Chester’s early Fire District

1931 American LaFrance Yosemite fire truck mentioned in this article. Photo provided by Ron Patch

By Donald E. Mitchell (Dictated to his daughter, Donna LeClair, July 2002)

Probably the first motorized vehicle with a pump the Chester Fire District #2 had was an old Buick. It was donated to the Fire District by a man of some means who owned the building currently known as Raspberries & Thyme, a restaurant. I believe the time period was right around 1930. This generous individual donated his personal car to be used as a fire truck. Earl Horton was Fire Chief at that time and held that position for at least twenty years. Earl had a front-end pump mounted on the Buick. There were two lengths of suction hose, each about 10 feet long and 4 to 4.5 inches in diameter, which were mounted on the fenders on one side of the vehicle. I believe the Buick was more or less made into a truck eventually. Originally, it probably was a two-seat touring car.

The truck that we used most of the time was referred to as the Number One truck. Gordie Hart, of Chester Depot, who lived in the house to the right of the present day Family Center, was selling trucks at the time and Earl Horton bought the truck through Gordie. It had a 500-gallon per minute midship pump. The truck was purchased new, had all the equipment on it, and replaced the Buick as far as the first vehicle to be used, though we still had the Buick with the front-end pump to use as a backup vehicle if it was needed.

During this time, Earl Horton had spoken to a salesman with American LaFrance and asked him to keep his eyes open for a reasonable buy to replace our old original Buick. The truck the salesman came up with was a 1931 American LaFrance Rotary Gear Pump, which a fire company in Conway, Mass. was replacing with a new truck he had sold them. Earl Horton and I made a trip to Conway to look at the truck and advised the salesman we would buy it. I think the price quoted was $750, and Earl asked me if I could go for half of it in order to buy it and then we would see if the Fire District would buy it from us! I don’t remember if any money changed hands until after the District voted to buy it or whether it was just a paper deal. Had the District not voted to buy it, Earl Horton and I would have had to cough up the money and we would have owned it.

There were no interstate highways from Chester, Vt. to Conway, Mass., so it was a lengthy trip down and back to see the truck and make our decision to buy it. The roads were single lanes north and south and sometimes there were very few places to pass. On the way back, we got behind a funeral procession and followed along behind that for miles and miles, not making much time. As we approached Brattleboro, I told Earl I knew the town well enough to know some cutoffs and “we’ll get rid of this funeral procession.” (I grew up in Brattleboro and delivered newspapers over several years on a good many of Brattleboro’s streets.) This maneuver worked and put us ahead of the funeral procession and then we made better time.

I believe the month was September when Earl Horton, Pember Hazen, and I went to Conway, Mass. to get the truck. Pember was Chester’s pharmacist who owned and operated the Chester Drug Store. This trip was during hurricane season and one was forecast. It was raining. There was no cover over the front seat. It was open. The windshield wiper was hand-operated by reaching up and swinging it back and forth. There were two of us in the truck as we headed back to Chester, and someone of us drove the car back that we had gone down in – or perhaps we took turns driving back the car.

During a fire, the truck was operated from the passenger side, but it had a discharge and suction line on both sides. In the event that a hose nozzle was shut off with this truck, you immediately had to have a discharge line open or the truck would stall. Whenever I operated it, I made it a habit to take the discharge hose off from the driver’s side and uncap the discharge on the passenger side. Then, when a hose nozzle was shut off, you immediately opened the gate valve on the discharge that was uncapped to spill whatever water was being put into the truck on the opposite side…


This week’s out old saying: “I’d rather owe it to you than cheat you out of it.”

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