Ward Lafrance Truck Corp.- 1918-present - Elmira, New York


Founded by A. Ward LaFrance, a member of the same family who made American LaFrance fire engines, although there was never any business connection between the two concerns, Ward LaFrance was an assembled truck which made an important contribution to the war effort and today specializes in fire engines.

Early Ward LaFrance trucks were offered in a range from 2 ½ to 5/7 tons, and featured Waukesha engines, Brown-Lipe transmissions and Timken axles. They were generally conventional, although employing a self­-lubricating system which was complex and bulky. The 1920 2 ½-tonner was specially designed for pneumatic tires, and an engine-driven 2-cylinder Kellogg pump for the tires was standard equipment. The range was widened in 1926 with 6-cylinder engines in some models and more heavy-duty models in the 5- to 7-ton area. Two bus chassis were added in 1929, followed in 1930 by the 'Bustruk'. This was a high-speed chassis adaptable for bus or van­type bodies, powered by a straight-8 Lycoming engine.

Ward LaFrance sales, which rarely exceeded 100 units annually, were confined for the most part to New York State, the City being a major market, The 1930s saw an increasing emphasis on purely custom-built units such as the 4 X 4 crane truck for hauling away illegally parked cars, delivered to New York City in 1934. As a small assembler Ward LaFrance adopted diesel power early, with a Cummins-engined 6-wheeler catalogued in 1934. From this date onwards diesels became an increasingly important part of the Ward LaFrance range. Big and handsome tractors for gross loads of up to 20 tons were made in the 1930s, together with a heavy-duty cab-over­-engine 6-wheeler from 1935. One of the more unusual options at this time was a fabricated chassis frame in steel or Duralumin to customer's choice. This was a deep 14 inches just behind the cab. Costly to make, it was dropped on later models for a more conventional heat-treated channel frame.

During World War II Ward LaFrance made large numbers of heavy-duty wreckers. Designated M1, and later M1A1, these 6 X 6 10-ton trucks with Continental 6­cylinder engines were also made by Kenworth. In addition to the wreckers, Ward LaFrance made a number of 6 X 4 and 6 X 6 load-carrying army trucks. Wartime production necessitated substantial additions to the small Elmira plant, and to capitalize on this Ward LaFrance introduced a new range of trucks in 1945, the D Series. These were offered in sizes from 40,000 to 60,0001bs GCW, and used Continental Gasoline or Cummins Diesel Engines. Styling was functional with military overtones, the fenders having flat tops in the style of quarry trucks. Attempts were made at large-scale marketing, including in Canada, and for a time sales were well up on pre-war (509 in 1947 and 271 in 1948), but production fell off severely once the postwar boom was over. By the mid-1950s ordinary load­-carrying trucks had been given up in favor of fire engines, bodies, shipping containers and trailers. In 1945 Ward LaFrance attempted to market buses in knocked-down form for export and used the sectional body construction pioneered by C.J. Hug and used during the war by Wayne Works. If the post-war plans had succeeded, Buda diesel engines would have been used and Hug is said to have been engaged as the chassis engineer. Westinghouse became interested and proposed a trolleybus version called the Westram, some of which were actually produced and sold in Argentina and Mexico. There is no record of any Ward LaFrance bus being sold in the U.S.

Ward LaFrance built their first fire engine in 1931, and these vehicles became of increasing importance in the firm's activities. Conventional open-cab ladder trucks were made until 1960, joined in 1959 by the modern type of forward-cab appliance which has been made in 4- and 6-­wheeler models with a great variety of pumper and aerial platform bodies. Engines used include Waukesha, Roiline, Hall-Scott, International and Ford and the fire engines have 5- or 6-speed transmissions and air brakes. Fire equipment is also built on other chassis such as Ford, International and Chevrolet, while the most powerful Ward LaFrance is a twin-V8-engined 4 X 4 airfield crash tender with a total power of 532hp and a maximum speed of 60mph. In 1971 Ward LaFrance pioneered a move a way from red as the traditional fire engine color; experiments by an optometrist indicated that lime yellow was more clearly visible by both day and night, and by 1975 the company had received orders for lime yellow engines from more than 140 fire departments all over the United States and in El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Venezuela. Ward LaFrance also supplies the US Army with the HET tractor, an 8 X 8 heavy duty transporter powered by a 600hp diesel engine.


    For more information please read:

John J. Burzichelli & Richard J. Gergel - Ward LaFrance Fire Trucks 1916-1978 Photo Archive

Walter M.P. McCall & George H. Dammann - American Fire Engines Since 1900

Fred W. Crismon - Fire Engines

Bob Dubbert - Encyclopedia of Canadian Fire Apparatus

Donal M. Baird - A Canadian History of Fire Engines

Phil DaCosta - One Hundred Years of America's Fire Fighting Apparatus

Bill Hass - History of the American Water Towers

Hans Halberstadt - The American Fire Engine

Hans Halberstadt - Fire Engines

T.A. Jacobs - A History of Fire Engines

Matthew Lee - A Pictorial History of the Fire Engine

M.W. Goodman MD - Inventing the American Fire Engine: An Illustrated History of Fire Engine Patents

Consumer's Guide - The Complete Book of Fire Engines: A colorful Review of Today's Fire Apparatus

Sheila Buff - Fire Engines in North America

Sheila Buff - Fire Engines: Motorized Apparatus Since 1900

Neil Wallington - World Encyclopedia of Fire Engines: an illustrated guide to fire trucks around the world

Keith Ryan & Neil Wallington - The Illustrated History of Fire Engines

Paul Barrett - Heavy Rescue Trucks: 1931 - 2000 Photo Gallery

Larry Shapiro - Aerial Fire Trucks

Larry Shapiro - Fighting Fire Trucks

Larry Shapiro - Hooks and Ladders

Larry Shapiro - Pumpers: Workhorse Fire Engines

Donald F. Wood - American Volunteer Fire Trucks

Donald F. Wood - Big City Fire Truck 1900-1950

Donald F. Wood & Wayne Sorensen - Big City Fire Trucks: 1951-1996

Donald F. Wood & Wayne Sorenson - Motorized Fire Apparatus of the West, 1900-1960

Donald F. Wood & Wayne Sorensen - New York City Fire Trucks

Donald F. Wood & Wayne Sorenson - Volunteer & Rural Fire Apparatus Photo Gallery

Kenneth Little - Chicago Fire Department engines: Sixty years of motorized pumpers, 1912-1972

Kenneth Little - Chicago Fire Department hook & ladder tractors, 1914-1971

Ron Jeffers - The apparatus of the Jersey City Fire Department: Yesterday and today

John Rieth - Jersey Shore Fire Apparatus: Classic Thru the 60's

Philip R. Lincoln - Massachusetts fire apparatus: A pictorial Collection

Charles Madderom - Los Angeles City Fire Apparatus: 1953 Through 1999 Photo Archive

George Klass - Fire apparatus: A pictorial history of the Los Angeles Fire Department

John A. Calderone - Wheels of the bravest: A history of FDNY fire apparatus, 1865-1992

Peter Aloisi - Apparatus and fires across America: Featuring former FDNY apparatus

Scott Schimpf - Fire Apparatus of Philadelphia

Harrold Shell - Past and present: A history of Phoenix fire trucks

Leo E. Duliba - Industrial & Private Fire Apparatus: 1925 Through 2001 Photo Archive

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

George W. Green - Special-Use Vehicles: An Illustrated History of Unconventional Cars and Trucks

William T. King - History of the American Steam Fire-Engine

Ed Hass - The Dean of Steam Fire Engine Builders

John M. Peckham - Fighting fire with fire: A pictorial volume of steam fire-fighting apparatus


© 2004 Coachbuilt.com, Inc. | Index | Disclaimer | Privacy