Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Firemen provide 4th of July entertainment

Among the more colorful entertainments during Pendleton’s celebration of the nation’s birth in the late 1800s and early 1900s were the contests between companies of volunteer firemen, who stripped to shorts and T-shirts and pulled the fire hose carts through a series of tests that showcased the teams’ firefighting abilities.

The first hose team races were held during 4th of July festivities in 1888 between the Protection and Alert companies. Protection Company, as the winner, was chosen to represent Pendleton at the hose races in Walla Walla the following day. The races continued each year, rotating to different Eastern Oregon towns, and by 1894 there was so much interest that the Eastern Oregon and Washington Firemen’s Association was organized in Walla Walla, consisting of representatives of fire crews from Baker, La Grande, Union, Pendleton and Athena, Ore., and Walla Walla, Waitsburg, Dayton and Colfax, Wash. Race rules were codified and the association was touted as “clean and honest sport and of benefit to the public for better fire protection,” according to a story written by Joe Ell in the June 3, 1924 edition of the East Oregonian.

Races consisted of the Wet Test, running a distance of 300 feet while laying 300 feet of hose, and attaching to a hydrant (time was taken when water came through the nozzle); the Dry Test, running 600 feet carrying 250 feet of hose as a team; the Hub and Hub Race, where two teams pulling carts ran side by side for 600 feet; and the Association Championship Race, where teams ran 200 feet, laying hose as they went, attached it to a hydrant and ran water through it, removed the hose and attached a second line from the hose cart, attached it to the hydrant and ran water through a second time. By the 1890s the Hook and Ladder Race was added: Teams ran 150 yards, put up a 30-foot ladder within 10 degrees of perpendicular to the street, and one member of the team climbed the ladder to the top. The winner was the man who touched the top rung first, and held on until the judges called time.

Photo provided by Kenneth Garrett.
A team of volunteer firefighters, including a young Til Taylor, readies for a hose cart race during a fireman's tournament in June 1896 at the corner of Southeast Court and Third Street, Pendleton.

The hose team races grew out of the (sometimes not-so-) friendly rivalry between local hose companies, which were located in different districts throughout Pendleton. According to “History of Round-Up City Fire Department, Pendleton, Oregon” by William R. “Blacky” Batchelor, written in 1967, companies raced to be the first to respond to a fire in the business district of town, and fist fights would often break out if fires occurred on the border between two fire districts. In some cases, fires caused considerable damage while hose companies fought each other instead of the fire, and sometimes more than one fight occurred before an agreement on territory could be reached.

In the late 1890s and early 1900s, according to Batchelor, the emphasis of firefighting was placed on which company could use the most water, rather than keeping fire loss to a minimum. Victory always went to the crew that had the first water on the fire. And the volunteers manning the carts had one advantage over their present-day counterparts: There was always an ice-cold keg of beer waiting for them, either at the brewery or at one of the many downtown saloons, after their fire chores were completed. And if the fire lasted a while, the beer would be brought to them at the scene.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

School cornerstone reveals disappointing treasure

In June of 1966, the old Condon High School building was torn down. Verne Shimanek, the man who bought the property on which the school and its gymnasium stood, began the demolition process by tearing out shrubs from the front of the school. And there, hidden under the undergrowth, was a cornerstone.

Dave Peterson was the owner of Condon’s only museum, and when he heard that Shimanek had unearthed the cornerstone, he asked if he could have it for his collection. As Shimanek and Peterson were prying at the cornerstone they wondered whether the builders of the school had buried something under the stone for posterity when the school was erected in 1909.

The men worked feverishly through their lunch hours trying to pry the stone away. And when it finally came loose, they found a tin box in a crevice behind it.

Shimanek hurriedly called city and county officials for the big reveal. Did the box contain old papers? Was there some kind of historical information hidden in the box? The news quickly spread, and by the time Judge James O. Burns, Mayor Bruce Mercer and ex-sheriff Frank Bennett (who had been present when the box was buried) arrived, quite a crowd had gathered. Excitement was high.

Bennett was given the honor of opening the box. But the “oohs” turned to “awws” when a total of $1.32 in coins dating back to 1890 fell out — and little else.

Bennett explained that the box was placed behind the cornerstone by members of the Masonic Lodge, who had formed a parade and marched to the site where the stone was laid. They had been told that only metal objects should be put in the box, and for that reason they chose coins, mostly nickels and dimes. One apparently wealthy man had donated a 50-cent piece, a scarcity in those times. Also included in the box was a gold pin or brooch — but nothing in the manner of a traditional time capsule.

The man most excited by the finds was Peterson, who quickly gathered up the cornerstone to put on display in his barbershop until he could find a permanent home for it in his museum. Judge Burns took custody of the tin box and its contents until it could be decided what should be done with it.

The old Condon High School, at the time it was demolished, was the last large public building built of bricks made and baked in Gilliam County.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Firemen take work home with them

Firemen wasted no time extinguishing a car fire in July of 1929, but because they weren’t properly dressed to fight an evening fire, they took it back to the station with them instead of risking embarrassment in front of Pendleton crowds.

A fire alarm came in from the call box at the corner of Alta and Garden streets about 9 p.m. on July 15, 1929, and the volunteer crew made haste to the scene. There they found a parked car with the seat cushion blazing merrily away. But because the fire crew was wearing afternoon attire, instead of more appropriate evening clothing, and the firemen did not wish to be embarrassed in front of the crowds that usually turned up to watch them work, a plucky fireman grabbed the flaming cushion and carried it to the firehouse, where the flames were quickly doused.

When the firemen took the cushion back to the scene of the fire, however, the car was gone.

Fire Chief W.E. Ringold immediately set about looking for “a slightly scorched cushionless Ford,” while the soggy seat was retired to a pile of rubbish at the city dump.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Water weapon wielders wage war

Sunny weather in Pendleton brought out weapons of wet destruction in May of 1953, but police were forced to enact a ban on water guns when unsuspecting adults were caught in the crossfire.

Police Chief Ralph Bond laid down the law to local teens (and soon-to-be teens) on May 5, 1953, after several grown-ups complained they were the victims of surprise attacks. The first reported victim was a man who was accidentally soaked on Main Street by a 13-year-old boy. The boy was chased into a nearby business by the man and allegedly assaulted when he was caught. The man was charged with disorderly conduct, and the boy was turned over to his father with a severe warning from the police.

Next, a woman driving her car on Main Street was shot in the face by teenage boys in a passing car as she made the turn onto Emigrant Avenue. Phyllis Fields in her complaint said she nearly lost control of her car and could have caused a disastrous wreck. And Pat Faro of Echo claimed he was the victim of “heavy artillery” when high school-age boys in a passing car doused him from what he suggested was a high-pressure tank of some sort.

Chief Bond instructed his officers to be on the lookout for anyone wielding a water weapon. “If a couple of youngsters want to engage in a water gun fight in their own yards, that’s OK, but if any more youngsters are caught shooting water guns in public places, either from cars or afoot, they’ll wind up in the city jail charged with disorderly conduct,” Chief Bond said in his ultimatum.