The Husum Fire Department The Early Years
As recalled by Dick Smith
The idea of having a fire department in or near Husum, may have been around for sometime, but came to a head in 1955, with the occurrence that year of several fires. The on that was the final straw, was when the old Turk place burned that fall. I don’t recall what started the fire, but it was slow enough that neighbors and passers by were able to remove a large amount of the furnishings. As usual the one truck from White Salmon, contracted by the District 3 commissioners, arrived after the fact. There was a lot of talk at the fire and in the community that if any type of equipment had been available this home could have been saved.
Shortly after that, a number of men in the area gathered on evening in what had been until a short time before the “Husum Fountain Lunch” (now the front of my home.) We discussed the situation and decided that we needed a fire station closer than White Salmon. A group of us attended the next District Commissioners meeting. The result of that was to learn that they were not at all interested in having a fire station anywhere in the district. They were happy to hold their periodic meetings, pay White Salmon for their call in the district, and at the end of the year turn over any money remaining to the county general fund. This attitude did not sit well. It was decided that we would continue with our plan to have some type of fire protection in the area of our own. It was also decided that as each position on the District 3 Fire Commission opened up, we would replace the present commissioners with people who would be more responsive to the needs of their constituents.
Early in 1956 we found that the town of White Salmon had an old truck that they had retired and were using once in a while to wash down streets. We talked to the town and got the truck first by lease then purchased it for as I recall $100.00. They also threw in a siren that mounted on a power pole to alert those who could hear it. We formed the Husum Fire Department that spring. The White Salmon Fire Department took over the job of training us, and for all practical purposes, we became an auxiliary of their department. Remember, we had nothing but determination. They gave us W.S.F.D badges, a little worn hose, some old turnouts, etc. – We were in business – sort of.
Our “New” truck, was a 1934 Ford. I understood that it had been a farm truck hauling cotton in the south. That it had been used to move someone out here, and had been purchased by White Salmon and made into a fire vehicle. Somewhere along the line the engine had been replaced by a 1937 Ford engine. It had a four-speed transmission, a very high-speed rear end, a long wheelbase, and of course mechanical brakes (more about this combination later.) As a rural fire truck it left a lot to be desired, as it only carried 225 gallons of water.
The truck hadn’t been used for several years and was in pretty bad shape. We moved it to Husum, put it in Willis Grosses old shop, where the men of the community began patching, fixing and sanding. When we had it ready, Alger “Dobie” Cox painted her.
She now looked better but still needed a lot of work, and was still a tired old lady. During this time, Bonnie and I had the Store and Service Station. As there was nowhere else to keep it, we housed the truck in our lube room until we had a building for it in the falls of 1957. As we had no heat in the lube room of the service station Bonnie and I kept heat lamps and electric heaters on the tank and plumbing all the winter of 1956 to keep it from freezing. As you can imagine, this did wonders for our electric bills. This is also where our meetings were held for over a year.
One afternoon, Art Moore, Clell Black (our first chief), Bud Aplin, and the Asst. Chief (me), took the truck our for a test run. We were checking our sites to get water, and were at what used to be the water hole on the Gilmer grade above BZ Corners. We put the suction hose into the water, put it in gear, gunned the engine and threw a connecting rod through the block. Just that quickly we were out of business.
Art Moore and his partner Chet Teaque were in the logging business and had a 1952 Ford truck they had just put a new short block into. They had, had the old engine rebuilt as a spare, and very generously donated this engine to us. This fire department would never have survived the first couple of year had it not been for the generosity of people like Art Moore, and others in the community who helped out, and the original members of the department who when we needed something, a hose nozzle, etc, took up a collection and bought it out of their own pockets. It was over a year before we got our first dime from the fire district. Our next task was to fit a 1952 engine into a 1934 Ford truck. It was surprisingly easy, but did require a cutting torch and some modification of the 1952 engine with a hacksaw. As the 1952 engine was a short block, we used the heads from the 1937. We also used the 1937 intake manifold as the generator had to sit on top of the engine (there wasn’t room for it anywhere else.) I recall that I had a hard time finding a fan belt to fit this critter, but finally with the help of a hacksaw, a fine and some prying, we were back in business. From that time on, I always thought of this truck, as our 1937 – 1937 – 1952 Ford.
Our alarm system couldn’t have been simpler. We still had the old crank telephones. While the system was poor, with no expectation of privacy, it was perfect or us. I remember that there were 21 people on my line, and that you heard every ring. It was early call forwarding, for if you were at someone else’s home that was on your line and you heard your ring you could answer. We checked with the telephone operator to confirm that five long rings was not used, and adopted that as the fire alarm. This stayed in effect for a number of years until the phone company replaced the old crank system and made us move on to the next phase, which was using a one way call in only telephone placed in selected homes.
Our First Fires
The first fire we responded to was in July of 1956. It was the Hoppe – DeWilde Mill Fire at Gilmer. I had been in White Salmon and was on my way home, it was one of those record heat days with the temperature above 100, and I could see this large smoke as soon as I left town. When I got to Husum, Art Moore was just getting the truck out of my lube room. As we were getting ready to leave, the White Salmon fire truck, the O.C.D pumper, and the old rescue car went by. We pulled out a short time later. The rescue car was stopped with a vapor lock about Glacier Orchards, where we picked up a couple of W.S. firemen, the O.C.D unit was stopped with a vapor lock just short of BZ Corners, we picked up some more firemen, just across the bridge of the Gilmer grade the heat had stopped their fire truck, we picked up some more firemen. All this time, we were enthusiastically running our siren (it was homemade out of a starter motor, and drew a lot of juice, much more than our 6 volt battery could handle.) We must have been a sight to behold when we pulled in with firemen stuck all over our truck like flies on a cow pie. The new engine was tight, the battery was dead and I killed the engine when I stopped. However, with the number passengers I had, it was easy to push start the old girl. When we arrived at the scene, the main mill was fully engulfed but the planer building had not caught yet. I still don’t know how, but we manager to save it, with some blister paint as the only damage.
The other fire that stands out in my mind that year was when Frank Markgraf’s home burned in November. They had no phone and had to drive over 4 miles to Husum to report it. We arrived just as the house collapsed so we weren’t of much use. The memorable thing about this run had to do with the truck and the weather. A little more about the truck. It had a windshield but no cab. Like most autos of that era, the battery was under the floor on the passenger side. The floor board had long since rusted away and had been replaced with a sheet of plywood which was laid in place but not fastened down. Remember, this 1934 – 1937 – 1952, was anything but standard, so when we got to the exhaust system, we just used some flex pipe and ran a straight pipe from the engine. Now, with the combination of a 1952 truck engine in a relatively light vehicle with a high-speed rear end, she would go like a scalded cat, and you could hear us coming even without the siren. I don’t know how fast that old truck would go. I had it up to 70 mph once but quite when I thought about how old she was, how foolish I was, and how far it would take to stop with mechanical brakes. Anyway, that day was one where the weather couldn’t make up its mind. It rained, snowed and the sun even came out on the way. We had trouble seeing as it was raining on both sides of the windshield, and when we would hit mud puddles, and there were a lot of them, the floorboards would raise up so I couldn’t reach the peddles. We weren’t much help, but it was a very exciting and memorable trip.
All of this had taken place in 1956. We realized that the next order of business was a building to house the truck, and some equipment to put on the truck. We needed to raise some money, and were still on our own as far as the fire district was concerned.
We decided to hold a ham dinner at the end of May 1957 to raise money. Being new to the game, we ordered enough ham and some beef to serve about 400 people, which at them time cost right at $80.00. The firemen’s wives and some other ladies of the community would make scalloped potatoes and salads. Bonnie and I had the store, so we hit up every salesman that came through the door. In addition to selling them tickets, we got the wholesale grocery salesman to provide enough canned vegetables for the dinner, along with paper plates, dinnerware and napkins. Boyd coffee provided the coffee and cups. Mayflower milk provided milk and cream, while the Mt. Adams Dairy that was in White Salmon at the time provided Dixie cups. A young man who was a cook had just gotten out of the Navy, volunteered to cook all the meat. Several men who had served dinners at the Elks, volunteered to serve for us. These “experts”, told us we had way to much food, as no one had ever had more than 250 show up for on of these things. However, ignorance is bliss, and at this point it looked like our only outlay was going to be for the meat so we charged ahead.
The P.U.D had a battery operated PA system that they loaned out, so I borrowed it, mounted it on the fire truck and for several days visited Trout Lake, Glenwood, Klickitat, Lyle, Bingen and White Salmon. Not only did I broadcast our message, I stopped at every store to sell tickets and / or get them to sell for us.
By the time the big night had rolled around we had pre-sold at the door over $750 in tickets. That was at $1.50 for adults and 75 cents for children. A lot of food was wasted, as our “experts” were been sill and loading people up “because we had way to much food.” We served over 400 people that night and had to turn people away when we ran out of food. Those who had tickets and didn’t’ get to eat, were offered their money back, but I don’t remember a one who took it. One of those who didn’t get to eat was Forrest Wallace who had a local logging company. We were visiting in the halfway and he asked me how we were doing, and if everything was paid for. When he found that we still owed for the meat, he paid for it. We ended up with a clear profit on the dinner. The firemen only had to sell tickets, get chairs and tables from the school in White Salmon and the Elks, set up and clean up.
The money went to buy a portable pump, some hose and a nozzle or two. It didn’t go all that far with all of our needs. The pump and hose was delivered and used within a week at the Hoppe – DeWilde Mill fire.
Getting a Building
By the first of august 1956, we had permission to put a building on the State highway property in Husum. We also had buried a 3000-gallon water tank at BZ Corners next tot the Logs Tavern.
We had the site and the desire, but no money. For the next few months and into the spring we had our hands out. The response was gratifying. S.D and S., The Rees Stevenson Mill at Husum, the Hollenbeck Mill at Trout Lake, The Broughton Mill and the rebuilt Hoppe – DeWilde Mills donated all the lumber. By the following spring nearly everything we needed had been donated by various businesses. The Fire District even kicked in $100.00. By the spring of 1957 we were started on the building.
At that time everyone in the department was working away from Husum except me, so we could work on the building only on weekends and evenings. About that time we had contacted the local carpenters union and a couple of volunteer carpenters showed up. They would only work if a fireman was there, so I spent a number of hard days working with them but sure learned a lot. By mid summer we were in the new building, however it still needed a lot of work.
A gentleman by the name of Joe Vendom lived above BZ at that time and was a brick mason. He volunteered to build our chimney, so I got to help him by mixing mud and carrying bricks, we completed it in October. I learned from this experience and found a job away from Husum a short time later. We constructed the building with three bays and used 2. A couple of years later, we converted on bay into a meeting room.
Up until the first of January 1957, White Salmon was still answering calls in the district and we were assisting. On January 15, 1957, we announced that we would now handle all call from Bald Mountain to Camp Five Hill. We had also kept our promise about the Fire District Commissioners, and had elected Art Moore as our first replacement the previous fall. We replaced the other two as soon as their terms cam up for election. That summer we also joined the Mid Columbia Mutual Aid Association.
As things progressed we realized that we needed more water when we answered a call. Alger Cox had a nice old 1936 Ford ton and a half with a two speed rear end that he leased to us for $1.00. We needed a tank for it, and about that time the U.S. Forest Service at Trout Lake held an auction and had two tanks for sale. As I was available, the guys sent me to the sale with a $20.00 limit. Russell Kreps out bid me on both tanks, but when he found I was bidding for the fire department, he let me have on of them for $20.00. We put the tank on Alger’s truck, mounted our new portable pump on it and in December of that year had our first tank truck with and additional 550-gallon capacity.
Of course we upgraded and added equipment through the year, but those old rigs will always represent the fun years, and will hold a special place in my memory.
Robert (Bob) miller took over the old Corry Store in May of 1957. Bob had been a White Salmon Fireman for several years, and was a welcome addition to our department. Ob became our only fatality when he suffered a massive heart attack on August 15, 1966, while working on the Glacier Orchards Warehouse fire. The department and I both lost a very good friend on that day.
Since our humble beginning there have been many changes and improvements. Many faces have come and gone over the years, and we have had some good things come about because they have given so much. When we first started may people contributed time and effort on our behalf while not serving actively to fight fire. To those and to the wives who put up with us, and who furnished cakes and cookies, we owe our thanks for what we are and what we have become.
Roster of the Original Firemen 1956
Chief: Clell Black,
Assistant Chief: Dick Smith
Firemen: Bud Aplin
These were the first 10 firemen at Husum.
Things change and people move on. In August of 1956, I was elected Fire Chief and Bud Aplin was the new Assistant Chief. Some of the changing faces through 1957 were:
Some other who helped were:
Mrs. Harriet Potter
And many others. Patty Moore became the secretary to the District 3 Commissioner about 1958 until her untimely death in an auto accident that also claimed her husband and our long time friend and benefactor Art Moore.
I’m sure I have missed a number of people and am sorry. We always had the support of the community and they were always there for use when we needed them.
Richard (Dick) Smith
October 3, 1997