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A Tour Just For You

As a museum, education is the driving force of our mission. We have established tour programs that are popular with students and adults. For students, they are designed to align with Maryland’s Curriculum Standards. However, most people do not realize that we are ready, willing, and able to draw from our collection to create new programs on a variety of subjects!

On April 21st the Fire Museum hosted a group of 11th and 12th graders from the Friends School of Baltimore’s Automotive Physics class. A few weeks before the tour, Principal Rutstein called to explain the class’s interest in a field trip because they were motorizing a bicycle. The connections between that and our Truck 1, a chain driven 1918 Mack tractor pulling the 1908 Hayes aerial ladder, were easy to make.

Director and Curator, Steve Heaver and I put our heads together and came up with a program. The museum’s collection features a variety of engines with pistons powered by hand, steam, and internal combustion. Since their visit would only be an hour, I led the students through a brief history of hand and horse drawn apparatus. Steve took over to discuss the era of steam powered fire engines and the transition to gasoline tractors pulling apparatus. We kept the group moving because Truck 1 would be the focal point of the tour.

At Truck 1 the students were able to turn the hand crank while the vehicles ignition was turned off. This gave them a feeling for the effort required to start one of our old engines. Then it was time for the grand finale; starting the engine. We explained the process as we went along; priming the pistons with a bit of gasoline, turning on the ignition, depressing the clutch, retarding the spark, pulling out the choke, and of course, cranking.

The students were captivated. The tour and the explanation of the starting procedure allowed them to understand the process as it unfolded in front of them. Once started, we pulled the engine forward a few feet, which allowed the class to see the tension being taken up by the chain as it moved the 12 ton vehicle. A giant version of the motorized, chain driven, bicycles they would make in their class was brought to life.

Regular readers of our blog might remember this video of Truck 1 being driven out of the museum from our Volunteers Blog:

If you are an educator or know one who might be interested in a specialized tour like this one give me a call at 410-321-7500 x102 or email

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