Guardians of The City SFFD Home Page - San Francisco Fire Department Museum
Museum Collections: Apparatus - Coffee Unit No. 1:
1942 Chevrolet Civil Defense pumper converted to a coffee truck in 1946


Builder: Chevrolet, 1½ ton truck with a 6 cylinder, 78 HP engine and a 500 GPM Buffalo single stage centrifugal skid mount pump with a 60 HP Ford V-8 pump motor.

Motor # AF 1081647SFFD Shop Number: CF-2 (coffee unit)
City & County Number: #145-838 (applied 1970)


Condition: Good, preserved.  The interior of the rear walk-in area is restored

Crew: Driver
The member of the coffee unit company could be identified at fires and other emergencies by his all black helmet.

Service History:

1942   Civil Defense Auxiliary Engine No. 3, with Engine Co. 37, 2501 - 25th Street
1946   converted by the Fire Department's Corporation Yard to a coffee wagon
1946   Coffee Unit Co. No. 1, quartered with Engine Co. No. 29, 380 Division Street
1951   with Engine Co. No. 35, 36 Bluxome Street
1968   with Engine Co. No. 25, 3305 - 3rd Street
1969   with Engine Co. No. 4, 676 Howard Street
1969   Placed into an un-manned reserve status.
1975   Company disbanded and the apparatus transferred to the roster of the Museum

In 1946, it was time to retire the Department's first coffee unit, a 1923 Buick C cab. The Fire Department Corporation Yard converted this1942 Chevrolet auxiliary pumping engine to a coffee unit.  The pump and hose bed were removed and a rear walk-in compartment was crafted of wood and covered with a heavy exterior grade canvass.  The entire unit was painted with the famous SFFD dark maroon paint and a small amount gold leaf trim stripping was added.  The war regulated painted over chrome front bumper was re-chromed.

From 1922 through 1968, the Coffee Unit was a manned apparatus of the Department and responded to all fourth alarm fires.  Upon the sounding of a third alarm, the fireman assigned to the Coffee Unit heated the water in the 30 gallon copper coffee tank so as to have the water ready for coffee brewing upon his arrival at the fourth alarm, if struck.

The last major fire where the Coffee Unit responded was the 1968 Allen Meat Packing greater alarm fire in Butchertown, where it remained out of service on duty for three days. Soon afterwards, due to budget cuts, the company was removed as a manned unit and placed into a reserve status. 

After 1968, the duties of the Coffee Unit No.1 at greater alarms were taken over by the Red Cross canteen truck.  The Red Cross continues this service today.

In 1975 the Coffee Unit Company No.1 was disbanded and the apparatus transferred to the roster of the Museum.

In 1978 the members of Station 10 restored the rear interior section of the unit.  The battleship gray wall paint was stripped away and the heavy WWII style linoleum on the floor removed.  The walls and ceiling were replaced with cream color paint and a maroon industrial carpet placed on the floor.  All the gray paint on the wooden coffee mug storage drawers was stripped and stained with its natural wood color. The exterior of the unit has been preserved.

In the 1970's and 80's, the coffee unit was well used as a mobile museum membership drive facility and museum merchandise sales booth. 

During this time, the Muster Team of the Department transported the coffee unit to firemen's musters throughout California.  It became the famous day social center of the muster, offering SFFD T-shirts for sale.  On Sunday mornings, it was the meeting place to receive free San Francisco foggy fizzes.  Donations for the drinks were accepted and added to the museum improvement fund.

At the annual April 18th 5:13 am, “Years After” '06 survivors meeting held at Lotta's Fountain, the Coffee Unit became the popular place to gather and to receive free Bloody Marys.  As at the musters, donations were gratefully accepted. Again, all of the donations went to support the Museum.  The 1906 Earthquake and Fire survivors meeting began in 1908 when a notice was posted noting “2 Years After” there would be a gathering see old friends and celebrate of the rebuilding of San Francisco at the 3rd and Market Street fountain.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, April 18, 2002:

Farley Cartoon


San Francisco Bloody Marys

Glass, 10 oz.
P&M Sardis Bloody Mary mix
Celery stick
Tabasco hot sauce

Fill glass to ½ with ice, add one shot of vodka, fill with San Francisco's P&M Sardis Bloody Mary mix, and add a cocktail sized celery stick.  Offer red and green Tabasco hot sauce for those who like it fire hot.

San Francisco Foggy Fizzes

1 cup of Vodka
1 cup of ½ & ½ cream
1 cup of sparkling soda
2 TSP concentrated orange juice
2 TSP powered sugar
2 eggs
Orange Flower Water

Fill blender half full with crushed ice.  Add Vodka, ½ & ½, soda, orange juice, sugar and eggs, add 3 drops of orange flower water.  Blend until ice disappears.  Adding the Vodka first will help blend the ice.  Transfer blender amount to a large pouring container and serve.  Begin to make your second patch.  These are so tasty that your friends will be asking for more.

Permission is given to adjust this recipe to your own tastes.  You may wish to have less soda, add more Vodka or only use egg whites to reduce the cholesterol count.

Making the first patch is easy.  It is the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th (alarm) batches that take added concentration as you will be tasting each batch for quality control.  Place the ingredients on your work station in order as listed above and use the same mixing pattern, left to right or right to left, remembering 1, 1 and 1, 2, 2 and 2.  This helps as the more you make the harder it is to remember what you have added to the blender.

Serves: One blender batch of San Francisco Foggy Fizzes will serve 10 society women at a luncheon in a Nob Hill penthouse, or 3 firefighters at a 49er tailgate party who worked “The Big One” the night before.

Equipment Carried:
One 250 gallon water tank.  One 30 gallon copper coffee urn and several other large coffee urns. Propane supplied two burner stove for the large urn.  A large supply of ceramic coffee mugs, spoons and kitchen tools are part of the standard equipment.  A historic note: notice that it was ceramic mugs on this inventory list as paper, foam and plastic cups were not yet invented.

Please Note: On Easter in 1982 the 50 gallon copper coffee tank was stolen from unit that was stored in the museum annex at old 16 Engine on Tennessee Street.  We are still looking for it!  If you have any information as to its location, all correspondence will remain strictly confidential.

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