WATERVILLE — One of the ways researchers from the Waterville Fire Department determined the authenticity of the 1884 F.C. Thayer Steam Engine No. 1 was a small dent in the domed, air chamber on top of the steamer.

The horse-drawn Button steamer, as it was called, has a bullet hole in it.

Liza Bragg, of Waterville, pointed out the dent Sunday during a display of the steamer and two other antique pieces of fire apparatus at the Central Fire Station.

“Somebody shot at it — it was out back of the fire station and somebody shot it back in the day,” Bragg said. “That’s a bullet hole. That’s how they identified it as being from Waterville because of the bullet mark.”

Lt. Scott Holst, the Fire Department’s historian, concurred.

“That’s one of the identifications,” Holst said of the ping in the round copper chamber. “In the photographs we matched up pictures of the valves with the ones on this one because they wanted to make sure it was Waterville’s and not somebody else’s. The hole matched perfectly to the pictures and all the valves matched. Somebody took a shot at it sometime in the 1950s, because in the photograph when it left Waterville in 1957 is where we first saw it. In that picture in 1957, it was there.”

The steamer was sold in 1957 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.

The steamer, along with Ticonic, a fire hand tub from 1864, and an early two-wheel hose cart, were all on display Sunday during an open house at the fire station. There was food on hand Sunday, tours of the fire station, videos showing how the antique apparatus work, free giveaways, fire prevention activities for children and other features at the event sponsored by Colby College’s special collections, Consolidated Firefighters of Waterville, GHM Insurance Agency and the Waterville Historical Society.

Holst said he was very pleased with the turnout Sunday. Holst’s book, “History of the Waterville Fire Department, 1809-2015,” also was 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.

Visitors Sunday also were fascinated by the ornately painted fire wagons made of steel, copper, nickel, wood and bronze.

“I love all the detail — all the hand painted detail — everything about it is beautiful,” Bragg said of the steamer that was once owned by the Fire Department but was left forgotten for years in a Pennsylvania cornfield before being rescued by an Ohio man.

“I think all this is really cool to see how things have changed, what people used way back and comparing them to the new ones,” resident Aimee Chaput said while touring the fire station. “It’s like showing the history of how they fought fires. It must have been really hard.”

The F.C. Thayer steamer is being restored by Andy Swift, formerly of Winslow, now of Hope, who is well known for restoration of antique fire apparatus. Swift is restoring the engine for Jerry Voisinet, the Ohio man who discovered it in a cornfield in Pennsylvania and who will display it in a private museum in Ohio.

“I’m hoping to get it back to him before winter,” Swift said Sunday.

Swift said the steamer would be fired first with wood, but then after it started cranking, firefighters would add coal which burns much hotter. The steam would run an engine and the engine pushed a pump, which would then spray the water on a fire, he said.

“This mechanized engine here revolutionized firefighting,” he said. “With the advent of the steam fire engine, you didn’t have to have such a large amount of men to pump the engine. A couple of guys could easily run that, where it would take about 60 guys to run the tub.”

Holst said the old Button steamer, named for the company that built it, has a long history after it left Waterville.

“The steamer somehow over time — as things get sold and moved around — somebody private bought it, and he was always going to restore it, but it was one of those things. He puts it out in the field for awhile and was going to restore it and never did,” Holst said.

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 the man who planned to restore it, Holst said.

Waterville bought the Ticonic hand tub in 1864 and sold it to Ellsworth in 1888, Holst said. A hand tub had bars that firefighters pushed up and down to pump the water. As many as 40 or 50 men took turns in teams of 10 or 12 furiously pumping the side bars. The tub would have been backed up to one of two dozen water cisterns in the city or to the river or a pond depending on where the fire was, Holst said. A “hard suction” hose on the tub would be dropped into the water source and the water would be hand-pumped into the tub.

Hose carts, like the one on display Sunday, would be brought to the tub and the hoses attached to fight the fire “shooting water” sometimes at a great distance. The tub would have held about 50 or 60 gallons of water, he said.

Waterville Firefighter Dan Brown, 29, marveled at the sight of the old pieces of equipment for the first time Sunday, noting the manpower needed to run the equipment and the possibility for injury back in the days before protective gear.

“I was just talking during a tour I was giving about having to use horses. Just think about how much you had to know back then about horses, taking care of them,” Brown said. “And all without the protective equipment they were lacking back then.”

Lt. Gary Sanders of the Ellsworth Fire Department was on hand Sunday for the display.

“Ellsworth has owned the Ticonic since 1888, and they don’t want to get rid of it,” Holst said.

Sanders said he joined the Ellsworth Fire Department in 1996 when the restoration of the Ticonic had been completed. He said it is drawn by shire horses for parades in that town and at state convention and holiday parades. He said both pieces — the tub and the steamer — were part of the 150th anniversary of the big Augusta fire on Saturday.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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