Portland Oregon Fire Hydrants - Part 2

Text and Images © 2002-3 Allen McMillan Revised December 12, 2003

Circa 1890s:   Early Single-Valve Frost Jacket Hydrants
    The nature of Portland's fire hydrants at the turn of the century is somewhat murky, but it is known that a lot of them had frost jackets. The Water Board inherited an unknown number of Waterous Engine Works hydrants when it began dealing with hydrants in 1904. Without ever buying another one, there were still more than 270 of them in service at the end of 1912. The only hydrant design Waterous was making at the time was the frost jacket type.
    It's possible, but unlikely, that these hydrants were inherited from water utilities purchased by the Water Board before 1912. More likely, they were part of the original municipal water system in 1895 or they were added by the Fire Department between 1895 and 1903. There may or may not have been a serious attempt to standardize all of Portland to use frost jacketed hydrants, but once the jackets were installed it was advantageous to continue using them. The Water Bureau was still purchasing hydrants compatible with their old frost jackets until 1913.
    Portland has a mild climate and the risk of damage to fire hydrants from frost heave is negligible. For Portland, the primary benefit of frost jackets was easy removal and replacement. Once the frost jacket is installed, the hydrant can be unscrewed and removed with surprisingly little work and no excavation.
    This has created some problems in researching Portland's old fire hydrants, since their easy removal and replacement has allowed many of them to migrate. Damaged hydrants were often removed and replaced with entirely different hydrants. Once repaired, the original hydrant would be used as a replacement somewhere else instead of being returned to it's original position.

Circa 1886-1894 Long & Scott / Waterous Hydrant
Long & Scott Hydrant     Long & Scott were "manufacturer's agents" in Portland at the end of the 19th Century. They acted as distributors, resellers and local representatives for companies that had no offices in Portland. It seems likely that Long & Scott specialized in fire-fighting equipment.
    The Long & Scott fire hydrant is essentially a Waterous frost jacket hydrant. The barrel was manufactured in Portland by Long & Scott, while the bonnet and (presumably) the valve mechanism were manufactured by Waterous in Saint Paul. It may have been cheaper in the 1890s to have a local company manufacture the cast iron barrels under license than to ship them roughly 1500 miles from Saint Paul to Portland.
    Rather than being a hybrid constructed from standard Waterous parts, the Long & Scott hydrant seems to have been manufactured with this arrangement in mind. The Waterous bonnet is a different shape than usual, and "ST. PAUL MINN" is cast on the back of the barrel instead of in it's usual place on the bonnet.
    There are no dates on these hydrants, but we can estimate their date of manufacture with reasonable accuracy. Waterous began manufacturing frost jacket hydrants in 1886 and Long & Scott was replaced by A. G. Long (see below) in 1894.
    There are only two known Long & Scott hydrants in service. Another survives at the Water Bureau. The bonnets seem prone to cracking, so this is the only one with it's original bonnet, though signs of repairs are visible.

1894-1903 A. G. Long / Waterous Hydrant
A. G. Long Hydrant     In 1894 Long & Scott became A. G. Long. The exact date of the change is currently unknown. The reorganized company is known to have specialized entirely in fire apparatus and supplies. They also continued to manufacture frost jacket hydrants with Waterous parts. This arrangement continued through at least the 1920s.
    Except for changes in markings, this hydrant is identical to the earlier Long & Scott variety.
    Portland Water Board hydrant records begin in 1904 and show no purchases of A. G. Long hydrants. A. G. Long didn't exist prior to around 1894, so this hydrant was likely manufactured between 1894 and 1903. It's also possible that it may have been manufactured after 1904 and later "inherited" by the City from another utility. However, its similarity to the Long & Scott hydrant suggests strongly that it was manufactured during the 1890s.
    This is probably the last A. G. Long hydrant in Portland, though later models are still fairly common in Astoria, Oregon. The bonnet of this hydrant has cracked in a manner very similar to the Long & Scott hydrant above.

1888-1902 Wolff & Zwicker Iron Works Hydrant
Wolff & Zwicker Hydrant     Even without Waterous components, many of Portland's oldest hydrants bear a strong resemblance to early Waterous frost jacket hydrants. It seems likely that the city adopted a standard based on existing hydrants to insure compatibility, though no copies have been found.
    Wolff & Zwicker Iron Works manufactured a frost jacket hydrant that could be the Waterous design's twin but for a few details. It has a generic bonnet held on by two bronze bolts, and the barrel is fluted rather than having flat facets. Like Waterous hydrants of similar design, these have no dates on them. Fortunately, Wolff & Zwicker were only in business for about 15 years so that limits the range of possible dates considerably.
    A firm of machinists called "Trenkmann & Wolff" existed in Portland until about 1888, then that company disappeared and "Wolff & Zwicker Iron Works" shows up. Wolff & Zwicker were in business until about 1902, when they were replaced by Phoenix Iron Works (below).
    Although it is possible that these hydrants were manufactured as late as 1902, the Fire Department had already switched to larger and more complex designs by 1900 or so. These hydrants were likely manufactured in the early 1890s.
    Wolff & Zwicker hydrants appear very infrequently in city records. They are typically lumped together with the identical but more numerous Willamettes (below). There are just a handful of Wolff & Zwicker hydrants in service today. Most are on older side streets or slopes, possibly because their lack of a pumper nozzle was not viewed as a serious disadvantage on a main with good pressure and flow rate.

1889-1900 "Willamet Iron Works" Hydrant
'Willamet Iron Works' Hydrant     Except for the manufacturer's name cast on the barrel, the Willamet hydrant is identical to the Wolff & Zwicker Iron Works hydrant. Whether this similarity is because of a city specification or some connection between the two companies is currently unknown.
    Willamet Iron Works is better known as Willamette Iron and Steel, manufacturer of everything from war ships to fork lifts to steam locomotives. When the company was formed in 1865 it was called "Willamette Iron Works". For some reason the spelling was changed to "Willamet Iron Works" in about 1889. Then the name was changed again, to "Willamette Iron and Steel Works" in 1900 or 1901. These hydrants all have the "Willamet" spelling cast on the barrel.
    Despite the earlier spelling of the company name on the barrel, city records usually refer to these hydrants as "Willamettes". There are probably one or two dozen Willamettes in service today. They are usually found in the same places as Wolff & Zwicker hydrants and both types are often found within a few blocks of each other.

Unidentified 4-Nozzle Hydrant
Unidentified 4-Nozzle Hydrant     Most of Portland's locally manufactured hydrants are undated, but do have clear manufacturer's marks. Unfortunately, this design has neither. Except for having "Portland ORE" cast on the back of the barrel, it is unmarked.
    There are just two hydrant designs in Portland with three hose nozzles, and neither of them are especially numerous. The four-nozzle specification may have been very short-lived or only used in certain places. All known examples of this hydrant design are located along the same street. That water main was laid in 1902.
    This design shares the cosmetic details of the Willamette / Wolff & Zwicker hydrants, so it's possible that one of those companies manufactured it. It also shares the same conical bonnet used by both those designs. (The bonnet appears smaller because of this hydrant's larger barrel diameter.) Phoenix Iron Works, which manufactured Portland's only other four-nozzle hydrant, was formed in about 1902. That may have been early enough to make Phoenix the manufacturer of this design as well.
    Only four of these hydrants have been found, and they are probably the last ones in town.

1900-1904   Multiple Valve Frost Jacket Hydrants
    Right around the turn of the century, the Fire Department began to favor larger and more complex hydrant designs. Equipped with steamer nozzles and independent hose nozzle valves, these new hydrants were superior to the old ones but likely much more expensive. Exactly why this change occurred is currently unknown, but it may have been the result of a change in leadership at the Fire Department. What we do know is that the Fire Department's financial situation deteriorated rapidly at the turn of the last century. Within a few years the Fire Department was $20,000 in the red and could no longer afford to purchase hydrants. With some reluctance, the Water Board took over the responsibility for purchasing new hydrants in 1904.
    The Water Board continued to follow the Fire Department's purchasing practices for several years, but gradually changed back to smaller, cheaper hydrants. Frost jackets do not seem to have been a priority, but independent hose nozzle valves were in the specifications until they were dropped in 1912.
    Some time between 1912 and 1922, it was decided that independently gated hose nozzles were not just unnecessary, but undesirable. Hydrants with independent nozzle valves had the valves removed and the stems cut off. The ports in the bonnets that allow access to the valve stems were plugged. Independent valves were back in favor in 1922 and the Fire Department requested not only to have independent valves included in the city's new hydrant specifications, but also to have the previously removed valves put back in to Portland's old hydrants. It does not appear that this was ever done, since most of these old independently gated hydrants seem to have been missing their valves for a long time.

"Portland" Hydrants (3 Types)
    The next three hydrants are still difficult to classify. They appear in some city records as "Portland" hydrants. All three are very similar or identical, despite being manufactured by three different companies. All three hydrants were probably made under the same city specification at around the same time. They are old enough, and scattered enough, to defy attempts to date them based on the age of water mains, installation or maintenance records.
    The oldest maintenance records found so-far show that many of these hydrants have been in their current locations since before 1915. The estimated dates of manufacture for these hydrants are based on what we know about the manufacturers of individual types.

Smith & Watson Iron Works "Portland" Hydrant
Smith & Watson Hydrant     Smith & Watson Iron Works was in business from 1896 until the 1920s. It looks like Smith & Watson were just getting out of the hydrant business at about the time the Water Board started purchasing them. The company did submit bids for hydrants in 1904 and 1905, but the Water Board did not purchase them. There are no further records showing that Smith & Watson ever bid on another hydrant contract.
    The almost total lack of any mention of Smith & Watson hydrants in the City's old installation and maintenance records also points to this design being installed prior to 1904. What records do exist show individual hydrants being replaced or repaired.
    These hydrants are widely scattered and do not appear in large concentrations. There are at least a couple dozen left, mostly on the East side.

Oregon Foundry "Portland" Hydrant
Oregon Foundry Hydrant     The most common variety of "Portland" hydrant is the Oregon Foundry type. In addition to the company logo on the right side of the barrel, it also has "P. F. D." in large cursive script on the left side. Aside from markings, these hydrants are identical to the Smith & Watson hydrant.
    Oregon Foundry was in business from about 1900 until at least 1910. The Oregon Foundry version of the "Portland" hydrant was probably manufactured before 1902, since the Howes patent hydrant (below) came along in 1902. Records showing Oregon Foundry hydrant bids do exist for 1904 and later. The Howes hydrant was the only design Oregon Foundry offered from at least 1904 on.
    Slightly more common than the Smith & Watson version, and found in all parts of the city, there are still a few dozen Oregon Foundry "Portlands" in service.

Phoenix Iron Works "Portland" Hydrant
Phoenix Iron Works Hydrant     The Phoenix version of this hydrant sports a third hose nozzle, indicating that it may have been built somewhat earlier or later than the Oregon Foundry or Smith & Watson versions. Since adding a third hose nozzle, especially one with an independent valve, would add to the cost of the hydrant, it's likely that the specifications at that time demanded it.
    Portland's only other four-nozzle hydrants have been tentatively dated 1902. That's right about the time Phoenix Iron Works opened its doors, and about the same time that the other "Portland" hydrants are thought to have been made.
    Broadway downtown has the only large concentration of these hydrants. The rest, maybe a dozen total, are widely scattered around the city.

1902-1910 Oregon Foundry Howes Patent Hydrant
Oregon Foundry Howes Hydrant Oregon Foundry Howes Hydrant Oregon Foundry Howes Hydrant Oregon Foundry Howes Hydrant
1902 1902-1903 1903-1910 Unknown
    Claude L. Howes developed a new style of nozzle valve for fire hydrants. He was granted U.S. Patent Number 733,483 on July 14, 1903. Howes' design called for large elliptical valve chambers running vertically through the hydrant body. These spacious chambers would allow easy access to the valves for maintenance and allow water to flow unimpeded through the valves when opened. It is these large internal valve chambers that give the Oregon Foundry Howes hydrant it's distinctive shape.
    Oregon Foundry was in business in Portland during the early 20th century, though the exact dates are currently unknown. The company does appear in local business directories at early as 1901, but disappears some time between 1910 and 1915.
    There are four major types in service and one type that was presumably in service and removed. Although only one barrel style has a date cast on it, other clues allow reasonable assumptions to be made about their dates of manufacture.
    A) 1902 - With "PAT APPLIED FOR" cast on the barrel front, this version would have been manufactured between February 1902 (when the patent was applied for) and July 1903 (when it was granted). This variety has short valve chambers that extend just a little below the top of the pumper nozzle. Also note the large, rounded barrel top. Only a handful of these hydrants are still in service.
    B) 1902-1903 - Another variant manufactured before the patent was granted, this version was probably manufactured in late 1902 or early 1903. The entire barrel has become more angular, and the valve chambers are larger and longer, reaching the middle of the pumper nozzle. The bonnet looks very similar to that of the "Type A", but is slightly larger. This is the most common variety of Howes hydrant in Portland, with perhaps two dozen surviving examples.
    C) 1903-1910 - This version has the patent date cast on the back of the barrel, so it was manufactured some time after July 1903. The Portland Water Board's first hydrant purchase was 100 Howes hydrants in August 1904. Those hydrants were likely of this variety. The bonnet is larger and more angular than previous types and rests on a ledge around the top of the barrel. The barrel itself is noticeably different in appearance and the chain lugs are now at the bottom of the valve chambers. This is the second most common type, with a dozen or more examples still in service.
    D) (Not Shown) - Some examples of the "Type C" have no markings on the barrel at all. This is the least common version of Howes hydrant still in service. Only two of this type are known to exist, though some may have been mistaken for "Type C" hydrants since they are identical from the front. Just 25 Howes hydrants were purchased in 1910, so these unmarked hydrants may have been from that batch.
    E) Unknown - This design is not in service anywhere in the city. The only known example is on display in the Portland Water Bureau offices. It appears to be a very late design based on the Howes patent. The valve cylinders and chain lugs suggest that this design is newer than other types. It also has a two-piece barrel, a feature that was not common in Portland until the 1940s. This may have been a special purpose design not intended for normal street use.
    Howes hydrants can be found anywhere frost jackets were installed. The largest concentration is downtown, where examples of all four in-service types (A-D) can still be found.

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