Mystery of the Purloined Pumper!

It started with a recent call to the Historical Society Archives from the Division of Motor Vehicles. A Senior Investigator needed to inspect Engine One! Someone in New Jersey was attempting to register a America LaFrance Pumper with the same vehicle identification number (VIN). Had Engine One been stolen? Was Engine One the victim of identity theft? Was LHS going to get a ransom note?

A quick check revealed that Engine One was ready for service, no parts missing or broken, in the Historical Fire Company Barn.

The DMV investigator was determined to solve this unusual mystery.

The Historical Fire Company went to work as it would responding to any emergency. We produced the 1922 order for the Engine, the factory assembly records, the original Larchmont records of purchase, and a complete chain of ownership custody records including the title from Washington State containing the VIN number that was used to transfer the engine when it was brought back to Larchmont from the west coast.

While the investigator was convinced that LHS owned the vehicle we had, and that it was the original Larchmont 1922 pumper, why did another 1920s American LaFrance pumper have the same VIN number? Maybe this was a factory error – like mistakes on stamps and coins – that always add enormous collector’s value to the items involved? Was Engine One a clone? Did it have a long-lost twin brother? If there was an amazing mistake, LHS and the Historical Fire Company could suddenly be fabulously rich!

The investigation continued. On both vehicles, the VIN number was on  the engine side of the firewall that separates the motor compartment from the passenger compartment. Our Historical Fire Company Engineer had a new theory of the mystery, and  began to review, page by page, the original factory specification and build record we had obtained from the American LaFrance museum, comparing the specification to the vehicle.

Suddenly the mystery was solved! Lurking in the appendices of the old document was a table of body parts, each with a part number. One of the part numbers, for the firewall between the motor compartment and the passenger compartment, had the same part number as the duplicate VIN! So the official-looking number, the one that had been recorded as the Engine One VIN number in the Washington State vehicle title many decades ago, was actually a part number that was common to every 1920s American LaFrance Pumper!

So with the mystery solved, both vehicles will, forever more, be titled and registered with their correct  American LaFrance vehicle registration numbers. Engine One can rest easy in the Historical Fire Company Barn.