One of the anchors in my younger days, at a time when anchors were very important (and had nothing to do with the Navy, which would come along a little later in my life), was the American Hose Company No. 1 of Tamaqua. At the time, it was one of four companies in town, joined by the Citizens, East End and South Ward. All members were volunteers.
You had to be 18 to join any of the companies, and one great benefit was that you could drink even though the legal age was 21. Because the fire companies were all clubs and admission was by membership only, there was little fear of a surprise raid by liquor control board agents.
However, the real anchor was not the alcohol, but the camaraderie. And in some cases, surrogate fathers for a fatherless male.
Volunteers learned to work with others of all ages, not only in training to fight fires but in cleaning up after. I still remember one major lesson after all these years: Always be ready for the next fire. When we returned from a fire, we’d pull all of the hoses off our trucks and replace them with dry ones, putting the wet ones on the hose rack. Today, when I return from a photo shoot, I immediately download my photos to my computer and ensure that my camera batteries are charged: Always be ready for the next shoot.
I feel a great loyalty to the Hosie and was thrilled when I was asked to help write the history of the company for its 100th anniversary celebration in 1978. By that time I was a graduate student at Penn State, married with children. We made weekend trips to Tamaqua in part to see Grandma but also for me to conduct research on my master’s thesis, about The Evening Courier, where I had my first full-time newspaper job after graduating from high school in 1961. (See One Man’s Newspaper History.)
Imagine my delight in the next century when, while doing research for a book about Tamaqua, I came across an old photo of members of the Hosie posed with their three trucks (circa 1930). Because my book focuses on doing comparative photos—then and now—the old Hosie photo was perfect.
Of course, I now know no one at the Hosie, having let my membership lapse in the early 1970s. But I was able to locate a retired member who had served the community as fire chief, and he set up a photo opportunity for me.
And it was revealing. The trucks are no longer red, but blue. The Hosie houses, but does not own, the town’s only aerial truck, as it did when I was a member. The members could not afford to raise the money to buy an aerial truck, so the borough council bought one. It doesn’t say AMERICAN HOSE CO. NO 1 on its doors, but TAMAQUA FIRE DEPARTMENT. Each member now has his own gear with his name on the back, wrapped low around big rubber boots so when the alarm sounds, each can jump into the boots and pull up his trousers and jump onto the truck. No more trying to put on gear while hanging onto a truck bellowing through town to a fire.
Before we could set up the equipment for the photo shoot, an alarm came in for a propane spill at Turkey Hill (a convenience store) and the men were off. I almost—almost—jumped on the truck, but instead photographed the trucks as they pulled out. When the trucks returned to the Hosie, the captain looked at the old photograph I was trying to imitate and, on his command, drivers moved the trucks into position. Because the aerial wasn’t the Hosie’s, it was not included in the updated photo.
After the shoot, my contact showed me around. In the bar we looked at old photos of what we called the marching club. I recognized many of the people in the 1960 photo. Most, if not all, are gone. I had a hard time identifying anyone in the 1978 photo.
When I got back to Santa Fe and compared then and now photos, I realized that firefighting equipment had gotten so big, the view down the street was obscured.
I am a freelance writer and photographer and retired journalism professor. In my first newspaper job more than 50 years ago I wrote a sports column titled The Spectator (Caslon typeface). I thought I'd resurrect the title, which was and is in honor of Addison and Steele.
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