Hamilton Fire Now....and way back when......
History of Hamilton Fire Company
By Kenneth Horrocks
I will attempt to write a history of the Hamilton Fire Company to the best of my ability. As you will be able to see, I am not a writer but I will try to put in writing as much information that I have been able to find from records and memory.
To begin, I have the original book of minutes of the first years the company was organized. It starts September 15, 1914, which was the first regular meeting and continues to January 15, 1919.
The idea for starting a fire company came one day when a group of fellows were shoveling snow from the roads after a big snow storm. Bert Jelliff mentioned it and the fellows talked about it all day and that is how the idea started.
The first meeting was held in a grocery store opposite where the present fire house stands. One of the big problems was finding a place to meet, so the members met in each others' homes for the first year. At that time, meetings were not regular, there might be three meetings a week, depending on the importance of the business at hand. Dues were ten cents per month.
The original charter membership consisted of twenty-three men:
Hiram Dillion, Charles Huck, Harry G. Faby, Sr., Birchard G. Jelliff, George Halsey, Clement Latshaw, Archibald Height, Dewitt Shatto, Rev. Frank Van Hise, Edwin L. Shatto, Carel White, John B. Stout, Harry White, Fred Sturm, Orvin White, Rudolph Tapper, Charles Allen, Earl L. Woolley, Joseph Allen, Frank Woolley, William Allen, George Wright and Arthur Davison
The first list of officers of the company were:
President: Clement Latshaw
1st Vice Pres: Edwin L Shatto
2nd Vice. Pres: Frank Woolley
Recording Sec: Arthur Davison
Financial Sec: Joseph Allen
Treasurer: Rudolph Tapper
Chief: Carel White
Asst. Chief: William Allen
Foreman: Harry White
Asst. Foreman: George Wright
Engineer: Birchard Jelliff
The company was incorporated January 7, 1915 by: John B. Stout, Arthur Davison, Carel White, Edwin L. Shafto and Frank Woolley.
After thing were starting to get organized, the big question came up as to where to build a fire house. A number of property owners were ap- proached but they did not seem too interested in selling their property to the fire company.
There used to be a school house on the corner of Schoolhouse Road and Hwy. #33 that looked like a good site but the company could not come to terms with the owner of the property. The company offered to name the fire company after him but he would not agree. At that time, too, the company needed the signatures of surrounding property owners in order to build a fire house. A large number of people did not feel the need of a fire company in Hamilton was important, so this also presented a problem. The fire company had to meet this challenge with a little under-handed methods of their own.
One property owner wanted to sell his property but he wanted every penny he could get. He wanted $500 for his lot. Another citizen had a lot just east of the Hamilton Cemetery that he wanted to get rid of in the worse way. He had five or six members of the fire company to agree with him and the decision of the two pieces of property ended in a tie vote, as to which property to buy. In order to break the tie vote, John Stout went to see Mr. Frank Cogovan, and told him that the company wanted him to offer one of his lots to the company for sale but that the company would not buy it. As soon as he made his offer, the other property owner was ready to sell, so the company bought it. The night before the final papers were to be signed, one member learned that the other group that was opposed to the property were going to get an injunction to stop the sale. John Stout and a couple of the other members went down to see one of the commissioners and asked him what to do. He suggested that the members hold a meeting that night. They called a special meeting at John Messler's that night and signed all the necessary papers. The next morning the papers were taken to Freehold and recorded, so I guess things have not changed much over the years in regard to some of the things that go on.
On October 5, 1914, the members named the company the John L. Tilton Chemical Fire Co. #1. On October 19, 1914 the name was changed to the Hamilton Chemical Fire Co. #1. It was also decided to affiliate with the West Grove Fire Co. The original by-laws were drawn up by Arthur Davison, John B. Stout and B. G. Jelliff on January 5, 1915.
The general contract to build the fire house was awarded in February 1916 to Garrabrant and Conover for the sum of $3,727.00.
The cornerstone of the building was laid in August of 1916. Some of the things placed inside were a Lincoln and Indian penny; a picture of the blacksmith shop; a card of A. T. Allen and Sons Feed Store of the New York World's Fair, August 7, 1916; copies of Leslies dated July 18, 1916; a clipping from the Asbury Park Press stating that West Grove wants a motor apparatus August 3, 1916; copy of the by-laws; application cards and a list of officers and members of the company.
After the fire house was built, the next big problem was furnishing the house. At a special meeting in 1917, it seems the company was a little short of funds because at that meeting they did quite a bit of cutting of some of the "extras" that were not needed to furnish a house, such as "cut out two spring chairs", "cut out pictures", "pool table be omitted", "the number of cuspidors be cut in half", and the umbrella holder be omitted.
Another problem arose as to whether the stairway was to be boxed in or left open. At that time the women were wearing their skirts a little high, so one member jumped up and made a motion that the stairway be left open; the motion was seconded and passed so fast that if anyone objected to it they did not have a chance to open his mouth. I guess things haven't changed too much at all.
The first alarm was a locomotive wheel rim which hung in front of the fire house. Usually when there was a fire, Bert Jelliff received the message at his store and he sounded the alarm. From what the older members say, if the rim was hit "easy", the sound carried further than being struck hard.
John Stout was elected the first fire commissioner and he negotiated the purchase of the first piece of fire equipment in 1918. It was hard to acquire fire trucks at this time because the First World War was in progress and just when a truck was ready to be delivered to the fire commissioners the army would take it for their needs. This too was the reason our first fire trucks were painted army olive drab which the members seemed to like.
Our first fire truck was a Brockway with solid rubber tires, chain drive, "an arm strong starter" and was equipped with two chemical tanks. The chemical tanks were a far cry from our modern high-pressure equipment. The tanks had a "Bong" in the side and were filled with water. An acid was placed in a bottle and placed in the "Bong" hole and the top was screwed on; then the tanks were rolled over allowing the acid to mix with the water; this is how the pressure was built up. The big problem with this method was supplying the water and keeping your clothes away from the acid, many a pair of pants were ruined by fighting a fire in those days; not from the fire but from the acid. Earl Woolley used to carry water in milk cans in the back of his pickup truck to supply the fire truck with a supply of water.
In the early days of the fire company, the fire house was the center of activity; there was always someone in the fire house at night. One member had a habit of driving his horse and wagon into the fire house while he played pool or just visited. At that time one member was in charge of cleaning the house and he was getting a little tired of cleaning up after this one particular member and his horse, who of course responded to nature's call. One night after the horse had been parked in the fire house for a period of time, the clean up man got a broom and shoveled and loaded the "excess" waste into the back of the wagon.
It was a strange thing that happened after that, the horse and wagon were never parked in the fire house again.
On February 4, 1921, the first siren alarm was installed at the fire house. One member said that it did not make any difference if you could hear the siren or not because every time the whistle blew, the lights in the homes in the area would dim.
The volunteer fire companies of all communities in this area today are all to eager to help his fellow fireman in the time of need without hesitation. In the past years Hamilton Fire Co. has answered any call of assistance that they have been called upon to render. Just last year when the large forest fires threatened the communities in Ocean County, Hamilton Fire Co. was only too eager to assist which they did.
The Hamilton Fire Co. on May 13, 1922 called on its neighbors to help fight a fire in its own fire house which gutted the interior of the fire house. Through the combined efforts of the Uneeda, Unexcelled Co. and the Goodwill Co. from Asbury Park, more serious damage was prevented. On May 17, 1922 a campaign was started to raise funds for the rebuilding of the fire house; this in turn was the starting of the Ladies Auxiliary. The Hamilton Methodist Church generously offered the use of its basement as a meeting place for the firemen. The work of rebuilding was started soon afterward by the members and friends and was completed by the end of the year.
In 1926, a Brockway Chemical Truck was transferred from the Uneeda Company to us, giving the Hamilton Co. two pieces of motorized equipment. These two trucks were later transferred to the Shark River Hills Co. and in 1932, Les Herbert combined the best of these two trucks and made an apparatus that served faithfully until 1942.
One story was told to me by one of the older members about the time the fire commissioners were in the process of buying a new truck. The Seagrave Co. and the American LaFrance Co. were the final two companies to be decided on and the commissioners were the same. The American LaFrance salesman came into the meeting, passed cigars around to the commissioners, and gave his "pitch" for his truck. When he was finished, he left the room and the man from the Seagrave Co. came in to make his "pitch". He had five cigars, one for each commissioner; he passed them around and when he came to one member who still had a stub of his cigar left he said, "Oh, you still have one" and put the cigar back in his pocket. This man was so cheap to keep the cigar, they did not want to do business with him so the purchase of the truck went to the American LaFrance Co.
It is interesting to note some of the bits of information that I found in the minutes of some of the meetings:
June 10, 1924
Orders received from Fire Commissioners to be placed on minutes.
1. Truck not be allowed to leave fire house with less than four mem- bers on it going to a fire.
2. All alarms shall be turned in before leaving fire house.
3. There must be a driver on truck, if possible, when going to fires.
Signed - Foreman
Report on community night committee; a good crowd turned out and there was plenty to eat and drink (coffee & water) a good time was had by all.
Some of the meetings must have been a little lively because I note that quite a few fines were charged because of some infraction of the rules. One in particular concerned John Stout who had a difference of opinion with a member on a subject and the other member called John a "liar" and John told him that it was his opinion and his opinion wasn't worth a "damn" and it cost John twenty-five cents.
In 1927, when water mains were installed, Commissioner George Tiedemann realized the need of a pumper. The first pumper in Ham- ilton Fire Co. was a 1928 Seagrave 600 with booster tanks. lt is still in excellent condition after many years of service and is now used to attend parades and social functions.
After the Seagrave was purchased, the next few years brought about many new activities such as the annual Christmas party which we feel brings a little happiness to the children of the community and also to the members of the company who watch the children's faces.
In 1933 a baseball team was organized and many a happy hour was spent with fellow firemen or any other organization that would be available to play a game. In later years the Hamilton Fire Co. entered a soft ball team in the Shore Firemen's League and did very well for themselves although we never finished in first place.
In 1941 the company joined the Shore Firemen's Bowling League with one team; a few years ago we had five teams in the league, today I believe there are three teams who still enjoy an evening of fun with the best opponents in the world and no one can realize what I mean unless they have bowled in the Shore Firemen's Bowling League.
In 1940, a new alarm was added and connected directly with the Neptune Township Police Headquarters.
In May, 1941, an addition to the alarm system was added with the installation of a siren at Earl Wooley's Dairy on Green Grove Road. This was done to add to the ef-ficiency of the company and to bring better service to the community.
In July 1942 the manpower shortage was starting to effect the country and the Hamilton Fire Co. Earl Woolley loaned the company a 1942 Ford pick-up truck as an auxiliary vehicle. Mr. Woolley was instrumental in starting a Junior Fire Company which was a group of young men not of draft age, but capable of helping at fires. These Junior Firemen performed excellent service, and most of them later became regular firemen.
Hamilton firemen have served valiantly in both World Wars. Otto Wide and Jesse Pierce served in World War I. Mr. Pierce lost his life in the battle of the Argonne on October 14, 1918. Twenty-two fire- men served in World War II.
Honor Roll, World War II: Lloyd Newman, Richard Taylor, Richard Wilson, George A. Smith, Phillip Kruschka, Michael Norris, Fred E. Height, J. B. Hendrickson, Jr. Irving Wilde, Earl Williams, Frank Sutts, Felix Vecchione, Harry Pyle, Robert Wheeler, Ernest Smith, Jr., Carl Newman, Eugene Turchyn, Robert Pyle, Leigh Polhemus.
It is interesting to note the minutes again because on August 14, 1945, written across the page is "No meeting" V.J. Day. I guess that is worth a few lines to remember such a thankful day in our lives.
In 1946 a fully equipped G.M.C. Booster Truck was purchased. It could carry 500 gallons of water. This truck served until 1961 when it was replaced by a 1961 Hahn pumper.
A Mack 750 gallon pumper complete with all necessary equipment was purchased in 1957. This is considered one of the finest vehicles available. This was also the year that the Board of Fire Commission- ers hired Victor Kondrup as a paid driver and house man. At this time a mutual agreement was made with the Shark River Hills Fire Co. that both companies would answer all calls.
The following years showed a large increase in the building of homes and businesses in the Hamilton area and the fire company expanded both in manpower and equipment. Two way radios were installed and new training programs were undertaken.
If all the things that have happened over the years in the fire company could be put in a book, it certainly would bring back many fond memories of good times and hard work. Like the time when some of the members were returning from the Trenton State Fair in the wee hours of the morning in the 1928 Seagrave when they had a tire blowout in front of a farm house. I guess they made a little noise which awakened the farmer who was wondering what was going on. One member happened to shout for someone to get out of the chicken house. I guess they all found out what was going on when a state trooper, called by the farmer, showed up and almost locked up the whole bunch.
I remember one year when Glendola Fire Co. called us to help them fight a fire in the grocery store in Glendola. It was one of those mis- erable nights when the wind was blowing hard from the north-east and not too many members heard the whistle, at 2 :00 A.M. I believe there were about ten members present. After the fire was out, about 3 :30 A.M., we returned to the fire house and called the chief and officers to let them know that we were back in the house.
We never could understand why they were a little upset.
There was the time when the whistle blew and one truck had left the house when two more members arrived to take the second truck. They started out and down the road when one member said to the other "Where is the fire?", the second member replied, "I don't know. I thought you knew", so after they returned to the house and read the location of the fire on the board they proceeded to the fire which turned out to be a grass fire.
I believe this is the time to conclude this short story of the history of the Hamilton Fire Co. because anything after this date, to me, is no longer history. I just wanted to mention some of the things and the hard work that went into the founding of the fire company.
I guess after talking with some of them, they would not have changed it for the world. As I have heard so often "A fireman is born, he is not made." I guess it sums up this little story in a few words.