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Army's Fire Service; Hi-Pressure Fog Equipment Co.; Blitz Buggy Co.
Army's Fire Service, 1940s; Hi-Pressure Fog Equipment Co.; 1949-1954; Blitz Buggy Co., 1954-1957; Old Forge, New York
Associated Builders
Young's Fire Equipment Co., American LaFrance

During the 1940s and 1950s Army’s Fire Service, the Hi-Pressure Fog Equipment Co., and the Blitz Buggy Company, produced diminutive fire apparatus on 1- to 1-½ ton Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, GMC and Willys-Overland light truck chassis for small-town airports and fire departments that were marked under the ‘Blitz Buggy’ ‘Little Demon’, ‘Jet’, ‘Saginaw’ and ‘Little Mo’ and trade names.

World War I Naval veteran Walter Lewis Armstrong (b.1895 – d. 1976) - aka Lewis 'Army' Armstrong was the founder of all three firms, which were located on the Western edge of New York State’s 6-million acre Adirondack Park.

Armstrong’s vehicles were constructed at Brussel’s Thendara Garage, a small town garage founded by E. Albert Brussel and located in Thendara, New York, a small hamlet located in the Town of Webb, Herkimer County, New York just southwest of Old Forge, New York.

In addition to operating the garage and associated towing business, Brussel was an authorized Ford Motor Co. distributor, and also owned the local school bus service (Brussel’s Bus Service).

An article on the post-War popularity of cross country skiing published in the winter 1946 issue of Ford Times contains the following quote:

“E. Albert Brussel, the Ford dealer in Old Forge and driver of the '46 bus which brings youngsters from outlying townships in to School, says he's never seen anything like it. ‘Everybody in in town, after sitting around in rockers for winter after winter, suddenly took to skis!’”

Walter Lewis Armstrong was also a veteran garage man, having been born in Buffalo, Erie County , NY during October 1895 to Arthur M. and​ Blanch K. Armstrong. After a wartime stint in the US Navy Armstrong married Mary Goodwin (b. Oct. 15, 1899 – d. Dec. 16, 1996) and settled in Upstate New York. His union to Mary was blessed with the birth of three children; Virginia L. (b. 1926); Lewis G. (b. April 21, 1928-d.Jan. 6, 2002) and Mary Lee (b.1935 m. Kalil) Armstrong.

The 1930 US Census lists the Armstrong family’s home as Inlet, Hamilton County, New York. By that time Armstrong had established the Inlet Garage, a small Socony (Standard Oil Co. of New York) service station located on State Route 28, approximately 12 miles northeast of Old Forge in Hamilton County, New York.

Armstrong was long involved in the region’s fire brigades and departments and following the end of the Second World War combined his interests and his profession in the establishment of Army’s Fire Service, a fire equipment distributor he operated out of Old Forge. With the assistance of Town of Webb supervisor Philip W. Burdick (1896-1971) and his brother, Charles (Charlie) Burdick, Armstrong embarked upon the manufacture of his own line of apparatus in 1949.

A late 1949 trademark application by Armstrong for the term “Hi-Pressure Fog Equipment” was denied in Oct 21, 1952 as follows:

“Ser. No. 590,131, W. Lewis Armstrong, Old Forge, XY Filed Dec. 30, 1949. The words 'Hi-Pressure' are disclaimed. For Fire Fighting Equipment, Comprising an Automotive Vehicle Having Mounted Thereon a Water Storage Tank, a Pump for Dispersing Water Under Pressure, and Especially a High-Pressure Fog for Fire Fighting, Hose Reel, Hose and Associated Miscellaneous Part and Accessories.”

By that time production of Armstrong’s diminutive fire apparatus was well underway. Produced using 1- to 1-½ ton Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, GMC and Willys-Overland light truck chassis for small-town airports and fire departments that were marked under the ‘Blitz Buggy’ ‘Little Demon’,  ‘Jet’, ‘Saginaw’ and ‘Little Mo’ trade names by a succession of Armstrong-controlled firms, Army’s Fire Service (1940s), the Hi-Pressure Fog Equipment Co. (1949-1954), and the Blitz Buggy Company (1954-1956). Army’s son, Lewis G. Armstrong, was listed as a part owner of the latter firm.

The ‘Blitz Buggy’ and its successor the ‘Little Mo’ were originally conceived by Armstrong to assist local volunteer fire fighters who were given the task of supplying coverage to hundreds of acres of often inaccessible brush, forest and parklands with limited resources.

It appears that Armstrong appropriated the moniker ‘Blitz Buggy’ from the first prototype Bantam 4WD ¼ ton GPV produced by the Butler, PA firm in 1940, the undisputed first ‘Jeep’.

When mounted on a 4-wheel-drive Dodge or Willys chassis the Blitz Buggy made an ideal vehicle for single engine remotely located fire houses, many of which were located nearby the manufacturer which was located in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains.

When equipped with an onboard ‘Bristol Foam System’ and remote-controlled ‘Rockwood Foam Monitor’ the ‘Little Mo’ proved to be an ideal crash truck for regional airports on a tight budget. In 1954 Armstrong filed for a trademark on the name ‘Little Mo’ and was awarded US trademark No 599,032 on August 24, 1954.

During his decade in business Armstrong placed small display ads in the nation’s forestry and fire equipment trade magazines, and a reported 46* vehicles were sold by the firm between 1949 and 1956, 11 of them on 1-ton Willys-Overland Jeep chassis. Available on the Dodge W 200 and W300 cab & chassis the ‘Little Mo’ was also advertised via Dodge’s aftermarket truck equipment catalogs.

(*Not included in the 46 sold were a handful of ‘Little Mo’s’ constructed under license by Buffalo New York’s Young Fire Equipment Co. during 1954-1957.)

According to H. Paul Koert's Blitz Buggy history:

“The original company when formed in 1949 was called Hi-Pressure Fog Equipment Company, Old Forge, NY and built the first 19 trucks under that name. In 1954 the Company was reorganized and renamed The Blitz Buggy Company and built the next 19 trucks. There was a total of 46 trucks sold by them, 38 built in Old Forge.”

Of the 46 trucks sold by Armstrong, 38 were built at the Thendara Garage, 1 at Benton & Brady, Utica, NY, 5 at the Darley Co., in Chicago, IL and 2 by Ripley & Harpinger in Schenectady, NY. The pre-cut sheet steel used for the service body was produced by the Utica Boiler Works, in nearby Utica, New York then shipped to Thendara for assembly and finishing.

During 1954-1956 the Young Fire Equipment Company of Buffalo constructed a handful of 'Little Mo' fire units under license from Armstrong. In 1958, the manufacture of ‘America’s Most Practical Fire Fighter’ was assumed by Elmira New York’s American LaFrance Co., the nation’s largest builder of fire apparatus, who continued to produce them into 1960.

An advertisement from the June 1959 issue of Firemen is transcribed below:

“’Little Mo’ a Fast, Effective Fire Fighter by … American LaFrance

“It has no equal for Airports, Thru-ways, Structural, grass or brush and flammable liquid fires

“’Little Mo’ has proven it versatility and ability to pack a mighty wallop for all types of fire fighting. ‘Little Mo’ is a basic development by ‘Army’ Armstrong to meet the need for a fast, light, compact, low cost fire fighting unit. ‘Little Mo’ has proven its ability during the past several years to produce outstanding results. By exclusive agreement with Mr. Armstrong, this efficient fire fighter is now being produced by American LaFrance.

“The chassis is 4 x 4 all wheel drive powered by a 205 Brake Horsepower V-8 engine for fast acceleration and operation over all types of terrain. The chassis is a Dodge Model 205 built to American LaFrance specifications for this specific fire service.

“The pump is 2-stage for operation at all pressures to 600 psi. The pump is capable of operation at all driving speeds to permit turret or hand line use with the vehicle in motion. The turret is one man control from within the cab. The turret can be operated by the driver. Turret discharge rating is 90 g.p.m. The turret discharges a water straight stream or fog pattern; air foam straight stream or fog-foam; wetter water, either straight stream or fog.

“The water tank is 200 gallon capacity, 20 gallons of air foam liquid and 5 gallons of wetting agent are each carried in a separate neoprene tank. Any of these fire extinguishing agents are available for immediate use as required. All tank fills are easily accessible for refilling supply. Air foam and wetting agent are automatically proportioned correctly by fixed orifice plates without any adjustment required. Simplicity of control is an important feature of ‘Little Mo’.

“Water, air foam, or wetting agent can be discharged through the two front bumper fog nozzles or the hand lines. Two reels, each carrying 150 feet of ¾ inch high pressure hose are provided. The hand line nozzles provide either straight stream or fog. A bayonet piercing nozzle is also provided for use in stacked or baled materials. One 1½ inch ball type discharge gate is provided for use of 1½ inch hose if desired.

“For real performance at low cost and minimum manpower, you can’t beat ‘Little Mo’. Write for detailed specifications.

“American LaFrance, Elmira N.Y. USA … American LaFrance Fire Engine-Foamite Limited, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.”

A number of Armstrong’s vehicles remained in service into the 2000s and a handful survive in the hands of antique fire apparatus collectors. The Homeville Antique FireHouse Museum in Homer, NY has a 1959 Dodge-American LaFrance Little Mo Crash Truck.

Brussel’s Thendara Garage remained in the Brussel family for the next half-century and only recently was sold off. It remains in business today as Thendara Automotive, 2678 State Route 28, Old Forge, NY 13420

© 2012 Mark Theobald -






H. Paul Koert - Blitz Buggy & Little Mo History, pub. 2000

Walt M.P. McCall - American Fire Engines Since 1900, pub. 1993

Walt M.P. McCall - 100 Years of American LaFrance, pub. 2005

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