaper, 1897 —.

Twin City Sentinel, daily newspaper, 1906 — 1985.


Old Salem Museums & Gardens

Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection

WXII TV news broadcast, January, 2013

American Cyclopaedia @ chestofbooks.com

Grening, John A; Yorks, S.H.; and Beach, C.H. The Automobile Handbook. The International Textbook Company, 1913.