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.