previous next

Governor Brooks engine company.

FROM the formation of the Medford Amicable Fire Society to our motor-driven fire apparatus is a far cry. Midway between, the Brooks' History of Medford was written. On page 475 are some sound ideas that, later adopted, make our fire department efficient. By the courtesy of its chief engineer the Register presents (so far as known) the first printed view of one of Medford's engines, in use at the time the history was written. It will be readily recognized by older people; possibly some of the firemen and the locality may be identified.

Allusion has been made in a former issue to several old books of record. Those of the General Jackson are not of the number. The other two engines were of the same type and build, and our illustration may well portray the one in charge of the Governor Brooks Company. There is much in these old books that throws light upon the doings and diversions of some of the men of the time before the war. The apparatus they used is obsolete, the volunteer system a thing of the past, but the records are both instructive and amusing.

The original company of the name was formed in November, 1835. James T. Floyd was foreman and George L. Stearns, clerk. By July 2, 1839, its numbers had been so reduced that it was voted to surrender the engine to the selectmen and disband.

Twenty days later a new company of twenty-nine men was formed, with John T. White as foreman and D. H. Forbes, clerk and treasurer. The town had procured a new engine, to which the same name was given, and had voted to sell the old one. Passing over a period of ten [p. 19] years, we find that the company celebrated its anniversary on June 6, 1850, which was the ninety-eighth of the birth of Governor Brooks,

in the following manner, To meet at the Engine House at 10 o'clock Precisely, arm and ready to pay all bills. Voted, to Hire Mr Young White Horse to draw the Engine in the porcession around town in the afternoon and in the evening the Company adjourn to the Town Hall where the company will pass off the time with sentiments and a Speech from some one of the Company should we be so fortunate as to get some one to volunteer their Services on the Ocation. Voted that every member have the privilidge of inviting one or more ladyes. Voted to extend an invitation to the Selectmen and Engineers to parade with us.

At another meeting-

Voted to choose A. H. Gardner, tostMaster. Voted that Mr Usher envite as meny of his friends as he thinks proper.

Voted that the cards be distributed at 1 o'clock on Thursday where the Members pay the assesment.

At the next meeting it was voted

to return a vote of thanks to Mr Usher and a five dollar Bill with it.

Evidently the Governor Brooks Company was in good humor, as its committee had reported money received, $106.00; amount of bills, $100.52; balance, $5.48; collected by subscription, $3.66. The latter is not added to the balance on the record. Evidently some one had ‘passed round the hat’ with an eye to making good with Mr. Usher, which was done by the ‘tost Master.’

Mr. Young's white horse got no thanks, but instead, ‘Mr. Ford, for the use of his Colt.’

Along with the two books of record is preserved a manuscript of twenty-five pages in Mr. Usher's handwriting—the ‘Speech’ that enabled them to ‘pass off the time.’ In its opening sentences we learn that they had ‘listened to the music of the band and heard the music of the choir,’ whatever the difference may have been.1 [p. 20]

After the usual amount of self-deprecation common to public speakers, Mr. Usher proceeded with a review of the life and public service of Governor Brooks, emphasizing his many excellent traits of character and urging the auditors to emulate them. The episode in his military career, related elsewhere in this issue of the Register, was alluded to, as also his patriotic stand against the disaffected officers at Newburg. In the latter part of his address he mentioned various appliances that had been crudely tried, with partial success, for subduing fire. These have since materialized in the modern chemical engine.

Mr. Usher was then in his thirty-sixth year, and no doubt was at his best, as flashes of wit appear at intervals in the address. The Town Hall where he spoke was not our recently much-maligned and ‘still doing business at the old stand’ edifice, neither was it the first Town Hall of Medford, but the second and larger building, built ten years before. It replaced the one burnt in 1839, and the good judgment (regardless of civic pride) of the Medford people followed the old design of a leading architect of Boston, who planned the former structure. A few months after this anniversary occasion it fell a prey to the devouring flames, but no mention thereof appears in the records of the company.

It appears that despite the excellent lessons of discipline and obedience to authority drawn by Mr. Usher from the life of Governor Brooks, a year had not elapsed when there was a ‘walk out’ of the company, which then formed the ‘Ex-Brooks Company,’ and hired a room to meet in for a time.

On September 7, 1852, the record shows a reinstatement of the company by the engineers. Things moved smoothly once more until March 14, 1858, when at a fire at the ‘Plains’ a disagreement arose, and the company was disbanded by the engineers. Then the ‘Ex-Brooks Association’ was formed, a constitution adopted, officers elected and a few meetings held, the records ending with [p. 21] that of December 4, 1858, when Mr. Palmer was chosen a ‘committee to get subscribers to a good time generally among ourselves.’

Medford had two other engine companies, and there was certain and constant rivalry between these men that ‘manned the brakes’ and ‘ran with the machines,’ and mostly of the younger men. Clannish, jovial, they were always in for a good time—oyster suppers, clam chowders, target and fishing excursions—and always ready to help any ‘Hunneman tub’ that was challenged to a trial. The engineers complained that they used too much ‘fluid,’ but this was the burning fluid used in the lamps of that period. They were always ready to contribute to the relief of a needy member, or to a member's bereaved family. Several instances of this are on record, also of gravestones erected in memory of comrades.

Yet it is an open question, which was the most important, the subduing of the flames, or the washing of the other tub. As ‘all was fair in love and war,’ the spy system was in vogue, as seen by the vote of July 2, 1850,

Voted to choose a committee of two to Study out something to keepe People that have there nose in other folks business from looking into No. 1 Plungers Trying to see what they are pack with.

If the schoolmaster was abroad, and some of the records give evidence that he had been, the spirit of invention was rife, as witness the story told of the secret valve in the bottom of the ‘tub,’ which the foreman could operate with his foot to prevent a ‘wash.’

An effort was made at a previous time to have two ‘minitures’ taken of the engine, to present to past foremen of the company, but the vote was rescinded. After the disbanding, various extra fixtures were given to members.

One relic of the old hand engines is still in useful service in the Medford Highway Department. It is the four wheels, spire and bottom of the tub, on which is placed a tool box. Is it that of the old Governor Brooks engine?

1 It would seem that Medford had a band at that time, as a little later the company (through Captain Hutchins) invited the ‘Medford Brass Band to partake of its clam chowder.’

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Town Hall (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Newburg, N. Y. (New York, United States) (1)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
James M. Usher (7)
Caleb Brooks (6)
Dudley Hall (2)
Young (1)
Young White (1)
John T. White (1)
George L. Stearns (1)
Palmer (1)
Hutchins (1)
A. H. Gardner (1)
Ford (1)
D. H. Forbes (1)
James T. Floyd (1)
Colt (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: