Curbside Classic: 1951 Kenworth Fire Engine Pumper With Hall-Scott Engine – It Gets My Heart Pumping

I’ve been enthralled with the legendary Hall-Scott high-power gas engines ever since I first saw one in a vintage Kenworth fire engine pumper like this one at an open house at the neighborhood fire station in Los Gatos, in about 1988.  The hood was open and I was impressed at its polished cam cover and hemi-head configuration. Later, as we were walking home, it pulled out of the station and accelerated with surprising alacrity and a splendid exhaust chat. I was in love.

I’ve posted about the Hall-Scott several times here, culminating in my history of the company this past January. Meanwhile, I’ve been driving by this derelict old Kenworth pumper sitting alongside the Highway 38 in the tiny hamlet of Scottsburg, OR on my many drives to and from our place in Port Orford. I kept wondering if it had a Hall-Scott under the hood. So on my most recent trip I finally decided to stop and find out. Yes it does!

Can I buy it?

I couldn’t readily get a profile shot of this fine old pumper as it sits right on the edge of the highway. It’s showing its age, but it seems to be pretty intact, at least superficially.

It obviously spent its life working for the Roseburg, OR Fire Department. I’m not 100% sure of its year, but there were some minor changes to the badging and grille that strongly suggests 1951.

That’s the same year a 600 hp V12 version of the H-S engine, with 2181 cubic inches, was installed in this Kenworth truck, used to haul petroleum products in the mountainous West at high speed. Sadly, this very hot rig went up in flames, literally. Too hot to handle. One can only imagine the blue flames that shot out of its exhaust at full chat, roaring up long mountain grades, passing all the other trucks (and most of cars too, quite likely).

That V12 was a one-off. The six cylinder version (400 series), with 855 or 1091 cubic inches, was already the most powerful truck engine of its time, making 250-325 hp and up to 1000 lb.ft of torque, back when diesel engines struggled to churn out more than 150 hp. These engines, built in Berkeley, CA., were favored for the kind of huge loads or long grades found in the West, like this log hauler. Buses that could keep up rigorous schedules also favored Hall-Scotts.

Three supercharged 1000 hp V-12s powered the legendary Higgins PT boats in WW2.

But no one loved Hall-Scotts more than West Coast fire departments, for their unparalleled power and durability. Although most other truck and bus operators drifted to the more economical diesels throughout the ’50s and ’60s, fire departments kept buying Hall-Scotts, including the very last ones built in 1970. Fuel economy was not an issue with them, but its rapid acceleration, speed and massive pumping power was, very much so.

As soon as I lifted one of the engine covers, it was instantly obvious that this was a Hall-Scott, with its distinctive polished alloy cam and valve cover, under which operated the big valves in its hemi head, the source of its excellent breathing and the key to its prodigious power. This is the exhaust side; those pipes running over the top are presumably to provide some heat to the big carburetor on the other side.  That short bit of rubber hose and clamps look fairly newish. I do wonder if this runs; I strongly suspect so.

Here’s the intake side; yes, those tubes are providing heat to the intake plenum. The single carb is a giant updraft Zenith.

Here’s a somewhat closer look. There’s two intake manifolds being fed by the plenum. I can only imagine how big the venturi on that carb is.

The engine plate tells us this is a Model 470, one of the 400 family of engines that began life before the war as the Invader marine engine. It was too big for trucks in the 1930s, but after the war H-S began offering it for the increased demands of larger loads and faster schedules. The 470 has a 5.5″ bore and 6″ stroke, resulting in 855 cubic inches (14 liters). Horsepower ratings for the 470 were between 250-300 hp. The larger 1091 cubic inch version made up to 325 hp, and even more in a small number of them that were turbocharged.

If you want to know what an 855 cubic inch OHC hemi-head six sounds like, this video of a 1951 Kenworth 4×4 pumper gives a taste, as it’s not nearly at full chat. It’s a bit like the purring of a lion.

Yes, I want this. Maybe I could justify it as a work truck, or as a private fire engine for my rentals? Or to water the trees? Or?

But when I opened the door, I instantly recoiled. The mice or rats have made it their home, which wouldn’t bother me so much except that I’m highly allergic to them, their dander and feces and anything they’ve touched. It’s a real problem, as I have had to battle rats in my rentals; I’ve won the war so far, but it’s resulted in several asthma attacks and breaking out in red welts.

I would have liked to hop in and imagine driving this back home to Eugene, listening to the deep-throated purr (or roar) of that big Hall-Scott six. Looks like it’s going to have to stay in my fantasy garage.


More on Hall-Scott:

Automotive History: Hall-Scott – Legendary Builder Of High-Power Gas Engines For Trucks, Buses, Cars, Boats, Airplanes And More

Vintage Truck: 1951 Kenworth With 600 HP 2181 Cubic Inch Hall-Scott V12 – The World’s Most Powerful Factory Road Truck Of Its Time

Vintage Truck: Peterbilt 354DT Hauling Load Of Giant Logs Powered by OHC Hemi-Head Hall-Scott Gas Engine – More Power Than A Wimpy Diesel

Vintage Films: “Hall-Scott Power” (Parts 1-4) and “Success Story–Hall Scott”