Kay Pollok’s interview with Bud Steeb when Kay was Vice President, of the Historical Society of Greece September 25, 1972.
This interview with Bud tells the story of the Fetzner Knipper Fire Wagon:
Kay: Bud, how and where did you acquire this fire wagon?
Bud: I first became aware of the existence of this antique piece of fire equipment at a garage sale in Rochester in April, 1970. The owner, Mr. Henry Griffin of Paddy Hill Drive, Greece, took me to the nearby residence of his father-in-law where it was stored in the garage along with a hose reel which was used to carry additional hose. This is a picture of the equipment taken when it was owned by Mr. Griffin. Both vehicles were lettered for the Greece Ridge Fire Department Greece Ridge had them on display in the old firehouse and had lettered them for their company. When the old firehouse was torn down to make way for the new one, this equipment was returned to Mr. Ray Fetzner who was the real owner. This is a picture of the equipment as it was stored in the basement of Ray Fetzner’s garage. Actually, the units were never owned or used by Greece Ridge, as it was always privately owned. Mr. Griffin said that he understood this was the first wheeled fire equipment in the Town of Greece and that he wanted to dispose of it to a museum or a collector, and that he had owned it for a very short while I was afraid that it might be purchased by someone out of the Rochester/Greece area and immediately began to negotiate for its purchase. Mr. Griffin and I reached an agreement and it was acquired by me on April 21, 1970.
Kay: How did you learn the history since the man had only owned it a short time?
Bud: At the time of purchase Mr. Griffin disclosed that he had purchased it from Ray Fetzner, prior to the time Fetzner’s garage on Ridge Road was razed to make room for the expansion of the Greece Towne Mall. I knew Mr. Fetzner slightly and through various talks with him, I was able to put together a history of the fire wagon, which at this time was not complete and is subject to future additions. Ray Fetzner’s story is as follows: During the 1870s and into the 1900s Ray’s father and uncle operated the JMF Fetzner Carriage Manufatury which included blacksmithing and painting. This is a picture of the Fetzner business as it existed in the 1870s.
This business was conducted in two wooden buildings connected by a third structure also of wood construction. A photo of this business exists in the Greece Historical Society archives through the courtesy of Mr. Fetzner Adjacent to the Fetzner family business and a short distance to the west was Peter Knipper’s Hotel, which was later operated by his son-in-law, William Buckert, and known as Buckert’s Hotel. Sometime in the 1890s a fire damaged a Fetzner property since there were no organized fire companies in Greece, the Fetzner and Knipper families decided, for their mutual protection, they had better seek a better way to combat any future fires than by the old and only method known then, the bucket brigade. The result was the purchase of a then modern and sophisticated for the time, piece of firefighting apparatus which is our subject of discussion.
Where it was purchased and exactly when and by whose foresightedness, it’s not known today. But in retrospect, it certainly must have been a wonderful addition to the Ridge Road scene in those happy and uncomplicated Victorian days. Ray Fetzner, who admits to being in his mid-seventies, states that it was housed in a small shed between the Fetzner and Knipper establishments as far back as he can remember. This picture shows the firehouse we referred to and believe it or not, that is Ray Fetzner holding the hose This was apparently a demonstration of the fire-fighting equipment. Mr. Peter Knipper, who was the first chief, stands under the street light and Ray Fetzner’s father stands in the doorway of the firehouse Ray, as a young man, helped to pull the equipment to fight fires. A picture of the firehouse and the Fetzner garage which Ray operated for so many years, is also on file in the Greece Historical Society archives. Again, through Mr. Fetzner’s kindness.
Kay: Bud, who were the builders of this equipment?
Bud: Well, whether the fire wagon was imported to the United States complete as it now exists, or whether only the pressure tanks were imported, is not known. On each of the two tanks, which are solid brass of riveted and brazed, construction, are two identification tags which are soldered on. One square embossed brass tag has the following description: “Fire extinguisher, F Carlier’s patent, U.S. Monnet and Company, Paris, France, 40 Rue Notre Dame, Pat. March 30, 1869”. The other tag is oval in shape and is embossed “Bate and Pinkham, pat. March 30, 1869”. They apparently were the importers.
The hose reel is obviously a carriage shop fabrication and very nicely done. Ray Fetzner is not sure who made it, but in all probability, it was made in the Fetzner Carriage Shop. This is a purely personal opinion based on my examination of several commercial and manufactured hose reels.
Kay: How was this equipment operated, and how was it moved to a fire?
Bud: Essentially, this equipment comes under the classification of a soda acid, pressure-operated, hand-drawn extinguisher. This picture shows the equipment hand-drawn in the 1972 Barnard Firemen’s parade. It operates on the same principle as an extinguisher still used, which hangs on a wall on a hook and is activated by tipping upside down. The tanks on the fire wagon, which are mounted vertically,
employ a crusher to release a sulphuric acid which mixes with the soda water solution in the tank, thereby generating tremendous pressure. While I do not know exactly how the equipment was handled, I assume that the tanks were charged with a soda water solution, and a two-quart bottle of acid was placed in the crusher which was incorporated in the pressure-type cap The crusher was a brass cage built on the bottom of the cap so that when the cap was screwed on tight against the heavy gasket by means of a 26-inch spanner, the bottle was inside the tank ready to be broken by the crusher which was screw-operated from the outside of the cap. A seat placed between the tanks was occupied by a fireman with his feet placed on stirrups at the bottom level of the tanks, who on the way to the fire operated the crusher handle so that on arrival at the fire, the front tank was pressurized When the front tank was exhausted, the rear tank was used while the front tank was recharged This was accomplished by a system of valves and piping known as a Siamese manifold.
Kay: Bud, what are the physical characteristics of a fire wagon?
Bud: Well, the length is seven-foot-three, the draw-bar length is six-foot-six, with a quick detachable rig on it. The overall length of the wagon is 13 feet nine inches. The width is five foot eight, the height is five foot five. The estimated weight is 1,500 pounds. The tanks are 18 inches in diameter by 35 inches high of brass plate, tapered at the top like a thermos bottle. The front wheels are 38 inches in diameter. The rear wheels are 43 inches in diameter with brass hub caps and iron tires. The front toolbox has compartments for eight bottles of acid. The rear toolbox holds 50 feet of high-pressure hose and nozzles, a fire axe, a pinch bar, a spanner wrench for tank caps, wagon jacks, wrenches, etc. Other equipment consists of two kerosene fire department lanterns on brackets, two 100-pound pressure gauges (one on each tank) test petcocks, Siamese manifold with necessary valves, four coated fabric fire buckets, a leather embossed belt “alert hose #1” and a white chief’s helmet with a hand-painted tablet showing side arm hand pumper with initials PK which stands for Peter Knipper who was the first chief of this fire company. The hose reel is four foot six inches long with a draw-bar four foot four inches long, giving an overall length of eight foot ten inches. It is 48 inches wide and the wheels are 49 inches in diameter. It carries an eight-inch wooden drum with eight 18-inch winding handles on each side of the drum.
Kay: This equipment is now the property of Mr. Bud Steeb, who feels these historical items should not leave this area, but should always be associated with the Greece Historical Society. Thank you, Bud, for a job very well done.
(Bud Steeb sold this fire wagon to the Greece Historical Society for $1,500 in 1979.)
Typed: 5/24/88 Digitized: 11/07/2022