WATERVILLE — A fire steam engine once owned by the Fire Department but left to rot in a Pennsylvania cornfield before being rescued by an Ohio man will return to Waterville later this month for display at an open house.

The 1884 F.C. Thayer Steam Engine No. 1 will be displayed outside Central Fire Station on College Avenue from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 20, along with Ticonic, a fire hand tub from 1864, said Lt. Scott Holst, who is organizing the event.

“I’m hoping we get a lot of people,” Holst said Thursday. “I’ve been sending fliers to fire departments and schools about it. I’m trying to get a lot of people to come and look at the steam engine, because we may not see it again. At one time it was Waterville’s steamer, and for it to leave us is a sad thing.”

Food, tours of the fire station, videos showing how the antique apparatus work, giveaways, fire prevention activities for children, and other features will be on tap at the free event, sponsored by Colby College’s special collections, Consolidated Firefighters of Waterville, GHM Insurance Agency and the Waterville Historical Society.

The F.C. Thayer steamer is being restored in Hope by Andy Swift, formerly of Winslow, who is widely known for restoration of antique apparatus, Holst said.

Swift plans to bring the steamer to Waterville. He’s restoring the engine for Jerry Voisinet, an Ohio man who discovered it in a cornfield in Pennsylvania and will display it in a private museum in Ohio, according to Holst, the Fire Department’s historian.

Holst’s book, “History of the Waterville Fire Department, 1809-2015” will be available for sale at the open house, with most of the proceeds to go to a memorial wall to be installed outside the station that will bear the names of firefighters who have died.

The Waterville Fire Department bought the steamer in 1884 for $3,500 and named it F.C. Thayer Steam Engine for Frederick Thayer, a doctor and fire captain whose home across from the fire station later became Thayer Hospital.

In 1957, the steamer was sold to a railroad company in Massachusetts for $250 and was displayed in a museum. Then it was moved to a Pennsylvania museum and later auctioned off to a man who planned to restore it but never did, Holst said.

He said Voisinet contacted him a little over a year ago, “wanting to know information about the steamer that we used to have,” Holst said. “I sent pictures and information and everything matched. He told me it was in Hope, Maine, being restored by Andy Swift.”

Voisinet told Host he found the steamer in a Pennsylvania field and took ownership of it.

Swift agreed to bring the steamer to Waterville for the open house. Holst said people may dress up in antique fire coats and helmets and have their pictures taken, for a fee, with the steam engine and the hand tub. Proceeds from the photos also will help fund the memorial.

Waterville bought the Ticonic hand tub in 1864 and sold it to Ellsworth in 1888, Holst said.

“They were willing to bring it to Waterville,” he said. “The hand tub and steamer will sit in front of old Central Fire Station, and we’re going to have horses put out in front of the steamer. They’re going to make it look like they’re hitched up to the steamer, but they’re really not.”

A hand tub, he explained, had bars that firefighters pushed up and down to pump the water.

“Back in the day, the hand tub was pulled by hand. Twenty or so men would pull this hand tub to the fire, and they would drop a hose into it and the guys would just pump – push the bars up and down – and water would shoot out of a hose. It was a lot of work.”

The steamer, on the other hand, was easier to operate, according to Holst. “They’d bring it up to the water source – a pond, stream, or even a hydrant– and it ran off coal. It worked off a boiler.”

He said he hopes the tag that originally was on the F.C.Thayer Steam Engine and probably removed after it was sold but before it left Waterville will surface and someone will bring it to the station. He thinks the approximately 4-by-5-inch plate, which probably is nickel-plated, bears the name L. Button & Co., which made the engine.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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