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.

No comments:

Post a Comment