Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fire Hydrants - American Iron

Mueller Centurion fire hydrant (left) and "THE COREY (right). Paint color
on the bonnet and outlet caps signifies how much water will come out.
Through the paint, and sometimes through the rust, most of the fire hydrants in Maynard read MUELLER, ALBERTVILLE,  and either ALA or AL (for Alabama), plus a year for when the hydrant was made. Mueller Company was started in 1857, but did not get into the hydrant business until 1933, when it acquired Columbian Iron Works. An informal search found a Mueller hydrant dated 1959. One of the newest - dated 2015 - is next to the former American Legion building, at corner of Summer and Linden Streets. Older Mueller hydrants have CHATT TENN instead of Albertville.

And the oldest hydrant in town? There may be Mueller hydrants that pre-date 1959 (two of those on Nason Street). That's not shockingly old, as with proper maintenance hydrants can be operative past 75 years. Forest Street hosts an antiquated-looking, red-topped hydrant with "THE COREY" across the top. This model, from the Rensselaer Manufacturing Company, was named after the inventor William W. Corey. This individual hydrant may be more than 100 years old, although some versions of that model were still being made into the 1930s. There is an "1895" low on the front, but it seems that refers to the patent year, not the manufacture year.

Click on any photo to enlarge
Maynard appears to use a nationally standardized color coding system on older hydrants to indicate capacity. The main body of each hydrant is painted white. The bonnet and outlet caps are blue, green, yellow or red. Color indicates water output in gallons per minute, with blue meaning excellent, green meaning good, and so on. Route 117 toward Stow has a series of red-topped hydrants. All newer hydrants are entirely red, as the fire department now has computerized information on water volume and water pressure provided by the Department of Public Works, which is responsible for hydrant maintenance.

Mueller Centurion hydrant dated 1959.
Two with this date on Nason Street.
All of Maynard's public hydrants are dry barrel, meaning that the insides of the hydrants are not full of water when not in use. The top nut connects via a long rod to the valve many feet down, at the level of the water pipe. The alternative system - wet barrel - is used in warmer climates, where there is no risk of water in a hydrant freezing solid, which would render the hydrant useless and possibly damaged. Those movie scenes in which a truck or bus hits a hydrant and water spouts high into the air can be true, but not here.  

Maynard in the late 1880s had a population of 2500 and no central water system. Pipes and pumps were installed to bring water three miles north from White Pond, Sudbury. In town, a tank was built on Summer Hill, so that water pumped to the hilltop would provide good water pressure to all homes and businesses. The initial system included just over 7,500 feet of iron pipe and 57 fire hydrants. Subsequent annual reports mention pipe and hydrants being added as the town grew. Settled Maynard was very compact at the time; today's more spread out population is on the order of 10,000 people, serviced by a roughly estimated 400 to 500 fire hydrants.

There are perhaps a dozen hydrant manufacturing companies in the United States, and many more elsewhere, so it is nice to think that Maynard makes a point of buying American iron. Nice, but now also legally required. The American Iron and Steel Act of 2014 requires that any public water system getting federal funds to help pay for waterworks of any type use iron and steel products produced in the United States.  

By the way, you break it you own it, meaning that your insurance company will have to cover the cost of hydrant replacement in addition to the damage to your vehicle. Same applies to any damaged signage, light posts, traffic lights, etc. The newer Mueller Centurion models are designed to break off when hit, minimizing damage to the underground parts.

Sign in Stow, MA
Stow Fire Department
access to Elizabeth Brook
Lest any reader think this column is neglecting Maynard's western neighbor, Stow does not have a public water supply system, and thus no centralized system of hydrants. New housing developments are required to have underground water storage tanks. For everything else, the Stow Fire Department is equipped to pump water from streams, ponds and lakes. This is not as scary as it sounds. First responder trucks carry 500-1000 gallons of water, which is often all it takes to knock down a fire. Even if not extinguished, time is gained for other water-carrying trucks (Stow's and neighboring towns) to arrive. Only rarely would there be a need for the trucks to shuttle back and forth from a water source to the site of the fire.

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