Old Betsy

The Little Engine That Still Can!

Historic Fire Engine

Old Betsy is an American LaFrance 75 Triple Combination. She was manufactured in Elmira, NY in 1925. Betsy is 20'1" long, 6' 2.5" wide and is 9' 1" high to top of the bell. Her wheelbase is 156.5" and she weighs 9,050 pounds (less hose, men, and circulating water).


The engine is a 6 cylinder double with a 5.5" bore x 6" stroke, displacing 885 cubic inches, and developing 105 brake horsepower at 1,186 rpm. It's fired by dual Westinghouse distributors and an Eisenmann magneto ignition. The rotary gear pump displaces 1.29 gallons per resolution, 750 gallons per minute at 120 psi. net pump pressure, fed by two 4.5" suction inlets into three 2.5" discharges. Betsy is also equipped with a chemical system, hose carrier, hard suction hose, and lanterns on the rear post. In its time, Old Betsy represented the state-of-the-art in fire fighting equipment.

Distinctive Aspects

The fire engine is especially distinctive because it was designed without doors, windows, or a top; because of its right-handed steering, the position of the gearshift and emergency brake levers to the driver's right, mounted outside the frame and because of the archaic chain-drive transmission.

The dual ignition system is remarkable: the magneto system fires one spark plug in each of the cylinders and the distributor system, using battery power fires a second spark plug in each cylinder, allowing Betsy to be started by either (or both) systems, thereby assuring response in the event of fires.

A hand crank, mounted on the front of the engine is an alternative to the dual ignition system. A searchlight, mounted in a swivel in the middle of the dashboard, was operated by the firefighter sitting to the left of the driver. Sometime after the delivery, a red light-and-siren combination was added on the left front fender as a safety measure.


Old Betsy is remarkable, too, as one of the few survivors of the sixty-one Type 75's American LaFrance sold in the southeastern United States in 1925. Upon its arrival, the City purchased over 1,500' of 2.5" cotton fire hose, a reel and sulfuric acid for the foam tank.

The firemen also installed a booster reel and another 150' hose. The bell had to be relocated to the front of the engine from its original position; otherwise the fire engine could not be driven under the doorway at (old) City Hall. The apparatus also carried one 12' ladder and one 24' extension ladder. Ultimately, the chemical system was discarded and replaced by containers holding 150 gallons of water.
Betsy in Black and White
Old Betsy from Front
Old Betsy Profile