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A Rare Breed

The vehicles manufactured by Mack Trucks have a long and storied history, and perhaps none are more iconic that the chain driven “Bulldog” Macks of the 1910s and 1920s. As the Mack Truck Historical Museum relates, “Mack trucks earned this nickname in 1917, during World War I, when the British government purchased the Mack AC model to supply its front lines with troops, food and equipment. British soldiers dubbed the truck the Bulldog Mack. Its pugnacious, blunt-nosed hood, coupled with its incredible durability, reminded the soldiers of the tenacious qualities of their country's mascot, the British Bulldog.”

Our focus today is a 1916 Mack AC/CD (AC was the model designation, while CD stood for Chain Drive) pumping engine, designed specifically for Baltimore City’s High Pressure District (More on that in an upcoming post). Delivered as a special chemical chassis to the Baltimore City Fire Department, what would become Engine 23 was quickly set upon by the Fire Department’s own Repair Shop. A used body from a horse-drawn Holloway chemical and hose wagon was added behind the driver’s seat, allowing the vehicle to carry thousands of feet of hose as well as put out smaller chemical fires.

In 1925, the Repair Shop converted the Mack into a triple combination, by adding a 600 gallon per minute Hale rotary pump underneath and behind the driver; replacing the body with a new fabricated steel one; and mounting three deck pipes on the new body, one on each rear corner and one front and center. At this point, the engine was reassigned to Engine 23, where it replaced both a steamer and a hose wagon.

In 1939, the engine was again modernized, this time with pneumatic tires, wider fenders and running boards, and a siren and flashing red light (previously there were only a bell and an exhaust whistle to alert the public). E23 was also repainted at this time, which required new decorations as well.

Following World War Two, E23 was updated again in 1947, this time with a 150 gallon booster tank and heavier deck pipes. The engine was still hand cranked, however, and with a top speed of around 25 mph, it was not always the first to arrive at a fire scene. By 1949 and now more than 30 years old, E23 was put into second line status. It remained in use through the 1950s and 1960s, getting a two-way radio added in 1961. It was finally retired in 1972 and donated to the Fire Museum of Maryland.

We’ll be doing some more in-depth pieces on E23 in the coming months, detailing the work we’ve done on the wheels and tires, as well as some of the underhood workings. Be sure to stay tuned for those!

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