Retired Gorham Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre, left, and retired Westbrook Fire Department Capt. Clyde Chapman are on a mission to restore an 1867 horse-drawn firefighting vehicle at the Westbrook Historical Society. Robert Lowell / American Journal

A self-described bucket brigade is restoring a horse-drawn water pumper manufactured 156 years ago to fight fires that is on display at the Westbrook Historical Society.

The group formed this winter and has been busy making the antique fire apparatus look like new. It has greased the four wheels, polished brass, and wiped down its wooden parts with linseed oil.

“We’ve preserved it,” said Clyde “Chappie” Chapman, a retired Westbrook Fire Department captain and fire inspector.

Westbrook Bucket Brigade members Chapman and retired Gorham Fire Chief Bob Lefebvre are key figures in the restoration project. The Bucket Brigade works in partnership with the historical society, collecting, preserving and displaying documents, memorabilia and equipment related to Westbrook fire, EMS and police history.

The old pumper is a hit at the historical society’s museum.

“It’s one of our show pieces,” Westbrook Historical Society President Mike Sanphy said Tuesday.


The vehicle was built in 1867 by Button Wagon Works of Elmira, New York, according to Chapman. It weighs about 1,5oo pounds and could pump 500 gallons of water per minute and blast it 210 feet.

Crews worked the pump by gripping rails on each side.

“It would take 20 guys to run this,” Lefebvre said.

The pumper was rescued from a leaky garage at Westbrook’s Woodlawn Cemetery about a decade ago. Public Services employees moved it to the historical society, located at the community center.

Although it has “Saccarappa,” an early name for Westbrook, painted on it, the pumper never saw action in Westbrook, which traces its fire department’s start to 1890. It originally was named Kennebec and bounced around from Bath to Brunswick, Chapman said.

A Westbrook firemen’s association eventually acquired it for muster competitions. In 1969, the late trucking magnate Paul Merrill of Cumberland drove the horses pulling it in a parade, and it was also featured at other parades in the area.


The pumper’s parade participation is no longer an option because it would jeopardize the antique vehicle. Wooden wheel hubs and spokes have dried out, Lefebvre said. When it was previously paraded, Lefebvre said, a lawn-sprinkler would be aimed at it to swell and tighten the wooden parts.

The Bucket Brigade is hoping for a grant to have replacement wheels made.

“It would be nice to have it completely restored,” Lefebvre said.

Meanwhile, a local blacksmith, Sam Simonson, has fabricated jack stands to keep weight off the wheels for its display at the historical society.

The Bucket Brigade, which takes its name from the old days when a line of firefighters would pass water buckets to douse flames, maintains an exhibit at the historical society that also includes an 1850 ladder fire wagon, firefighter badges and helmets, a leather water bucket and a fire whistle once mounted on Westbrook’s old Dana Mill.

The group has a Facebook page and its preservation is gaining some widespread recognition. Donations have been coming in, even from out-of-staters, Chapman said, and group membership has grown to 50 in three months.

Made up of active and retired firefighters, police officers and rescue personnel, the group meets from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Saturdays at the historical society museum, 426 Bridge St.

“We’ve got a great group of people,” said Chapman, who said he was thankful for the historical society and the city for providing the space to save the 156-year-old pumper.

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