1959 American LaFrance “Little Mo.” Photos courtesy Auctions America.
Walter Lewis “Army” Armstrong was a mechanical jack-of-all-trades with a particular passion for the fire service. He’d eventually found three companies dedicated to firefighting, ultimately producing the “Blitz Buggy” and later, the “Little Mo” brush trucks. Built in very small quantities by Young Fire Equipment of Buffalo, New York from 1954-’56, and by American LaFrance from 1958-’60, just one restored Little Mo is known to exist today, and on June 24, this 1959 Dodge Power Wagon, painted as a demonstrator model for a New Jersey dealership, heads across the auction block in Santa Monica.
Following his service in the U.S. Navy during WWI, Armstrong returned to his home state of New York, eventually settling on the outskirts of the Adirondacks. As a volunteer firefighter himself, Armstrong understood the difficulty of fighting brush fires in remote areas, many without roads or even trails, and in the years after WWII, set about designing the Blitz Buggy, built upon a variety of 1 to 1 ½-ton chassis supplied by Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, GMC and Willy-Overland. Though designed to fight forest fires, Armstong’s early customers also included suburban departments with modest budgets, airports and even industrial clients eager to reduce insurance costs by staffing on-site fire departments with employee volunteers.
The Little Mo followed, and its most distinctive trait was the water cannon positioned on the roof of the cab. Supplied by the Rockwood Sprinkler Company and designed to be operated by the driver (in conjunction with optional foam nozzles mounted beneath the front bumper), the high-pressure gun could deliver up to 90 gallons per minute, draining the 200-gallon onboard tank in just under 2 ½ minutes. Separate tanks carried foam (20 gallons) and a wetting agent (five gallons), making the roof cannon suitable for everything from burning brush to burning fuel.
When American LaFrance began building the Little Mo under license in 1958, it standardized on the Dodge Power Wagon, built upon a reinforced version of the W200 chassis (the W205) and powered by the 315-cu.in. Power Giant V-8, rated at 205 horsepower and 292 pound-feet of torque. Four-wheel drive was standard, and ground clearance was significantly improved from earlier versions, giving the truck even greater off-road capability. In addition to the roof cannon, the Little Mo was equipped with a pair of 150-foot hoses, mounted on reels in the bed, and these could be equipped with piercing nozzles for attacking fires in stacked material.
Period advertising billed Little Mo as a “fast, effective fire fighter,” which had “no equal for Airports, Thru-ways, Structural, grass or brush and flammable liquid fires.” On-truck advertising on the model pictured here also proclaimed, “No matter where the fire is… this rugged new 4×4 will get there.”
Chassis B2444, the Little Mo to be offered in Santa Monica, started life as a demonstrator unit for a New Jersey distributor. In 1963 it was sold to Aeroflex Airfield in Andover, New Jersey, where the truck spent the vast majority of its life stored indoors, accumulating less than 1,000 miles over its entire service life. A two-year restoration was completed in 2016, and chassis B2444 is believed to be the only fully restored Little Mo remaining; the truck also lays claim to being the lowest-mileage Dodge Power Giant in existence.
Auctions America predicts a selling price between $60,000 and $80,000 when this unique bit of firefighting history crosses the block in California. For additional details on the Santa Monica sale, visit AuctionsAmerica.com.