SAN JOAQUIN ENGINE COMPANY NO. 3
In 1855 the growth of the city demonstrated the need of additional fire protection and the German citizens, with the initiative characteristic of them in all matters tending toward the betterment of municipal conditions, formed a company under the above title. Their petition containing twenty-eight signatures, was received by the board of delegates on March 9, 1855, and that body immediately announced their admission into the Stockton Fire Department. The hand engine previously referred to in this volume as the "Piano deck" was placed at their disposal. For a time they housed their machine in a small wooden shed on Weber avenue opposite Lane's Mill. In 1856 the City Fathers secured a lot at a cost of $300 and had erected, for the use of the company, a two-story brick building. This structure, built by Wm. Saunders, remained the home of the company until 1869, when it was torn down and the building now occupied by the chemical company erected in its stead. The records of the company have been unaccountably lost. From Tinkham's History of Stockton, we learn that in February, 1857, the managers of a German ball donated $50 of the proceeds toward the purchase of an alarm bell, $200 more was obtained by the company and the City Council appropriated $125 for the erection of a tower. The bell, the first to be used by the department, was purchased in San Francisco and in due time arrived in this city. Upon being hung in the belfry prepared for it, it was found to be cracked. Despite the inharmony of its peals the company continued to use it until 1865, when a new one was obtained.
A new hand engine was purchased for the company in 1860. This machine was later sold to a fire company at Livermore where it is still in use. Being desirous of having a steam engine and finding themselves without the necessary funds, the company concluded to raise the money by a lottery scheme. Great excitement was created by the expedient, 371 prizes were offered aggregating in value $22,000. Twenty thousand tickets were issued to be sold at $2 each. The management of the affair was placed in the hands of a few prominent members and July 12, 1871, named as the date upon which the drawing would take place. A large number of tickets were sold, many members of the company purchasing them in lots of fifty, while the general public responded liberally. The date of the drawing was postponed by the committee in charge to September 24th. As that date drew near it became manifest that "old king graft" had been admitted into the management. A large deficiency was found which necessitated the abandonment of the project and the members of the company were compelled to reimburse the purchasers of tickets out of their private funds.
We are told that "as far back as Plato's time (428 - 347 B. C.) the Romans had engines for forcing water onto flames" but it is not of record that Nero ordered them manned to save Rome from destruction. The first fire engine mentioned in modern history was invented by a Dutchman, Jan Van der Heide, who introduced his machine at Amsterdam in 1518. From that date until the perfection of the steam engine but little progress was made by the students of fire-fighting.
Two years after the San Joaquin's failure to secure a steamer, an invention that has since proved to be the greatest foe of fire yet discovered by man, was introduced to public notice. This, which was known as the "Babcock Chemical Engine" was brought to Stockton and after several trials purchased by the company for $3,500. A large element in the company was opposed to the expenditure of such a large amount for what they called a "soda water engine" and it was only by dint of much hard work on the part of the late M. H. Bond and the present chief that a majority was secured to vote for its purchase. In order to demonstrate fully the engine's ability the agent of the manufacturers bought a small superannuated dwelling at the corner of American and Anderson Streets, filled it with boxes and other combustibles and saturated it all with kerosene. Together with many members of the company and a large inquisitive crowd he hauled the machine to a point near the house mentioned and ordered an assistant to set it on fire. Waiting until the flames had gained a good headway he bravely advanced upon the foe, firm in the belief that it would be a question of a moment when he would annihilate it. Alas! and by this story we are reminded of the efforts along similar lines of a popular Stocktonian who lately secured the agency for a flame-extinguishing device - he lacked the knowledge necessary to successful fire-fighting, a knowledge that is acquired by experience only, and after vainly endeavoring to put out the blaze by playing the compound on the base of the fire he gave up the nozzle in despair. Chief McCann caught up the hose and by playing on the flames in the proper manner extinguished the fire without any difficulty.
The acquisition of this up-to-date piece of apparatus immediately placed the company in the front rank of Stockton's Fire Department. The engine being light and equipped with a speedy span of horses was easily first at every fire. In nine "rolls" out of every ten the flames had gained but little headway and were easily extinguished by the new equipment. "First water," than which nothing is dearer to the old volunteer's heart, threatened to become "an empty phrase to be conjured with in memory only." Jealousy soon became manifest and every effort was put forth by members of the other companies to belittle the work of the "Babcock." Influence was brought to bear on the City Council and a resolution was introduced in that body by Alderman Freeman "providing for the abolishing of the entire allowance of the San Joaquin Engine Company on the ground that the said company was a useless expense." Anent the above we copy the following from the Independent of December 7, 1876: "We reprint herewith an official communication from the Secretary of the Board of Delegates of the Stockton Fire Department to the Council in relation to the Babcock fire extinguisher and the necessity of retaining the same in the service of the city: 'Hall of Board of Delegates, Stockton Fire Department, December 4, 1876. To the Honorable Mayor and City Council of the City of Stockton - Gentlemen: In the name of the Stockton Fire Department and by a resolution duly passed at their regular November meeting, the Board of Delegates protest against the passage of what is known as the 'Freeman resolution,' and also against any resolution that would effect the withdrawal of the Babcock extinguisher, now owned by San Joaquin Engine Company No. 3, from service, for these reasons: First, The superiority of the Babcock Extinguisher. Its simplicity - it dispenses with complex machinery, reservoirs and suction hose. Carbonic Acid is both the working and extinguishing agent. Second, Its promptness; it is always ready. Five minutes saved is generally a building saved. Third, Its efficiency. Bulk for bulk, carbonic acid is twenty times as effective as water. Fourth, Its economy. Fifth, Its conveniency. Two men can manage it; 100 feet of its pliant hose can be carried to any part of a burning building. Sixth, In saving from water what the fire has spared. The efficiency of the extinguisher now in service and owned by the San Joaquins has been proved on many occasions in this city. The following instances which we call to your attention will, we trust, be sufficient to convince you of its merits as an important aid in the Stockton Fire Department.
'The Fire at Sedgwick's house; at Jack Douglas' house; the rear end of Sargent's store; Ruhl's tinshop; R. S. Elsworth's house; and lately the fire at Mr. Thomas' house.
'In our city, where cisterns are few and far between, it cannot be dispensed with without working great injury to the Department, and an increased danger to property. Should the machine be withdrawn from service the rates of insurance would speedily double. In consideration of these facts we have full faith that your honorable body will not take any action which will result in the withdrawal of the said Babcock fire extinguisher. Yours respectfully,
(Signed) J. E. BIGGER, Secretary S. F. D.' "
Under date of August 1st, the following resolution was unanimously passed by the board of delegates: "Whereas on Saturday evening, July 26, 1876, during a fire at the house of Mr. J. B. Douglas, Mike McCann, steward and Ben. F. Kohlberg, foreman of the San Joaquin Engine Company, by their exertions and daring saved said house and displayed to its fullest capacity the workings, efficacy and usefulness of the Babcock fire extinguisher, therefore be it Resolved. That the thanks of this board are due and hereby tendered to said B. F. Kohlberg and M. McCann for their daring, discretion and firemanlike conduct during the fire at the house of J. B. Douglas, and for their displaying to its fullest capacity the workings and capacity of the said Babcock extinguisher.
(Signed) JAMES H. BUDD, President Stockton Fire Dept."
The above resolutions were published in the local papers with an accompanying statement of Mr. Douglas who fully concurred with its sentiments and added his thanks to the officers and members of the company for their services. Many other prominent citizens subsequently interested themselves in the matter and, after much persuasion on their part, the better judgment of the council prevailed and the Babcock remained in service. Mr. McCann continued to act as driver until August, 1886, when he resigned to enter the grocery business. J. W. Simpson was chosen to perform the duties of the position and the Babcock continued to do its full quota of the work until the purchase of the new chemical engine when it was retired and is now held in reserve.
A feature worthy of note in connection with the above is the long and faithful service of Mr. Simpson at the post of driver. For over twenty-one years he has piloted the chemical engine to the scene of danger and has never had a serious mishap, a record seldom equalled, and one of which any fireman might well feel proud.
From the date of their organization until the inauguration of the paid department, and they passed out of existence as an active fire-fighting body, the San Joaquins were noted for the assiduous interest evinced by them in all affairs of either a social or political nature, and they were always to be reckoned with on the occasion of a municipal election.
Transcriber Sally Kaleta.
Proofreader Betty Vickroy.
© 2002-2007 Nancy Pratt Melton.