The ODHFS is tracking fire apparatus manufactured by Oren, in Roanoke, VA. Although we already have many entries, we need your help in locating, and documenting, Oren fire apparatus located around the country.
If you know of any Oren fire apparatus in your area, or if you own an Oren truck, we'd really like to hear from you. We're looking for the year of manufacture, serial #, chassis type, history, current status of the truck, and a photo or two. If the truck is for sale, please contact us!
The Oren Story
By Steve Hagy
From the 1988-3 Edition of Enjine!-Enjine!
Over the years, many manufacturers of fire apparatus have come and gone, all leaving their impact to some degree on the fire service. Just to hear the names of some of the builders conjures up memories of a certain type or style of apparatus that they have produced. Who doesn't think of a piston pumper when you mention Ahrens-Fox, or of the bulldog when the name Mack creeps into the conversation ?
For me, the name Oren has always brought forth the image of those rugged yet attractive looking rigs that were their custom jobs in the 1940’s and ‘50s.
The origins of Oren go hack to 1917 when Oren 0. Lemon opened an auto repair business and machine shop in Roanoke, VA, under the name of the Roanoke Welding Company. In 1927 the name of the company was changed to the Roanoke Welding and Equipment Company. This name gave a greater indication of the true nature of the firm, as by then they were offering truck bodies for sale along with their welding and other services.
In the mid-1930’s, the company began producing fire apparatus under the Roanoke Welding and Equipment Co. name. This soon gave way to the name Oren in the late 1930’s.
Most of the apparatus being produced at the time was corning out on small commercial chassis such as Ford or Chevrolet with a choice of front-or midship-mounted pumps. Although the chassis the rigs were being built on might be regarded as run-of-the-mill, the body styles certainly weren’t! Many of the rigs produced by Oren had distinctive sedan-type or canopy style bodies. Even the standard pumpers often had a body with a sweeping curve just behind the cab that made these rigs instantly identifiable as Oren's.
After World War II, Oren made a decision to get into the market for the larger custom chassis fire engines. These are the rigs that I find so instantly identifiable with the Oren name today.
Oren’s first supplier for custom chassis was Available. There don’t seem to have been a tremendous number of rigs built by Oren on the Available chassis. The towns of Jessup and Ellicott City, MD both purchased Available/Oren pumpers with enclosed pump panels. The Jessup rig was equipped with a bench seat for the crew inside the cab, while the Ellicott City rig featured a standard two-man cab. McCoole, MD had a rig similar to the Ellicott City pumper, however it was delivered with an open cab.
During 1949, a new supplier for custom chassis was selected by Oren. Corbitt, of Henderson, NC began supplying what would become dozens of chassis for Oren apparatus. These rigs were delivered to scores of fire departments all over the United States, however the majority of deliveries took place in New Jersey and Virginia.
In 1950, Oren’s home town of Roanoke purchased four Corbitt-chassis pumpers. Equipped with 1000 gpm pumps and 150-gallon booster tanks, two of these rigs remained on the Roanoke roster until the mid-1980’s in reserve status. Like all Roanoke apparatus delivered at that time, these pumpers were painted Roanoke’s standard color of battleship gray.
1953 saw the alteration of the Corbitt chassis by Oren. Large, boxy-looking front fenders were fitted to the front of the chassis with smaller squared fenders being used in the rear. Beneath it all you still had the same Corbitt chassis.
A change of chassis suppliers again occurred during 1954. That year Corbitt went out of business leaving Oren with no choice but to find a new manufacturer for their custom chassis.
Oren solved their dilemma by purchasing the remaining inventory of Corbitt and then began production of their own custom chassis. The Oren custom rigs are almost identical to the Corbitt / Oren rigs that were produced. The telling difference between the two appears to be in the construction of the cab. The Corbitt-produced rigs had windshields with four rounded corners, while the rigs completely produced by Oren appear to have Cincinnati cabs. The Cincinnati cabs can be distinguished by the fact that they have three square corners in the windshield and one rounded corner.
With the introduction of cab-forward custom chassis, Oren Once again switched suppliers, this time to Duplex. Duplex also furnished Oren with at least one conventional style chassis. This was used for a 750 gpm pumper delivered to Clinton, CT in 1964.
The Oren customs of the post-World War II era can still be found in many fire stations across the country. They were used as pumpers by countless fire departments, plus they were built as quads, city service trucks and heavy rescues. Many of them are still in frontline service, while others are already finding their way into the hands of private owners and onto the muster circuit!