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SNAPSHOT 136: 1909 Delahaye Fire Engine

Identifying an early commercial vehicle with no radiator badge can be fraught with difficulty – but this photo from 1909 rang a bell (sorry!).  At Beaulieu in 2016 at the September Autojumble there was a lovely 1911 Delahaye charabanc with an almost identical radiator shape.  Sure enough, a search on the internet confirmed that the Paris Fire Brigade did indeed have Delahaye fire engines – and here is one of them.

The dramatic incident portrayed took place on Sunday 20th June 1909 at the Auteuil racecourse in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, on the occasion of the “Grand Steeple” event.

Thirty stable lads and railway workers, on strike for a reason we cannot now discover, blocked the road from the racecourse at Maisons-Lafitte, north-west of Paris, to the racecourse at Auteuil, forcing the horseboxes to turn back.  They then set fire to anything that would burn, including the grass, the fences (including the taller fences on top of banks that are curiously known as les bull-finch) and even the marker flags.

The fire brigade arrived first, closely followed by the army, who were supposed to calm the impatient crowd but only succeeded in causing more chaos by pushing back the crowd.  One report stated: “A woman falls.  She is said to be dead.  She is badly hurt.  What the devil was this woman, who apparently is a masseuse and manicurist by profession, doing in the middle of the track getting mixed up in the brawl?”

The miscreants threw stakes and planks at the army officers, injuring one lieutenant and damaging the boot of another (exciting stuff!).  Eventually order was restored, the horseboxes arrived under police protection and the race took place very late in the afternoon.  We can see the winner in the inset picture at the top right of our image.

Delahaye began building fire engines in 1906 under the aegis of its engineering director Amédée Varlet, working with Établissements Farcot, specialists in fire-fighting equipment, and by March 1907 Delahaye had already delivered 80 dedicated fire-fighting vehicles to the fire department of Paris. The vehicle in our picture is a Type 27 C 45/60 CV with a four-cylinder engine of 7,960cc, capable of a maximum speed of 63kph (39mph).  Weighing 6,200kg and able to carry 14 firemen, its centrifugal pump could deliver 2,000-2,400 litres of water per minute.  We can also catch a glimpse of the edge of the massive hose-reels slung on the side of the machine – just behind the front wheel on the left of our picture.

But enough of the statistics.  The main reason we chose this picture was the action it portrays – from the top-hatted gentleman directing the firemen, to the hardy firemen themselves pushing to make sure that 6 tonnes of engine didn’t get bogged down in the field.  Would that we could have been there!


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