INFORMATION ABOUT WORLD WAR II ARMY ENGINEER FIRE TRUCKS
by James G. Davis
Documented information about World War II's Army Engineer Fire Fighting Platoons and the soldier/fire fighters who staffed them is very limited. Fortunately there is a bit more information on the fire trucks they used. It is unfortunate that the information that does exist is often not totally valid and frequently results in a mis-identification of a particular fire truck of that era.
Requests for identification of the subject fire trucks come to me from to time. The reasons vary from: "I saw this neat fire truck on E-bay. Would like to buy it, what can you tell me about it" to I just bought a 1943 Air Force CLASS 300 crash brush truck. Need equipment list to complete the restoration".
The Army Corps of Engineers fielded nineteen different fire truck models in World War II. Following is a guide to help the interested in identifying each model. In addition to the nineteen, the Corps of Engineers purchased an unknown number of "off the shelf" fire trucks (mostly large city type engines) for placement in Army bases and war production plants to be operated by civilian fire fighters. Those trucks were not identified in Army documents and do not appear here.
FIRE TRUCK CLASSES
The Quartermaster Corps created the CLASS system, as nearly as is known, at an unknown date. The Corps of Engineers expanded upon the system as each new type of fire truck was introduced. The system used three digit numbers to define a fire truck's function or its water output, but not both. The CLASSES are: 100 (all airfield fire/crash trucks), 300 (trucks whose pumps produce 300 gallons of water per minute), 500 (trucks whose pumps produce 500 gallons of water per minute) and 750 (trucks whose pumps produce 750 gallons of water per minute). There were no CLASSES 200, 400 or 600. Each Century Number (00) is further divided to identify a specific truck, i.e. 110, 325, 530 etc. The system is not without flaws. Why the Army or writers interested in these vehicles applied the name "Brush Trucks" to CLASS 300 series vehicles in not known. Regardless of whom, when or why the appellation is incorrect. Class 300 series trucks would be better identified as "General Purpose" fire trucks meaning they could deal with aircraft crash fires if carrying foam concentrate and applicators, brush or other wild land fires or structure fires as needed, etc. While the CLASS 300 truck is a brush fire fighting truck the CLASSES 325 and 335 are not even though all four produce 300 gallons of water per minute. Some label the CLASS 500 series as Structure trucks which with the exception of the CLASS 530 (a General Purpose fire truck) they are as their pumps all produce 500 GPM. These are examples of where identifications often go awry.
World War II Army Engineer fire trucks were built on both civilian and military cabs and chassis.
The classes 125, 135, 300, 325, 500, 525 and 750 (all two wheel drive or 4x2) were built on wide variety of civilian cabs and chassis. So, the truck make is, by and large, not usable as an identification factor. The CLASS 100 (6x4) predates World War II and probably no longer exists. On the four-wheel drive (4x4) military chassis models (Chevrolet G-4100 and G-7100 series) were the classes 110, 135, 300, 325 and 525. On the six-wheel drive (6x6) were the classes 335 and 530 (on GMC CCKW) and the classes 150 and 155 on a variety of heavy truck builder's military cabs and chassis. As the 150 and 155 were built in limited numbers it is not likely that a collector/restorer will happen onto one.
H V I N : HOOD VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER
At a date (probably in the early 1930s) the Quartermaster Corps developed an Army vehicle numbering system that would identify the size ranges and/or the function of each vehicle type. The number originally preceded by a W and later by USA was placed on each side of the vehicle hood and somewhere on the back of the vehicle. Of the lengthy list only two numbers, 50 and 4 are of interest here. 50 identified all fire trucks regardless of type or size. 4 identified the CCKW (GMC 6x6) on which fire trucks were built very late in the war.and the 4 ton Diamond T (6x6) on which no fire trucks were built. If your truck meets many of the criteria below and is painted red, carefully remove the red paint to look for a 50 on the hood to confirm your truck is an Army vehicle. If your truck is a CCKW (6x6 GMC) and carries an HVIN starting with a 4 the truck is a class 335 (only 50 were built) or the truck was built up on a CCKW chassis postwar. If your truck carries a 50, it may be a class 530 and is a rare truck.
BUILDERS' AND ARMY IDENTIFICATION PLATES
A World War II Army Engineer fire truck may have had as many as four sets of identification plates. One would cover the vehicle cab and chassis. One would cover the fire truck body builder. One would cover the pump. And in the case of mid-ship mounted pumps one would cover the transmission mounted power take off or the drive line mounted transfer case. In addition there would be Army produced and installed plates relating to things important to the Army. This group could have the truck CLASS identified. If present any or all of these plates are useful in CLASS identification.
The information below, plus the plate information just above in conjunction with the illustrations in the pages following this, will in most cases, identify your truck.
CLASS BY BODY STYLE
Civilian Body Only - CLASSES 125, 500, 500 WLF 750.
Military Body Only - CLASSES 100, 110, 150, 155, 335, 530.
Civilian and Military Body - CLASSES 135, 300, 325, 525
AXLES and DRIVES
Two axles with the rear axle driving include CLASSES 125, 135, 300 325, 500, 500WLF, 525, 750.
Two axles with both axles driving include CLASSES 110, 135, 300, 325, 525.
Three axles with rear axles driving include CLASS 100
Three axles with all axles driving include CLASSES 150, 155, 335, 530.
PUMPS - TYPE & MAKE
CLASS 100 - Centrifugal, Unknown.
CLASS 110 - Centrifugal or Rotary Gear, Unknown.
CLASS 125 - Piston, John Bean or Hardie.
CLASSES 135, 300, 325, 335, 525, 530 - Centrifugal, Darley or Barton
CLASS 150 - No pump
CLASSES 155, 500, 750 - Hale.
CLASS 500 WLF - Waterous
PUMP MOUNTING LOCATION
Front Bumper - CLASSES 135, 300, 325, 335, 525, 530
Behind Cab under Truck Bed (Mid-ship) -CLASSES 110, 125, 500, 500 WLF, 750
Behind Cab on Truck Bed (Separate Engine) - CLASS 155
No Pump - CLASS 150
PUMP OUTPUT in GALLONS OF WATER PER MINUTE
60 - CLASSES 125, 135.
100 - CLASSES 100, 110.
Unknown - CLASS 150.
250 - CLASS 155
300 - CLASSES 300, 325, 335.
500 - CLASSES 500, 500, 500 WLF 525, 530.
750 - CLASS 750.
BOOSTER HOSE REELS - NUMBER
None - CLASSES 125 (see note below), 155, 500 WLF.
One - CLASSES 100(CO2), 110(CO2), 500, 525, 750.
Two - CLASSES 150, 300, 325, 335, 530.
Three - CLASSES 125 (see note below), 135.
BOOSTER HOSE REELS - LOCATIONS
On top of fire truck bed - CLASSES 100(CO2), 125 (see note below), 300, 500, 750.
Under truck bed (Front Corners) - CLASSES 135, 300, 325.
Rear end of fire truck bed - CLASSES 110(CO2), 135, 525.
In fire truck bed behind cab - CLASSES 150, 335, 530.
No reels - CLASSES 125 (see note below), 155, 500 WLF.
WHEELS AND TIRES
6 - CLASSES 110, 125, 135, 300, 325, 500, 525, 530 (early models).
10 - CLASSES 100, 150, 155, 335, 530 (later models).
FRONT BUMPER MOUNTED PUMPS
Pump Clutch Engagement Lever Locations
Darley F 300 and 500 - in the front face of the impellor case.
Darley H 100 - in the front face of the speed increaser case between the pump and the crankshaft pulley.
Barton F 300 and 500 - in the back of the impellor case.
Headgate Openings and Valve Control Handles, Numbers
Darley F 300 and 500 2 and 2
Darley H 100 1 and 1
Barton F 300 and 500 2 and 1.
Pumps With Impellor Speed Increasers
Darley H 100, Ratio - 1:3.94.
WATER TANK CAPACITIES
Many of the CLASSES carry the same number of gallons. It is not common on these trucks to identify capacity and measuring tank capacity is not practical. For those reasons that information is not included.
CLASS 100 - This is the last fire truck mounted on what was a chassis developed by the Quartermaster Corps in the 1930s in their program to standardize the Army's vehicle fleet. How many were built is unknown. It is unlikely any survive today.
CLASS 125 - It appears there were two models of the CLASS 125, the early one with no booster hose reels and one later in the war an updated model with three reels mounted on top of the fire truck body. Two of these were in the usual position behind the truck cab with hoses pulling off the left and right sides. The third was mounted was crosswise on the rear of the body with the hose pulling off the rear of the truck. Collectors finding 125s, particularly Chevrolets, with no reels should check for possible reel mounting points as a guide to which model is being viewed.
CLASSES 150 and 155 - Both these CLASSES arrived in operating theaters of the war late in the war. They both were produced in small quantities. How many survive other than a CLASS 155 at the Department of Defense Fire Fighter Training Academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base is unknown.
CLASS 335 - This CLASS was created overseas by the mating of a water tank from various sources with the pump, piping, tools and equipment from a CLASS 325 (front mount pump) to a 2-1/2 ton 6x6 GMC CCKW. A fire truck conversion body was designed and 50 fire truck bodies for this conversion were ordered in March 1945. It is probable no more were ordered and unlikely that any of these trucks survive.
CLASS 500WLF - This CLASS is illustrated in the Army's 1943 Vehicle Catalog. The narrative material accompanying the illustration has numerous errors particularly the "Additional Data" block. Records suggest 44 of these truck were produced and at least one survives today in the Central United States.
CLASS 530 - The basis for this CLASS was the CLASS 335 substituting a 500 GPM pump for the 300 GPM pump of the CLASS 335. The initial order for the CLASS 530 was 24 in March 1945. How many more (probably many) were built is unknown. One survives today in the Central United States. Here again, the fraternity has differing views on this truck and the CLASS 335. Some say the CLASS 335 was not built and the order was converted to CLASS 530s. Others say the CLASS 335 was built in unknown numbers and offer photographic evidence to support their case.
WATER TENDER - The Table of Organization and Equipment (T/O & E) authorized for Army Engineer Fire Fighting Platoons (EEFPs) one standard Army Corps of Engineers standard 700 gallon potable water tanker and a soldier/fire fighter to operate it. Not all Platoons were issued this vehicle. GMC records indicate 1179 CCKW long wheel base cabs and chassis were supplied to tank builder and truck assembler, Butler Manufacturing Company. Water was delivered from the tank through a Jaeger Model 2PAF centrifugal pump powered by a single cylinder Wisconsin Model AB engine that produced three horsepower. Typical pump output was 75 gallons per minute at 30 pounds per square inch pressure. The pump and engine were housed in a large metal box behind the truck cab. The truck was not intended or set up to operate as a fire truck, just a mobile water supply. Pictures of the tanker converted during the war by enterprising soldier/fire fighters to CLASS 335 6x6s exist. With or without a fire pump, its distinctive tank silhouette makes it easy to identify.
In addition to the fire trucks discussed above the Army Engineers fielded three trailer mounted fire fighting pumps, the CLASSES 1000, 1010, 1020.
The CLASSES 1000 and 1020 were built on the Army's standard one ton two wheel cargo trailer. The CLASS 1010 was built on what appeared to be a variant of the one ton cargo trailer.
While it is unlikely any of these units survive today, they are of historical interest and so have been included. They are illustrated in the following pages.
CLASS 1000 - Mounted a Hale (500 GPM 120PSI) centrifugal pump powered by a Dodge 115 horsepower 6 cylinder engine. It carried no water or booster hose reels
CLASS 1010 - Mounted a John Bean high pressure (35 GPM at 650 PSI) pump, powered probably by a single cylinder Briggs & Stratton, Wisconsin or one similar. It carried no booster hose reels. Hard line hose was coiled in brackets on the rear of the unit. In appearance, the CLASS 1010 leaves the impression of being a standard orchard sprayer of the time with the broadcast spray assembly removed and replaced with hoses.
CLASS 1020 - Mounted an unknown centrifugal pump (possibly a Berkeley) producing 100 GPM at 650 PSI. It had two 85 water tanks and two booster hose reels. This unit is interesting in that the pump had no headgate discharge valves. The discharge was "hard plumbed" to the booster hose reels. It was supposed to replace the CLASS 1010 midway during the war, but apparently did not. Only one Army Air Corps fire fighter has been found who knew the unit. This suggests it was not deployed until after the end of World War II.
Whether any of these trailers survive is unknown. If they do, it is probably in construction related activities.
For those unfamiliar with the two icons on the Homepage, the Castle is the insignia of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maltese Cross is the insignia of Fire Fighting Services throughout the United States. The cross displayed here is for an officer, they being identified by the number of Speaking Trumpets in the cross. Ranks below officers might have ladders, axes, pike poles and/or hose nozzles displayed. The red and white braid below the fire truck picture is displaying the colors of the Army Corps of Engineers.