Radnor Fire Company: 1908 Memorial Day Parade, Union Hall festivities

Memorial Day, which feel on Saturday in 1906, was chosen by the Radnor Fire Company for the housing of their first two automobile fire engines, pictures of which were shown in this column last week. This was soon after the purchase of the Knox Waterous gas engine of the two cylinder, air-cooled type. The first piece was the Knox combined automobile and hose wagon, purchased in 1906.

By this time Wayne was very much in the public eye in the entire Philadelphia area because of its pioneering in the field of gasoline driven fire-fighting apparatus. Up to 1906 fire engines throughout the entire United States were horsedrawn. The purchase of that first small Knox hose wagon by Wayne marked the initial step in the transition from horsedrawn apparatus to gasoline-propelled fire engines throughout the country. Small wonder that some 25 engine companies, some from as far away as Delaware, responded with eagerness to invitations sent them by the Radnor Fire Company to join in the celebration of the housing of these two automobile fire engines.

Only the month before, Chief McLaughlin, of the Philadelphia Electrical Bureau, accompanied by William T. Brown, Jr., electrical engineer of the Bureau, and two officials from the Fire Department of Woodbury, N. J., had come to Wayne to inspect the newly-purchased fire equipment. There they had been met by Chief Charles M. Wilkins, who gave them full opportunity to examine the engines. At the suggestion of the Philadelphia representative this apparatus “was subjected to every test and met every requirement”, according to “The Suburban” of April 10, 1908, in an article which goes on to quote Chief McLaughlin as saying:

“After that inspection I am convinced we are away behind in the equipment of our Fire Department. I saw that apparatus send a stream of water an inch thick through 300 feet of hose 125 feet in the air. The pressure from the main was 45 lbs. to the square inch, which the pumps increased by 115 lbs. The engine was of 45 horsepower and was got under way in 90 seconds. It was the most remarkable demonstration I have ever seen.

“We went to inspect the apparatus at the request of Director Clay, who wishes to provide better fire protection for the outlying districts of Philadelphia. With apparatus such as we saw at Wayne located at Germantown, Kensington, Chestnut Hill, Frankford, Tacony and Manayunk, I feel those sections would be well protected, and I shall make such a recommendation tot he Director. The initial cost of $4500 for each truck with its contents. The gasoline costs about $2 a month, according to Chief Wilkins at Wayne, and it seems to me the whole thing is a much more efficient and economical system than the one we now have in Philadelphia.” (Mr. Andrew Fritz tells your columnist that gasoline was then 9 cents a gallon!)

With this interest on both the part of the Department of Public Safety of Philadelphia and that of the Electrical Bureau, it was natural that Philadelphia should plan to participate in the Memorial Day celebration in Wayne by sending a prized piece of their historical equipment. This was to be one of the oldest hand engines in the United States. Accompanying this historical piece of fire apparatus would be a detail from the old Philadelphia Volunteers.

Among the other early acceptances to the invitation extended by the Radnor Fire Company were those from the Washington and Brandywine Company, of Coatesville, the Old York Road Company, of Ashbourne; the Atlantic City Volunteers, the Minqua’s Fire Company, of Newport, Delaware, and from the Genside, Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Devon and Berwyn fire companies. In the end some 25 companies from far and near had signified their intention to help celebrate the auspicious occasion in Wayne. The Bryn Mawr Band was engaged in advance and a number of visiting companies agreed to bring their bands with them.

Indeed this parade according to “The Suburban” of May 22, would probably be “the most imposing one ever seen in Wayne”, with nearly 1000 firemen marching in its ranks. For its part Wayne would have its entire equipment in the line, seven pieces in all, including those from the old North Wayne Fire Department. Some of the smaller carts would be drawn by school children.

The parade was to form on Audubon avenue near the former high school building with wings resting on Windermere and Runnymede avenues. Headed by the Radnor Township Mounted Police they would proceed along a route that would eventually cover most of the streets in both South and North Wayne.

The exercises pertaining to the actual housing were to be performed by the neighboring company of Bryn Mawr, with the Old Volunteer Firemen of Philadelphia housing the pumping engine. Luncheon was to be served at Union Hall (now the Masonic Building) with the banquet of the local fire company to be held at the Waynewood apartment house (now the Wayne Hotel).

The festivities were to close with a ball at Union Hall. The ladies of the community were urged to help entertain visitors “in home-like fashion” by sending donations of “cakes, sandwiches, meats or any of the edibles for which the housewives of Wayne are noted” . . . “As for the gentlemen, they may do their part by making small donations of cash for the expenses necessary to be incurred.” Charles E. Clark recalls that Arthur L. Holmes, for many years a resident of Summit avenue, was the first man to make such a donation.

With all plans made for the big occasion, Saturday turned out to be “the very worst day that  the weather man has handed out in many years” according to the story appearing in “The Suburban” the following week. Nevertheless, the engines were housed and the parade was held in spite of the fact that only about seven out of the 25 fire companies who had accepted invitations were able to be present. But when they actually did get under way shortly after 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, the “Radnor boys and the visiting firemen to the number of almost 300 fell into line and went over an abbreviated line of march. Making up in enthusiasm for lack of numbers, David A. Henderson was grand marshal of the parade, “bearing his honors with becoming dignity”.

At the housing itself the Rev. Samuel M. Thompson, at that time pastor of the Wayne Methodist Church, offered the invocation. Members of the Bryn Mawr Fire Company housed the combination automobile-chemical engine while their band played “The Star Spangled Banner”. Franklin Co. No. 1, of Chester, then ran the auto truck into the engine house to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”, played by the Upland Band. Riding in the truck as it was placed in the house were William Wood, M. C. Carey and “Cap” Clark. Charles E. Clark, to whose family “Cap” was not related despite the similarity of the names, recalls him as the “champion life-saver of Atlantic City” and a volunteer fireman with many years of service to his credit.

Following the formalities of the housing, W. W. Hearne, president of the Fire Company, introduced another resident of Wayne, Thodore J. Grayson, Esq., who gave an address apropos of the occasion, in which he paid tribute to the men who had handled the old hand drawn engine and hose carriage “with the same spirit that animates the firemen of today”. Mr. Hearne was also toastmaster at the annual banquet at which there were only about 50 diners at the end of that wet day. Since no mention was made in “The Suburban” account of the ball which had been scheduled as the grand finale of this great occasion, it is assumed it did not take place.

(To be continued)