Fully Equipped and Fully Restored

Howe Fire Apparatus Jeep FC-170 DRW


Finished Howe Fire Apparatus of Anderson, Indiana was the only apparatus builder to regularly put front-mount pumps on Jeep Forward Control fire engines. Some of the trucks had dual rear wheels and a Dana-Spicer model 70 rear axle, giving them a gross vehicle weight of up to 9000 pounds.

Restoration of this U.S. government FC-170DRW, built by Howe in 1963, was completed in early 2024.

Factory photo

Not all the Howe DRW trucks had the front pump; this factory photo shows a 1960 DRW delivered to Bayou La Batre, Alabama. However, the midship pump limited the space for water and equipment in the rear.

U.S. Dept. of Interior The FC-170 seen at the top of this page was found in Idaho in 2020, well used but with only 3638 miles on the vehicle. Its front pump allowed for plenty of rear storage, and its overhead ladder rack allowed room above the storage compartments (110K JPEG) for a spare tire, probably useful during the truck's service in rural Montana and Idaho.

It was originally delivered to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (part of the Department of the Interior) and went into service at the Hungry Horse Dam in Montana on 11 February 1964. It protected the on-site houses for the staff operating the dam, which was the third-largest concrete dam in the world when it was completed in 1953 (Wikipedia).

U.S. Dept. of Interior See a couple of documents from the truck's early days in Montana: the cover of the Kaiser Jeep service policy (200K JPEG) and a report of breakage (210K JPEG) sustained by a fan blade in 1966.

Sometime before the mid-1980s the truck was transferred to the government's Anderson Ranch Dam in Idaho, tallest rockfill dam in the world in 1950 (Wikipedia). It had the same purpose of protecting on-site employee homes, but when that dam became remotely operated, the truck was given to the Prairie, Idaho Volunteer Fire Department, located only 20 miles from the dam.

Howe serial number The truck is Howe Model HRT-F and serial number 11498, as seen on the Howe Fire Apparatus Jeep Production List. The Willys serial number is 61568-13-10967.

It was bought by a private collector in 2020, and when it left the Prairie, Idaho VFD they sent the new owner a note stating "We all have fought fire with this little truck many times in the past. It's a little bittersweet to see her go...."

Paint As restoration began at its new home in Houston, buffing of the paint revealed that the darker red was Howe's color and a lighter red beneath it on the cab was the President Red from the factory.

Ladder rack Many parts were removed for painting separately, including the ladder rack which was stripped down and given an epoxy primer.

See a detailed look at the truck as found, and the early stages of the restoration, at The FC Connection.

Pump supports This photo shows the supports used by Howe for the large front pump platform. It also provides a good look at the opening for the pump's drive shaft, and the shutters over the grille, designed to help the truck run warmer in cold weather.

Shutter control A knob on the dashboard allows setting those shutters to a variable position. The knob is located beside a German-made meter measuring hours of engine operation, and the nomenclature plate applied to all Jeeps sold to the federal government. Note the "No Smoking" label on the ashtray.

Pump Howe sometimes put a tachometer and the external throttle cable in an angular red housing on the diamond plate to the right of the pump. Oddly, Howe put no top on the housing, and the tach and its electrical connections were wide open to the elements, resulting in this tach being fried by moisture. And the throttle cable was bolted to the front of the housing but there was no support for it in the rear.

Pump In a slight deviation from originality, the restoration included an aluminum box to house the tach and keep it dry, and at the same time give the throttle cable two points of support, in the front and back of the box.

How the Howe pump system works

Nozzle The 500 GPM Waterous pump (see the Waterous Co. order form, 200K JPEG) is driven directly off the front of the truck motor crankshaft via a drive shaft (100K JPEG). The crankshaft end bolts right up against the radiator fan blade and uses the same bolts that hold the fan to the crankshaft. Perhaps the reason other apparatus manufacturers stayed away from front pumps on FCs, is that Howe had to cut a big square opening in the center of the radiator for the drive shaft to pass through.

There is a handle (seen here) behind the pump, which is pulled to engage a "dog clutch" that activates the main pump's impeller. But the pump shaft itself spins 100 percent of the time that the truck motor is running, even as you're driving down the road.

The pump has a large input port on the front for input from a fire hydrant or drafting out of a body of water via the hard suction hoses.

When that front input is capped, you can also draw from the onboard water tank in the rear of the truck; the large upright valve on the left side of the pump (in the foreground here) opens the flow from the onboard tank to the pump.

Rear tank valve The onboard tank can be filled from an opening on top (330K JPEG) or by way of the valve (seen here) in the very rear of the truck. The tank can be both filled and drained through this valve.

(Notice also that new wooden slats have replaced the cracked wood in the hose bed.)

Pump outputs There are four valves controlling the pump output from a manifold pipe (visible here) running horizontally behind the pump. The outermost valves on each side send water to header fittings on each side of the upper rear deck (160K JPEG) which provide water for the hose stored in the rear of the truck.

The inner valve on the passenger side is for filling the onboard water tank from the pump, and the inner valve on the driver's side is to pressure up the rubber booster hose reel.

The function of each valve is engraved on the handle; see the passenger side valves and the driver's side valves (280K JPEGs).

The two capped outputs and levers on the top of the pump are for attaching firefighting hose directly to the pump, in addition to the four manifold pipe outputs listed above.

Heat exchanger Howe added a heat exchanger to the cooling system of the truck, just behind the radiator, in which engine coolant flows through a cannister lined with coiled copper tubing. Water from the fire pump circulates through the copper tubing, serving two purposes. First and primarily, in hot weather the water cools the engine coolant, and secondly in freezing weather the hot engine coolant warms the coiled line and keeps a stream of warmer water going through the pump.

Heat exchanger The heat exchanger is a sealed unit, so the rusty cylinder was cut open and a new one fabricated, with a new copper coil (160K JPEG). One end of the old cannister (the one where the copper tubing attached to the fittings) was reused.

Below the pump Additionally, the heater core of the truck has coolant leaving it and then routed through a cavity in the main pump itself. You can see these rubber hoses under the front of the truck. This routing of engine coolant also serves a dual purpose, just as the heat exchanger does.

The front end of the truck has 28 plumbing connections. All of the copper tubing running under the front of the truck is dedicated to either the heat exchanger system, or priming lines that purge air out of the main pipes, or drains for the various pipes to thoroughly empty all water out of the system.

There is a separate primer pump that primes the main fire pump. The primer pump is visible here, hanging below the passenger side of the front bumper and driven by a 12-volt starter motor. To activate the primer pump there is a large rubber waterproof button mounted on the passenger side of the front bumper deck. You hold it down until the main pump pressures up.

Below the pump Under the driver's side of the front bumper is a square red box which is the oil tank for the primer pump. These main pumps don't self prime and it takes a boost of water from the primer pump to get enough pressure into the impeller of the main pump. The oil for the primer pump actually enters the same cavity as the water, so your initial output from the main pump would be an oil and water mixture, but the percentage of oil would be very small.

Under the front there are also some heavy black cables, covered with asphalt-soaked cloth sheathing. These are the path of the "hot" positive lead coming off the battery, joining the starter motor relay for the primer pump, and then continuing across the bottom of the bumper to the driver's side of the truck and up into the cab to attach to the siren.

Lights There are two large gauges on the main pump; one is for input vacuum/pressure and the other is for output vacuum/pressure. There is also an engine tachometer and external throttle cable mounted on the driver's side of the front bumper. The tachometer lights up at night and there are small lights over each of the two main gauges for visibility at night.

The new owner has some interesting comments on Howe's workmanship in assembling this fairly complicated pump system:

"I have spent about six solid weeks remaking the front bumper shelf and rebuilding everything in the front bumper assembly. The engineering in the truck is impressive, but the Howe craftsmanship was pretty sloppy. The stress on some of the main pipes was ridiculous and it's amazing nothing ever broke. They used Victaulic joints to join the main plumbing pipes and if they could get two adjoining pipes even close to each other they just used the Victaulic joints to force them together. So I spent days just going through all the piping relieving stress from pipe joints, all the way to the back of the truck.

"Also some of the electrical connections and routing were poorly thought through; too many wires running near heat sources from motor or exhaust, or at pinch points or suspension rubbing points.

"My favorite Howe screwup was that they mounted a pressure data plate on the front bumper and in the process of riveting it on, drilled holes into the top of the primer oil tank underneath the bumper. Not only did this put metal shavings into the oil tank, it made a perfect situation whereby water from the front bumper shelf could easily find its way into the oil reservoir -- which it did!"

Accessories "On a positive note, I will say this must have been one of the best equipped, most versatile FC fire trucks ever built; it is loaded with versatility, and the DRW chassis helps with the massive nature of this small truck, although the weight on the front end of the truck is very substantial."

Nozzle The new owner paid the Prairie VFD to ensure that all the original brass accessories (above) came with the Jeep. In this photo you can see USBR (for "U.S. Bureau of Reclamation") etched into this nozzle. All of the accessories have the same USBR marking, including the ladder.

Howe badges The faded Howe badges were reproduced by embossing, and the door lettering (130K JPEG) was redone in gold leaf.

See also the cab interior (240K JPEG).

Finished March 2024: the completed truck comes outside for some photos. Beautiful job.

New fire extinguishers were sourced, with dates original to when the truck was built.

Houston collection The Howe DRW joins the Valley FC (left) and the Hahn FC (right) in the Houston collection. At far right is the Howe FC from North States Aviation, still being restored (see Howe Jeep FC Fire Engines).

(In the foreground are some little cars to go with the little fire trucks: 1954 Nash Metropolitan, 1951 Crosley Super Sport and 1956 BMW Isetta.)

Thanks to Grace Wiggins and Craig Brockhaus. See detail photos of the early stages of this restoration at The FC Connection. -- Derek Redmond

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Last updated 20 March 2024 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond