SOME NOTABLE FIRES FOUGHT BY THE VOLUNTEERS.
Stockton received its first baptism at the hands of the fire fiend on the morning of December 23, 1849. At that date the town could boast of but few wooden buildings, the in-habitants being housed in tents and within an hour after the first cry of fire rang out the entire business portion was in ashes. The burned portion was bounded by Main, El Dorado, Levee and Center streets and the loss in merchandise was estimated at $200,000.
It has been said that "the difference between the optimist and the pessimist is droll; the optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist the hole." While Stockton today may have its full quota of the class who take only the latter view of things effecting their city, it can be said without fear of contradiction, that none of them had reached here in '49. On the contrary optimism was a characteristic paramount in the pioneer; no calamity, however great, could shake his faith in the future, and when Christmas dawned the sufferers from the fire were all busily at work rebuilding their impaired fortunes. Within a fortnight a new linen city stood on the ground swept by the flames. Many more wooden buildings were also erected. These were covered with cloth, tules and other materials equally as combustible and on May 6, 1851, flames originating in the El Dorado Saloon and gambling hall, a tent 100 feet square, spread to neighboring tents with inconceivable rapidity and within a short time the town was once more in ashes.
Rebuilding was again begun before the ruins had cooled; the limits of the town were extended and a number of contracts let for the erection of brick buildings. For four years thereafter the town enjoyed practical immunity from the destructive element, but in February, 1855, the east half of the block on El Dorado Street was entirely destroyed. Five months later, on July 30th, ten buildings went up in smoke and many more were damaged before the valiant Volunteers could gain control. Two lines of hose were burst by the exertions of the members who manned the brakes of the Eureka engine. The fire had its origin in "Uncle John's" restaurant, an historic caravansary whose cuisine was estimated superior to that of the "Fairmount" of the present day by many of the early pioneers.
In the minute book of the Weber Engine Company George H. Blake, secretary of the company, recorded a vote of thanks extended to Messrs. Fairbanks & Osborn "for generously supplying the company with an abundance of champagne during the progress of fire." Captain E. Conklin of the steamer Cornelia was also the recipient of a similar action "for an ample supply of refreshments furnished on the boat."
August 4th of the same year Thomas K. Hook's barn "outside the city limits" was destroyed together with 240 tons of hay. Eleven days later the Volunteers were called out to extinguish a blaze in a wagon shop opposite Andrew Wolf's stable on Main Street. December 22, 1855, the bursting of a boiler in the City Mills of Sperry & Baldwin started a blaze which was extinguished with but a nominal loss. June 18, 1856, the unfinished residence of Mr. E. R. Stockwell "outside the city limits" was entirely consumed.
The bursting of a boiler flue in the Franklin Mills, on Levee Street below Center, occasioned a roll of the department on September 14, 1857. Several buildings on El Dorado Street were destroyed on October 1st. Christmas Eve of the same year witnessed the destruction of the brewery of Philip Neistrath situated on Weber's Levee. Mr. Neistrath who was a prominent member of San Joaquin Engine Company, estimated his loss at $1,500. At 11:30 p.m., July 3, 1858, flames were discovered in the Massachusetts Bakery on El Dorado Street. Before the fire was brought under control the entire east side of the block was laid waste. Fox's stable on San Joaquin and Church streets, was burned on February 20th. Subsequently a blaze was started in the center of town by the explosion of a "camphine lamp" but little damage resulted. The Fandango House at the head of Main Street was consumed October 7th. December 3rd the volunteers were called to the Boys' school house on Main Street and ten days later they rolled to Dr. Norcom's office on Center Street. But a nominal loss resulted in each instance. April 20, 1861, the services of the department were required to extinguish a fire in the hold of a schooner moored at the wharf.
December 20, 1862, the office of the Daily News was considerably damaged by fire and water. Under date of February 12, 1863, we find the following transcribed in the record book by W. F. Freeman, secretary of the Eurekas: "Five-o'clock p.m. fire originated in a small stable in the rear of B. B. Parker's Masonic Hall Building. Betwixt fire and water the hay was entirely destroyed. Dep't all out. The Weber got steam up but the Eureka (hand engine) had extinguished the fire before she got to work." The same gentleman, thirteen days later records "a blaze in the upper end of town between Channel and Miner's Avenue; great excitement up-town which for once looked lively." At that time the city extended to but a few blocks east of El Dorado street and all beyond that thoroughfare was known as "up-town." The burying ground then occupied the district now bounded by Main, Ophir, Pilgrim, and Weber Avenue and "Old Jake," an early day saloon man and restaurateur who was hanged for a murder committed by him in his saloon, was buried but a few feet from where the new engine house (No. 4) now stands.
In February, 1864, a blaze originating in a school room on the Peninsular consumed three buildings, September 27th all the wooden buildings on Levee between Center and El Dorado streets were destroyed. Four alarms came in in quick succession on October 8th. In each instance evidence of incendiarism was plainly apparent and the citizens became greatly alarmed. Rumors that "fire bugs" had been imported from San Francisco by an element opposed to the enforcement of the laws, were circulated and the situation was considered such as to call for stringent action. Accordingly a meeting of the citizens of the Second Ward was called to consider ways and means to rid the city of the parties responsible. Moses Severy presided as chairman of the meeting and Sidney Newell acted as secretary. An armed patrol of twenty-five men were appointed to guard the Second Ward. On the following day, October 10th, the following notice appeared: To the Citizens of Stockton: Our city being to an alarming extent infested with incendiaries, you are hereby notified and required to meet at the Court House at 4 p.m., in order to devise, form and mature plans for the protection of the city. (Signed) George Gray, Mayor. V. M. Peyton officiated as secretary of the meeting and Mayor Gray presided. Fourteen men from each ward were appointed to patrol the city and the following order was issued by the Sheriff, Mayor, and Chief of Police: "If anyone is seen setting fire, shoot him on the spot." Persons found on the street after 10 o'clock, unless identified, were taken to headquarters, and there searched and compelled to make known their business. During the reign of terror which lasted two weeks, the Volunteers responded to over twenty-five alarms.
October 5, 1870, a number of buildings situated where the Independent building now stands were destroyed. In the same year the Grand Hotel was consumed. The latter was a large three-story building erected by Heeney & Lochhead on the lot where formerly stood the large gambling tent, the El Dorado, and Fisher's stage office. Wm. Strickler lost his life in the fire that consumed the Eureka Saloon on October 5th. In 1866 the building in which housed the "Smith" hand engine, the "piano deck" and the small Van Syckle engines, together with all the uniforms of the "Hooks" was destroyed. This building stood on Hunter Street, opposite the present site of the home of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1.
After a long period of almost total immunity from the ravages of the fire fiend the department was called out at 8 o'clock on the eve of Washington's birthday, 1877, to fight a stubborn fire in the El Dorado brewery, then owned by D. Rothenbush. The Independent of the following day stated "that the brightness of the fire and density of the smoke led many to believe that it was the Insane Asylum and 2,000 people hastened to the spot. The department was promptly on hand giving a fresh assurance of its efficiency and the dependence to be placed upon its services when required. The Babcock, driven by M. McCann was the first engine on the ground and it added new laurels to its fame by the efficiency of its operation. Its efforts suppressed and held in check the flames until the other engines got to work, and many were of the opinion that the whole building would have been destroyed had it not been for the timely arrival of the Babcock. The Webers secured first water. The Eurekas arrived at the scene cold, the drive of a mile over the rough streets having been made with such rapidity that all the fuel was shaken through the grates. Steam was raised, however, and the company performed its full quota of the work." In explanation of the above reference to the Eureka's engine we copy from a later edition of the same paper the following:
"A fire occurred about 9 o'clock Thursday morning. The alarm was promptly turned in and the engines quickly on the spot, but as the engines are obliged to make steam from cold water on account of the extreme penuriousness of the City Council in not allowing fires to be maintained in them, they were unable to turn a wheel until after the Babcock had put out the fire."
A lively blaze in the property of Andrew Wolf, on Main between California and Sutter streets gave the department a hard fight in 1881. Strocter's cigar store, Gilleran's tonsorial parlor, Mayhew's paint shop, the tailoring establishment of Sheridan & Anderson and M. McCormick's shoe shop were gutted. The spread of the flames was prevented only by the herculean efforts of the Volunteers. Alfred Leffler was buried beneath a falling awning and when rescued by his brother firemen was unconscious. Though badly bruised Mr. Leffler was not seriously hurt and reported for duty again the following day.
The fire alarm telegraph was installed early in the above year. The first roll of the companies in response to an alarm over its wires occurred on May 28th. Anent the same we copy the following from the Herald of that date: "Just before 10 o'clock this morning a general alarm of fire was sounded by the ringing of the city hall bell. The different engine companies were given the alarm over the fire alarm telegraph a few seconds before the bell tapped. The fire was caused by the burning of a bath house at 'Doc' Davis' place on Jefferson Street across Mormon channel. When discovered an alarm was turned in from box 6, at St. Agnes Academy. The Webers and Eurekas in their hurry to get out did not wait for the second alarm, and took the number to be 15 instead of 6. They rushed wildly out to the State Insane Asylum where box 15 is located. The Webers set on the cistern at the corner of Stanislaus and Oak Streets and stretched in 300 feet of hose. There was no fire and they played into the street. The Eurekas when they reached the asylum turned around and went home. The driver of the Babcock engine was the only one who understood the alarm. He went out California street and found the fire, which the Babcock alone extinguished. The damage was not more than $25. The drivers of the engines that went to the asylum did not feel very proud of their race when they heard that they were a mile away from the fire and that the Babcock had put it out."
Wm. Inglis suffered a loss of $1,500 by the burning of his residence on the corner of Lafayette and El Dorado streets, on July 4, 1881. A journal long since defunct, in commenting on the conduct of the Volunteers at the above mentioned fire became very abusive. Among other libelous statements the following appeared in the article: "When the firemen should have been attending to their duty they were fighting one another with the streams or were clubbing each other over the heads with the nozzles on the end of the hose. There was evidently a good deal of beer aboard, and there was no one around who had any control over the men. It matters not who was to blame, the whole affair was entirely out of order and the community at large look upon such conduct as the doings of hoodlums and not full-grown, bearded men who should know better." Subsequently the Weekly Record ably defended the department against the scurrilous attacks of the dead sheet, saying among other things in a half column editorial the following: "The fire department in this city is composed of a representative body of men who not only give their time and labor to the community free of charge, but have, in addition supplied themselves with splendid apparatus at their own expense. The only charge to the city has been the actual current expense of the department. This is the only instance of the kind in the State and this city can justly feel proud of the fact that we have a body of men in our midst capable of making so splendid a display of public spirit. At a fire there are no better working companies in the world, a fact frequently commented on by visitors to our city. We therefore should feel proud of our companies. We are not aware that firemen are any more perfect than church members and it would be strange, indeed, if in the excitement of a fire a screw would not get loose or a member occasionally act somewhat indiscreetly. However, one or two journals in this city seem to regard any trifling act of indiscretion by a fireman as a fit subject for adverse criticism. Improper reflections on the part of a local journal, on our department, or the generous souls who are doing so much gratuitously for the city's interest, is, to say the least, in very bad taste, and shows the writers for such journals to have very small minds and still smaller feelings of gratitude. All honor, say we to the Webers, the Eurekas, the San Joaquins and the "Hooks," than which there exists no abler body of volunteer fire-fighters in the world."
August 13, 1881, flames were discovered in the grocery store of Musto & Co. The department arrived on the scene promptly and were working on the fire, when, without a moment's warning, three terrific explosions followed each other in quick succession. The building was a wooden structure with but one story, and the force ascending found an easy outlet through the roof, which was almost entirely blown away. The explosions were caused by the ignition of a quantity of powder that was stored in the building and it was the concensus of opinion among the spectators that had it been in a building with a greater number of stories some of the Volunteers would have met with instant death. The flames having gained considerable headway before discovered, were given several hours of strenuous work before they were finally brought under control. The grocery firm estimated their loss at $5,500; insurance, $3,000.
Eight days after the above mentioned hazardous piece of work the United States Hotel was badly gutted, the loss being estimated at $10,000. Schneider & Holman, the owners, carried but $3,000 insurance. On November 12th a blaze on a dredger in Mormon Slough occasioned a roll frought with many mishaps. While crossing "Lover's Gulch" beyond Miller's warehouse, the Eurekas' hose cart was driven off the narrow roadway and turned turtle into the ditch. The Weber engine was following closely behind and before the driver, Henry Wolf, could check the horses it, too, landed in the ditch. The tide being at a low ebb the driver of the Eurekas' engine mistook some mud on the edge of the slough for hard ground with the result that his horses were soon wallowing in the dobe and the engine, with a full head of steam on, stuck up to the hub and tilted to one side. The harness was quickly cut and one of the horses floundered to the bank. but it was found necessary to pull the other out of the sticky mud with ropes. Despite this chapter of accidents the Webers hauled their engine to the fire by hand and performed good service, saving the dredger from destruction.
One of the most spectacular fires ever seen in the city was that which destroyed the City Flouring Mills of Sperry & Co., on Sunday afternoon, April 2, 1882. The fire had gained great headway before its discovery, and when the Volunteers reached the scene, corner Levee and Beaver Streets, it could be seen that with the apparatus at their command but little could be done. However, the men, assisted by about one hundred citizens, worked valiantly and succeeded in saving some of the expensive machinery with which the mills were equipped. In commenting on the fire in its issue of April 3d, the Evening Mail had the following: "The firemen found that they had not an incipient fire to wash out with a single stream of water, but a full-grown fire fanned by a fresh breeze from the northwest, and increased in violence by the drafts from the chutes in the mill. To fight against this they had but two engines and a Babcock with 'a garden hose and a puny stream' which was of no avail in a fire of such a size. The old relief engine 'Betsy' was stationed on the wharf and did good service, remaining on duty for twenty-four hours. The firemen excited the admiration of the spectators by their bravery in fighting the flames when the brick walls were swaying in the heat and threatening to fall every moment. Chief Engineer Rolf and Sheriff Cunningham were to be found in the thickest of the engagement, the latter holding the pipe and playing into the hottest of the fire, with as much zeal as if he were pursuing a gang of horse thieves. Chief Rolf did not leave the scene or change his wet clothes until after 5 o'clock the following morning. It was a ludicrous site to watch the little stream of soda water from the Babcock engine playing under the high brick wall with a number of really good firemen wasting their energies in managing the garden hose and the syringe. There can be no doubt that the chemical engine is a valuable auxilliary in an incipient fire, but when the flames get fairly started in a large building a heavy stream of water tearing its way through all obstacles, is the right thing in the right place.
"The building was originally erected in 1852 by Paige and Webster. The firm was composed of Timothy Paige, a large land owner and capitalist of San Francisco, and Henry A. Webster, brother of J. B. Webster of this city. The structure and machinery as operated by them cost $75,000, had a capacity of 500 barrels of flour per day and were called the 'San Joaquin Flour Mills.' The firm failed in 1854 and the property was taken by Daniel Gibb & Co., of San Francisco, on a mortgage of $30,000. Property then depreciated in value and the mill passed into the hands of John Hewlett, brother of H. H. Hewlett, who called it the 'Franklin Mill.' He subsequently failed in the venture and the property lay idle until 1864, when Sperry, Burkett & Co., backed by B. W. Bours, bought it and named it the 'City Mills.' Subsequently Mr. Burkett went out and Sperry & Co. took the property, improved and enlarged its accommodations, put in improved machinery and made of it a leading industry in the city. They were preparing to enlarge its capacity to 1,000 barrels per day and the new machinery was being manufactured to their order in San Francisco. The firm estimated their loss at $140,000, with $70,000 insurance. Simpson & Gray, whose property adjoined, suffered to the extent of $3,000 and E. Hickman's residence was burned, causing a loss of $5000, mostly insured. Jacob Fritsch, first assistant foreman of the Eurekas, was badly burned by being caught in the burning building and was with great difficulty rescued by his brother firemen. Spontaneous combustion was given as the probable cause of the fire.
Fourteen days after the Sperry fire the Continental Oil Company's warehouse was consumed. In the building, situated at the corner of Lafayette and Sacramento Streets, was a huge tank containing 2000 gallons of petroleum, while 12,000 gallons more of the inflamable liquid was encased in cans. The bursting of the cans kept the firemen at such a distance that little effective work could be done and the building with its contents was a total loss. August 31st several frame buildings were destroyed on Levee between El Dorado and Center Streets. The losses aggregated $7,500. An amusing story is told in connection with this fire which occurred at 1 a.m. At 4 o'clock the town was again startled by the vigorous ringing of the bell. Chief Kohlberg hastened to the city hall and there found a prominent citizen, since deceased, ringing the bell with great vigor. He inquired the location of the fire and was told that "Sperry & Company's mills were ablaze." Disgusted the Chief went out one door and Policeman Tye came in at another. Breathlessly he put the same question to the busy citizen and received a similar reply, with the added maudlin remark, "I am responsible for this." Upon examination the officer found him to be suffering from alcoholic hallucinations and locked him up until morning when he was taken to his home, accompanied by a number of the active members of the "r-e-morse" family and from that time on he was an ardent booster for the proponents of local option.
September 2, 1883, a general alarm was turned in for a fire in a hay shed in the rear of the house occupied by the Hook and Ladder Company. All the companies responded and within a few moments after their arrival a free-for-all fist fight was in progress. The row was accasioned by a member playing a stream upon a member of a rival company. No serious damage resulted, and, as usual, everything was adjusted amicably after the hose had been rolled up; somebody suggested a drink and the dove of peace resumed her customary place on the alarm bell.
Becoming alarmed at the progress of the fires of wrath that threatened to consume two of Stockton's prominent citizens in 1885, the foreman of the San Joaquins ordered a stream from the chemical turned on the gentlemen. A local paper had the following anent the same: "The recent advent of Sullivan seems to have inspired our local scientific boxers with a disposition to exhibit their pugilistic attainments at short notice. The other day a number of gentlemen were assembled at the San Joaquin engine house when two of them, Dr. Powers, the renowned veterinary, and J. Rothenbush, engaged in a friendly bout. The doctor seemed to get rather the best of his opponent who began to get 'his mad up,' when the battle assumed a serious aspect. Friends interfered but failed to stop the fight, when the foreman of the San Joaquin Engine Company ordered Mike McCann, the driver, to turn the hose on the fighters. The chemical preparation had the desired effect, and the pugilists sought safety in flight. McCann was then declared the winner, when all hands crossed over to the San Joaquin Brewery and smiled a smile that was child-like and bland over the delicious beer manufactured at the brewery."
January 12, 1886, the old Weber residence, at Weber Point, narrowly escaped destruction. Eight days later a residence on Lafayette near Sutter Street was totally destroyed. The occupants, a family named Eaves, barely escaped with their lives. The children were asleep in the house at the time and the parents were both badly scorched in their efforts to save them. About 3 a. m., August 4, 1886, fire was discovered in P. A. Buell's planing mill situated on Center between Sonora and Church Streets. In less than an hour all the buildings in that block and the buildings and lumber in the adjacent block westward, were enveloped in a sheet of flame. The planing mill was a large frame building and extended the entire length of the block. Before the department arrived on the scene the flames had communicated to the dwelling adjoining and had crossed Commerce Street to the office and sheds of the Moore & Smith Lumber Company. By dint of hard work the fire was prevented from spreading beyond the territory already in flames when the boys arrived and much valuable property adjoining was saved. Besides the mill property, ten buildings were consumed. The losses aggregated $30,000, partly insured.
The department was called to Franklin School on the morning of December 8, 1886. Miss Webster, a teacher in the sixth grade, noticed the presence of much smoke in the building and notified the principal, Mr. Shuck. He made an investigation, found that the building was on fire and turned in an alarm. The news that there was a fire spread quickly among the pupils and a wild rush was made for the doors. Luckily all got out without accident. The Volunteers soon arrived and the fire, which was found to be between the walls, was extinguished with a loss of about $600. A $40,000 blaze during the same year consumed the furniture factory of Sylvestor & Co., the windmill factory of Abbott & Freeman and the residences of August Adams and R. Gnekow.
January 28, 1887, W. G. Barr's crockery store at No. 177 El Dorado street, suffered to the extent of $2,000, full insured. On the night of March 11th the residence of George Marchand, situated on Church, between Hunter and San Joaquin Streets, was burned, entailing a loss to the owner of $1,100, partially covered by insurance. The winery of Henry Meyers, located in the northwestern part of the city, was totally destroyed early on the morning of May 31st. The engines repaired to the scene but were unable to save the property as no water was available. Eighteen thousand gallons of wine, valued at $13,000, were lost. Mr. Meyers who was an active member of the San Joaquins, carried $7,500 insurance on the burned property.
On September 11, 1887, four months previous to the adoption of the paid department, the greater portion of Chinatown was wiped out. The fire had its origin in a small shed where one of the habitues of that quarter was in the act of trying out lard and before the arrival of the Volunteers the flames had been blown into the open door of a brick building adjoining. Here the fire had an excellent chance among the greasy wooden partitions, flimsy curtains, strings of flat pork, bunches of firecrackers and oil, dirt and grease. But a short time previous to the date of the fire, the anti-Chinese movement had reached its height and it was with considerable difficulty that the firemen made their way into the stores of the celestials, the Mongolians being imbued with but one idea, namely: that the white men were intent only upon stealing whatever of value they could find and leaving the rest of their property to burn. One of the heathens from the land of the poppy blossoms stood in his doorway and held the crowd at bay with his cleaver. Mike McCann attempted to enter with a stream from the chemical and the "chink" attempted to decapitate him with the meat-axe. Dodging the blow with a celerity born of long practice, Mike promptly landed a stiff upper cut to the point of the Chinaman's jaw, threw the cleaver into the street and proceeded in the performance of his duty. A brisk breeze blowing from the west threatened to carry the flames to the pavilion which had just been erected on Washington Square, but not then completed. A bucket brigade was formed, extending from the pump in front of College Hall and the buckets passed up from hand to hand to men stationed on the roof of the magnificent new structure. The roof caught fire in many places but the strenuous citizens, under the marshalship of Mark Lane and W. C. White, extinguished the flames before they gained headway. The day being Sunday many thousands of interested sight-seers watched the progress of the fire. Making headway against the breeze, the conflagration extended to brick buildings along the line westward and two hours after the alarm was sounded the entire block between Hunter and El Dorado streets was a glowing mass of ruins. At intervals the immense quantities of fire-crackers stored in the buildings vacated by the worshipers of Confucious, went off with angry blasts while exploding bombs added exclamation marks here and there. Many pistols had been left by the Chinese in their precipitate flight and the occasional spitting of the cartridges as they exploded caused the firemen no little concern. Under the able direction of the late James Brown, who was then Chief Engineer of the Volunteers succeeded in confining the fire to the south side of the block between Hunter and El Dorado streets. Not a single structure occupied by white persons was destroyed. W. B. Johnson, A. Rossi, C. L. Leach and V. Galgiani were among the owners of the burned buildings. The loss was estimated at $40,000, about half of which fell upon the insurance companies represented by C. W. Dohrmann. On the day following the fire the charred remains of a Chinaman were discovered in the ruins.
Four days subsequent to the Chinatown fire the boys were called upon to respond to three alarms between 8 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. The first call was occasioned by the explosion of a gasoline stove in the Peerless Saloon, on the southwest corner of Main and El Dorado Streets. The fire was quickly extinguished with the Babcock. The second fire consumed two sheds in the rear of the furniture store of Kennedy & Miller, Main and Commerce Streets. The firm lost stock to the value of $1,200, partially insured. Mr. Rossi, owner of the property, estimated the damage to the building at $1,000. The origin of the fire was unknown. At 10:30 p.m. an incendiary set fire to a shed on San Joaquin between Weber Avenue and Channel Street. The companies, arriving promptly, subdued the flames before they had gained headway. The National Restaurant conducted by G. Gianelli, was the scene of a blaze on October, 10th, and fifteen days later the Grand Central Hotel had a narrow escape.
In connection with the last mentioned fire, Chief McCann tells a story that illustrates to a marked degree the proverbial kindness of heart possessed by the late Captain Weber. A few years previous to the Captain's death, the narrator had responded to a call sent in one winter's day from the Grand Central Hotel. The flames had been extinguished before his arrival and he was about to turn around and proceed to the engine house when his attention was drawn to two men floundering in the deep mud a short distance beyond the hotel. He sat watching them for a few moments when one of them beckoned him to approach. Upon going to the scene he found the Captain endeavoring to lift from the mud a man under the influence of liquor. The intoxicated man had evidently been driving along California Street, en route home, when, becoming overcome by the effects of the alcohol he had imbibed, he fell from his vehicle to the ground. Captain Weber happened by in his buggy and observing the plight of the unfortunate man, descended and endeavored to lift him to his feet. The inebriated individual immediately began to apply vile epithets to the gentleman and persisted in lying down in the mud. With great forbearance the Captain, assisted by Chief McCann, lifted him, mud, booze, and all, into his buggy and proceeded with him downtown, where he engaged a room and had the intoxicated man put to bed, leaving orders to give him all the care necessary to aid him in recovering his normal condition and to send the bill for such services to his (Captain Weber's) address. The man's team was subsequently driven into town by his anxious wife, who was in search of her husband, fearing that he had been killed by the running away of his horses. She discovered his whereabouts in due time and took him home, but it is doubtful if either of them ever knew of the kindly favor bestowed upon them by the deceased Captain.
On October 30, 1887, the Pacific Hotel on Washington near Sacramento street, was damaged to the extent pf $1,000. December 28th the Volunteers were called out for the last time by an alarm turned in from box 24 by Tom Gilmore, a compositor on the Independent. Mr. Gilmore on his way home in the early morning, discovered smoke issuing from a paint shop adjoining the Internal Revenue building on Market Street. Hastening to the nearest box he sent in the alarm and despite the unseasonable hour and chilly night the "boys" responded with the celerity that had, for upwards of forty years past, gained for them the reputation of being the most active and best working volunteer fire department in the State. The flames were soon extinguished with but a nominal loss and the active participation of the Volunteers as an organized body of fire-fighters was ended.
In closing this brief and, through the lack of reliable data, necessarily incomplete record of the conflagrations that were fought by the volunteer companies, we can conceive of nothing more fitting than to include the following words offered in praise of that gallant body of men by an editorial writer in the Stockton Record of that day: "That old, time-honored and faithful organization, The Stockton Volunteer Fire Department, is soon to pass out of official existence. Unlike a faithful old engine horse it has not worked in the harness until worn out and unfit for service. The organization today is as brave and strong, and its members as true and trusty as ever, but the old Volunteer Department has been pushed aside by the advance of progress and the growth in development and wealth of our fair city, and now a paid department is to take the place of the Volunteer service, and in pursuance of the old maxim that 'the laborer is worthy of his hire,' the firemen are no longer expected to risk limb and life in saving the property of our citizens, as a matter of patriotism, but are to be paid for their service. It is time that Stockton should have a paid fire department, for if any class of men deserve remuneration, it is the firemen, but still we cannot help expressing a feeling of regret at the loss of the Volunteers who have been so long the guardians of our city, keeping a watchful eye on the demon fire and baffling him in his work of destruction. That the fire laddies have been faithful and deserving of the confidence reposed in them, the fire records of the city will show. Without the statistics ready at hand, the assertion can be safely made that few cities can show, within the past twenty years, so small a comparative aggregate loss by fire as Stockton.
"What this city owes to the Volunteers can never be told in words, and the acts of personal bravery and the perils that have been passed through by the firemen of this city, can only live in the memory of those who witnessed them. All praise to the faithful firemen who are doffing their uniforms and leaving their places at the hose, with the proud consciousness of having performed their duty, and now, like brave and victorious soldiers retiring from the battlefield, they lay down their arms on the threshold of peace and receive an honorable dismissal. We all join in saying--Well done, good and faithful servants, and may peace be with you."
"Since the above was written twenty years have passed. Many of the faithful members of the old organization have joined the great silent majority. But to those who remain it does not seem that the comrades who so magnanimously gave their services to save the lives and property of their fellow citizens, can have gone never to return. There is that indefinable something ever present which tells them that the whole souled fellow-member of their company--the member who was ever ready with his hand or his purse to help those less fortunate or distressed--cannot have passed to where they will not meet again. With Stevenson they feel, as that great and kindly soul so charmingly expressed his emotion on the occasion of the passing of a dear friend:
"Though he that ever kind and true
Be gone awhile before,
Yet doubt not that the ages will restore
Your friend to you.
He has but turned a corner - still
He pushes on with right good will.
Through mire and marsh, by heugh and hill.
He is not dead, this friend - not dead,
But in the steps we mortals tread
Got some few trifling steps ahead,
And nearer to the end;
So that you, too, once past the bend
Shall meet again as face to face this friend
You fancy dead.
Push gaily on, strong heart; the while
You travel forward mile by mile,
He loiters with a backward smile,
Till you can overtake,
And strains his eyes to search his wake,
Or, whistling as he sees you through the brake,
Waits on a stile."
Transcriber Sally Kaleta.
Proofreader Betty Vickroy.
© 2002-2007 Nancy Pratt Melton.