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JIM: When a Dalmatian was de facto Mayor of The Sprangs

When Jim read the story about the fire at Green River Marina, it brought to mind the memory of a great dog and of the story of the Columbia Fire Company and Chemical Fire Truck, 1921. This story deals with divers things, under two topics: 1) Old Paleface and 2) When, in 1922, Columbia heeded the editorial call to 'Buy a fire apparatus.' and the community responded just as it does, today, when Ralph Roy Speaks in Columbia's most influential print journal, It's Just for a Smile News.

By "Jim"

It's rare that I come across a fire-related story that Old Paleface, a venerated Dalmatian of great repute in Russell Springs, doesn't come to mind. Paleface nominally belonged to a Mr. Bernard of that village, but anyone who had been around th' Sprangs for longer than a buck-fifty knew The Truth -- that Old Paleface was the de facto Mayor and Goodwill Ambassador as well as the Foot Patrol Officer, General Town Inspector, and Food Taster Extraordinaire.

There were two other well-known facts concerning Paleface. One was that anyone with the effrontery to attempt harm to that classy canine was subject to justice in situ, niceties of the law be damned. The other fact was that when the fire whistle split the sleepy silence, you didn't get between Paleface and the fire house unless there were a compelling urge to get trampled by a large dog hurtling along at a high rate of speed. He was always the first volunteer to report in, unless some pretender to the crown had the nerve to already be there when the whistle sounded.

Paleface had the most important job of any of the firemen. It was his sworn solemn duty to ride shotgun for Chief Leroy Rowe, offering sage counsel and driving tips and giving Chief Rowe directions to the scene of the blaze. Many were the times that old siren sounded and I went running to the roadside to listen to the vehicles roaring out of the fire house. I always harbored the secret hope the flames would be east of town so I could see Leroy and Paleface in the Chief's truck come screaming up Highway 80 (with the ancient pumper trailing behind, adding to the cacophony), past the Main Street intersection and on up the hill toward the X of Highways 80 & 35. (Unkind folks quickly point out that the use of the latter number shows my age. So be it.)

Well, anyway. The foregoing is pure Gospel truth, except the parts that aren't, and the bits of literary flotsam and jetsam occasioned by passage of half a century and more.


The Columbia Fire Company & chemical fire truck, 1921

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, September 27, 1921, a conflagration swept the southwest part of the Square, consuming the W.L. Walker building (then owned by Mr. Walker's widow, Tola), the Hutchison & Patteson building, and the venerable Bank of Columbia structure on the corner, the latter of which had been undergoing vigorous -- and nearly completed -- renovation. The business firms of Nell & Cheatham (in the Walker Building) and Hutchison & Patteson were displaced, as was the Bank of Columbia. The Paull Drug Co. building, a 10 year old, three story brick next door to the Walker building, was saved only by the heroic efforts of the citizens of Columbia. Stated the News,

If the Paull Building had burned, the store room occupied by E.L. Sinclair & Co. would have caught, and also Mrs. Bettie Butler's residence, and probably the Jeffries Hotel. It took hard work to save the residence owned by Mr. N.M. Tutt and occupied by Mr. T.A. Lowe, which is located but a short distance from where Nell & Cheatham's store stood.

Just nine days later, another fire, this one across from the Christian Church, destroyed the home of Gordon Cheatham in the late evening hours of October 4th. Mr. Cheatham was half-owner of the above-named Nell & Cheatham business house.

No lives were lost nor were any serious injuries incurred as a result of these blazes, but the financial losses were heavy. In twist of irony laced with a dash of bitters, J.E. Murrell had thundered from the bully pulpit of the News just weeks earlier in the September 6 edition about the dire need of better fire protection in Columbia. Roared he, in part,

We understand that a chemical fire apparatus can be secured that is in the reach of the town and it should be purchased without delay...As it is now situated the town is at the mercy of the winds, which usually come swiftly with the property is being burned....If this apparatus is purchased the insurance rates will be lowered in the town, and every body will feel more comfortable, knowing that they can go to sleep, their property being protected.

Let there be but one voice in Columbia -- "Buy a fire apparatus." A company will be formed to manage it. In the next few days this proposition will be taken up. Let every body commence thinking and be ready to respond.

(Quite likely, the foregoing editorial was occasioned by a potentially disastrous fire that had occurred some days earlier. On the afternoon of Friday, August 25th, two buildings -- Conover & McCaffrey's poultry house, where the blaze started, and a blacksmith shop -- belonging to Mrs. Lula Sinclair were lost, and only the determination of the fire brigade averted dire catastrophe. The August 30 edition of the News stated that

At one time it looked like Mr. [Sam] Lewis' produce house would be consumed, also Mrs. Lillie Smith's place of business, Mr. W.R. Myers' house, Goff Bros.' store, J.B. Jones' undertakers shop, G.T. Rasner & Son's machine shop.)

The October 4th News -- on the same day the Cheatham house burned -- reported that the Town Board been considering the purchase of a fire engine for some time but that the matter had been delayed; however, "after the fire upon the Square, the Board was stimulated and readily saw the necessity of purchasing an engine and apparatus."

Well, almost.

The Board agreed that if Columbians raised $1,000 toward the purchase, the city would pay the balance. "In a few minutes a subscription was started, and a sufficient sum was raised to justify the Board to order an apparatus which is to cost $2,800."

This same article also noted that a fire company of twenty men -- ten front line and ten reserves -- would be formed, and that "The company will elect, or be appointed by the Board, a Chief of the Fire Department."

A week later, the October 11th edition informed readers that at the behest of Mr. G.R. Reed, the Adair County Fiscal Court had granted "a sufficient amount of ground on the Jail lot to build an engine house." The News reported the building would be "in the corner of the Jail lot facing the public square" and that it would built in a short order. Mr. Reed noted that the materials were being assembled, but that he yet lacked "a few hundred dollars to meet all expenses for putting in this much needed apparation (sic)."

The arrival of "the apparatus" graced the front page of the November 1st paper:

The Chemical Fire Truck, bought by the citizens of Columbia and the Municipal Board, arrived last Wednesday [October 25th] just before the noon hour. It was sold by the OBenchain-Boyer Co., Logansport, Ind. The Representative of the Company was here with Mr. R.J. Lyon [of the Buchanon Lyon Co. of Campbellsville] when the trade was made.

Upon reaching Columbia, it motored out the principal streets, giving the people of the town an opportunity of seeing it, and every body expressed themselves as being pleased with its appearance, and with one accord said that they believed it would do good work and fill a long-felt want.

It has quick speed, and in a few minutes can reach a fire that may occur in the corporate limits of Columbia. [At that time, the city limits extended one-half mile in all directions from the Square.] Property in the suburbs of the town can also be reached in a very short time.

The following named persons will be the firemen:

J.W. Young, Edwin Hutchison, Roy Rasner, Clel Tarter, Fred Myers, Stanley Epperson, Stewart Hutchison, Albia Eubank, Edwin Cravens, O.C. Hamilton, Doc Walker, Robert Wethington, Roy Stotts, Ralph Stults, G.R. Reed, Chief of Department, J.C. Strange, Ass't. Chief, L.M. Young, Captain, and Alvin Lewis, Lieutenant.

[According to a web site devoted to such things, the apparatus delivered to Columbia was OBenchain-Boyer unit No. 743; was built on a Ford chassis, and had three tanks, capacity not stated. It's likely the chassis was the TT (one ton) truck model, for which the recommended top speed was a blistering fifteen miles per hour. With an available add-on gearing option, top speed could be increased to a heartstopping twenty-two and a half miles an hours, probably a bit less were the vehicle "racing" up Jamestown Hill.]

By early November, the concrete foundation for the engine house had been put down. The News stated that "the other work will be pushed to completion" -- and pushed it was. In mid-December, a front page article proclaimed that the building, "a splendid structure," was almost ready for occupancy, and that

the Fire Marshall's Department and the Insurance Rating Bureau have inspected and approved both the truck and the building. The new insurance rates are in the hands of the printer, and the Fire Department is organized and ready for duty...

The article went on to chide the townspeople by saying:

A large per cent of the business people of the town have responded liberally, but yet there has not been enough subscribed to pay for this much needed equipment. Every property owner in the town will be benefited but a great many have not made their donation.
I'm sure I speak also for "Jim" in sending out a plea for photos of The Fire Apparatus or of Old Paleface to be submitted for posting, provided of course, that they are ary'un of either, extant. -EW

This story was posted on 2010-11-27 10:54:13
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