The small city of Colfax, Washington, is located about 50 miles south of Spokane on Highway 195. As the county seat of Whitman County, Colfax is a center of government activity. Whitman County is primarily a farming area, best known as the second-largest producer of wheat among all United States counties. The city of Pullman, 20 miles to the south, is the home of Washington State University. The population of Colfax when I visited was just fewer than 2,500 people.
I made two trips to Colfax to photograph apparatus—in 1991 and again in 1993. Colfax was one of the rare departments that never seemed to sell off older rigs, instead putting them in reserve status. The Colfax Fire Dept. was a city agency, with a rural fire district located elsewhere.
The American LaFrance Scout was an economy model intended for smaller departments that wanted the heavy-duty construction of a custom rig without the high cost and complexity of a larger rig. ALF built the Scout model from 1934 through about 1937. The Colfax Scout was still in active reserve in 1991 and in very nice original condition.
The oldest first-line rig was a 1953 Dodge-ALF with a 500gpm pump, carrying a collapsible water tank for use at fires where the water supply depended on tanker shuttles. The old Dodge was very original, with fading paint and an original 1950s Civil Defense decal on the windshield. As with nearly all pre-800 series ALFs, the pump panel was located on the right-hand, or curb side, of the rig.
Engine 5 was pretty fancy for a mid-1960s small-town rig. Delivered with an open cab, it later received an ALF add-on fiberglass top. The side compartments on the left side were full-height, with the hard suction hoses on top—a pretty long reach from the ground. Power was provided by a Continental Motors straight-6 gas engine. Warning equipment included twin, bumper-mount, electronic sirens and the ubiquitous Federal Beacon Ray.
The newest pumper in Colfax was a sharp-looking 1978 American LaFrance Century Series. This rig not only had full-height compartments on both sides, but it also carried a 24-foot extension ladder above the driver’s side compartment. There must have been a lot of former basketball players on the department to reach that ladder! The powertrain consisted of a 350hp 8V-71 Detroit Diesel backed up by an Allison automatic transmission.
The ladder truck I saw in Colfax that cold winter day in 1991 was a very big deal for me. It was a real piece of history. Originally purchased by the city of Moscow, Idaho, the apparatus was a J-series 1936 Seagrave 65-foot aerial. Introduced in 1935, it was one of the first hydraulically-raised, all-steel aerials sold in the U.S. Powered by a 240hp V-12 gas engine, this was one of the “sweetheart” Seagraves, so named because of the somewhat heart-shaped radiator grille. This was the only such Seagrave I ever had the privilege of photographing. Now remember, this was a 55-year-old piece of equipment that was still in front-line service!
When I returned in 1993, a lot had changed in Colfax. The 1953 Dodge was rusting in an empty lot, and the 1936 Seagrave had been sold at auction to a collector in the Spokane area. The two surplussed rigs had been replaced by a pair of rigs that had been purchased new by the state of Washington for the Washington State University Fire Dept. in nearby Pullman.
The replacement for the old 1953 Dodge was a 1980 GMC-Emergency One with all-wheel drive—a real advantage in an area with a combination of winding roads, hills, and lots of snow in the winter. The GMC was not as neat as the Dodge, but it was certainly more practical. Finding parts for 40-year-old rigs is not always easy either.
The ex-WSU ALF 900 Series 100-foot aerial obtained by Colfax was a lot more modern than the old Seagrave, having an aerial 35 feet longer. The rig had also been re-powered recently with a new Detroit Diesel and had such modern conveniences as air brakes and power steering.
It was fortunate that I was able to document the apparatus of Colfax. A catastrophic fire wiped out the fire station and most of the apparatus not long after my second visit.
During my 1993 visit to Colfax, I was also able to photograph the apparatus in the town of Palouse, 17 miles to the east. At the time, Palouse had a population of fewer than 1,000 people. Like many small farm towns, Palouse operated a combination city-rural department, teaming up with Whitman County District No. 4.
The only rig owned by the City of Palouse was a sharp-looking 1971 Dodge C Series Low Cab Forward with a body by Howe Fire Apparatus of Anderson, Indiana. With a big, rural-sized 750-gallon tank and spacious high compartments, the gas-powered V-8 Dodge was a practical, if not fancy, pumper.
District No. 4’s main rig at the city station was a 1961 IHC B Series 4X4 chassis with bodywork by Western States Fire Apparatus of Cornelius, Oregon. Equipped with a 125gpm, pto-operated pump, this rig was set up for pump-and-roll operation at field or brush fires. The extended front bumper was equipped with a handrail where a firefighter could operate a small hose line. The 600-gallon water tank and all-wheel-drive powertrain were ideal for off-road operations.
Other than a Chevy water tender, which was not available to be photographed, the last rig at the station was a brush truck. Brush 1 was a 1984 GMC one-ton 4X4 chassis with a body by Spokane-based General Truck Body. Equipped with a 60gpm, pto-operated pump and a 300-gallon water tank, the bodywork was built with a low profile to reduce the possibility of rollover accidents when operating on side slopes.
My visits to the fire departments of Colfax and Palouse allowed me to shoot a nice mix of apparatus, including the old Seagrave, which was one of the highlights of all my photo trips.