She sits quietly inside a bay, sharing living quarters with her much younger sisters. With brass fittings and vintage pressure gauges, her age is obvious at first glance but she still gives off an air of unspoken dignity.
There’s no need to announce her honors, she doesn’t need anyone to argue she has done her duty. She’s the city’s first-ever mechanized and motorized fire pumper — Number 1.
The city of Orangeburg took possession of the pumper in August 1920 after placing the $12,000 order a few months earlier. With the ability to toss out 1,000 gallons of water a minute, the pumper was the creme-de-la-creme of fire-fighting apparatus.
The Orangeburg unit is missing a few pieces but still retains a “Moto Meter,” which was attached to the radiator. It served not only as an attractive hood ornament but to warn firemen when the engine’s vital cooling water became too hot.
Under the double-opening hood, it’s got six big cylinders and used them all. Each was once fired by a triple ignition system. The redundant systems were put in place to make certain help got to where it was needed.
Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Engineer Steve Murdaugh said the engine is a whopping 821 cubic inches mated to a three-speed transmission. That produced just over 100 horses which could propel the pumper’s wood-spoked wheels at 40 miles per hour on 1920s rough and tumble roads, with one person driving, another manually turning the Sterling-brand fire siren, and up to four more firefighters hanging on.
The right-hand drive pumper didn’t carry water but relied on fire hydrants and the four water cisterns that were located downtown. The engine’s transmission would be put into neutral while a rotary pump was engaged. The pump was then manually primed with 30-weight oil and, revving the engine to the correct speed, water was on its way.
Number 1 sat for years after being taken out of service around 1950. The proud pumper was then assigned to parade duty until developing an overheating problem. Then she sat — until Hollywood called.
Not as shiny or perhaps as flashy as her much larger siblings, it was Pumper Number 1 that was chosen in 1991 to be used in the period film “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken.” But when the lights from the movie screen went down, she went back into storage.
Over the past few years, though, Murdaugh and others have been slowly bringing Number 1 back to life. The hopes are to return the 94-year-old pumper to her former glory.
“It theoretically could be used,” Murdaugh said.
Contact the writer: 803-533-5516 and rwalker@timesanddemocrat. Follow Walker on Twitter at @RWalkerTandd for insight on the cops beat.