I had a lot of fun doing my 1914 Dennis WIP, and now that I've finished that model I have the itch to try another piece of period firefighting equipment. This time it will be a "Christie" steam pumper. This kit has been released under several brands, including MPC and AMT (and also Airfix, I believe). They are all the same kit, though, in 1/12 scale. This is the MPC release, the AMT box art is similar:
You may look at that thing and wonder what the heck you're looking at. It's a strange item, for sure, and if it seems like the front and back end don't match, or even look like they belong together at all, you're right. A little history is in order…
Prior to the introduction of internal combustion powered, self-propelled vehicles, fire trucks, like all other road-going vehicles, were horse drawn. The most common type of firefighting apparatus of the time was a coal fired, steam powered pumper rig. The boiler and steam driven water pump were mounted on a simple wagon-like frame, and drawn by generally two (or sometimes three) horses. The pumper would arrive on the scene, and firemen would draw water from whatever source they had… a cistern, a well, a nearby pond or creek… whatever. This was before fire hydrants were common. As the technology was refined, ultimately these rigs could take cold water to pressurized steam in under 10 minutes. That was cutting-edge technology in the late 1800s. Here is a photo of a typical late 1800s horse-drawn steam pumper (restored):
As the 1800s gave way to the new century, horseless carriages were becoming more and more common. As the general public was making the change from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles, fire departments were likewise looking to upgrade to the new technology. But there weren't many self-powered fire trucks available in those days, and what was available was quite expensive. So how could a local fire department on a limited budget upgrade their horse-drawn rig to the new technology at a reasonable cost? Enter John Christie.
Christie was an engineer, inventor, and auto racer, who created several automotive and/or transportation innovations. Among his creations was the Christie tractor, a two-wheeled, internal-combustion powered, front wheel drive tractor. Christie sold his tractors to fire departments around the country, most notably in New York City, as a way to allow the departments to upgrade their existing horse-drawn steam pumpers to self powered units. The pumper's front axle and front wheels were removed, and the pumper bolted onto a Christie tractor. This way the horses could be replaced without scrapping a perfectly good pumper unit. The Christie tractors were front wheel drive for obvious reasons (no need to re-engineer the horse-drawn pumper to a driven rear axle). The Christie tractors had their four-cylinder engines mounted transversly, with a chain drive off the crankshaft powering the wheels. The radiator was mounted in back of the engine, below the driver, so the Christie's grille was non-functional and just for show. Here is what a typical steam pumper looked like after a "Christie conversion" (yes, that's Jay Leno at the wheel )...
And here is a period photo of a pumper converted to Christie power:
As clever as Christie's solution was, it didn't last long. As more manufacturers began offering a wider array of purpose-built, self-propelled fire trucks, more fire departments simply scrapped their old horse-drawn rigs and bought new trucks. While some of the old steam-powered "Christies" were kept in service as late as the 1920s, the Christie tractor's era was basically over in a few years.
This kit represents a 1911 model Christie tractor mated to an 1899 Ahrens-Fox steam pumper. I think the model is based on a restored truck at the Nethercutt museum, in which the pumper is totally blinged out, with chrome plated everything, like the box art model. I guess that Ahrens-Fox offered options on their pumpers, like car manufacturers do, and I suppose the full-on chrome look may have been available, but I like a more subdued, down-to-earth workaday look, so that's how I will be building mine.