Museum Madness contest down to Iron Lung Vs. Fire Truck

Sunday, August 5, 2018

This is it. The final showdown, the main event, the star attraction. The Frontier Gateway Museum’s “Museum Madness” competition has finally entered its grand finals. Sixteen pieces of local history were entered at the start of the competition, but now only two remain.

While all of the artifacts entered are worthy of admiration, museum patrons have cast their votes for these two. Who will be crowned the champion? Let’s find out.

In one corner is the American LaFrance 350 G.P.M. Fire Engine.

American LaFrance was an American automotive manufacturer that specialized in emergency vehicles, such as fire engines and ambulances. The company was founded in 1873 by Truckson LaFrance and operated until as recently as 2014.

Early fire-fighting equipment produced by the company involved hand-drawn, horse-drawn and steam-powered equipment.

The fire engine on display at the museum was bought by the city of Glendive in 1916. This model of fire engine had no windshield but came with an armstrong starter and chain drive.

According to information from the town of Mount Airy, N.C., which also own one of these trucks, American LaFrance only manufactured four of this particular model in 1916 and only three of them are accounted for.

The truck at the museum has been greatly preserved and is in great condition. It’s even still drivable.

It can be found in the museum’s outdoor exhibit in the fire hall.

In the other corner is the Iron Lung, otherwise known as a “negative pressure ventilator,” donated to the Northern Pacific Beneficial Association Hospital, the early predecessor of Glendive Medical Center, in 1950.

While polio epidemics became a seasonal occurrence in the early 1900’s, usually affecting at least one part of the country during the summer, the 1940’s and 1950’s saw the worse polio epidemic in modern history. During the epidemic of 1949, 42,173 cases were reported across the United States with 2,720 of them resulting in death.

The iron lung came into use when the disease reached a person’s lungs and they could no longer breathe on their own.

The iron lung was conceptualized as far back as 1670 in England and similar devices were being tested in Scotland around 1832. An airtight wooden box model specifically for polio victims was made in South Africa in 1918. The model that would become widely used during the polio epidemic was built in 1928 in the United States.

The iron lung on display at the museum was donated by Eloise Herrick in memory of her late husband.

Her husband, Elmer, was an early day rancher who lost his entire herd during the Winter of 1886. After the harsh winter, he worked tirelessly to rebuild.

During the polio epidemic, he worked to save the funds to donate the iron lung. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could make the donation, so his wife made it in his name.

The local newspaper at the time reported that she also donated the funding needed to send a local nurse to Minneapolis to learn how to operate the machine, but for unknown reasons, a nurse was never trained and the machine was never used.

The Herrick’s house can still be found at the corner of Meade Avenue and West Relf Street.

The polio vaccine was developed in 1955 and the iron lung is now basically obsolete. By 2017, the executive director of Post-Polio Health International didn’t know of anyone in the United States who still uses an iron lung.

This artifact can be found in the back of the museum’s Cross Room.

The final round of voting will close on Aug. 26, at which time the museum will be hosting an open house to announce the winner and celebrate Glendive’s history.

“This is a good time to see some of Glendive’s history and discuss changes that have been made over the years,” museum director Fayette Miller said.

The open house will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The public are encouraged to bring photos and post cards of Glendive, past and present, for viewing by guests. If you plan to bring photos, please contact the Frontier Gateway Museum to let them know how much space you will need to display them.

Tables and chairs will be set up and light refreshments will be served.

The museum will also have “oldtime” items available for attendees to take pictures with. Some items available include hats, coats and the knights that are normally on display.

Voting can be done at the Frontier Gateway Museum or on the museum’s Facebook page.

Contact Hunter Herbaugh at