Montgomery was one of the poorer communities in the valley in terms of money, but in the most important measures of all, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination, Montgomery was very wealthy, indeed.
Montgomery was a remarkably close-knit community, and when people put their heads together to solve problems, often the solutions came in interesting ways.
Records from the earliest days of the fire department are not available, (if there ever were any records kept) but I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview the late Fire Chief Charles Gaylord in 1988 at his home at 326 South River Street. There is a story about Charlie, as everybody called him, which few people know.
He was married to Gladys Hilderbrand, my Mother’s cousin. In the early days of the polio outbreak, (pre-vaccine) their oldest son was stricken with polio. Charlie learned of a highly successful water therapy being made famous by Sister Kenny at a large Chicago hospital for the treatment of polio patients. He learned the technique, and designed and installed his own therapy equipment in his home. His son is healthy today and a testament to his determination.
The following information came from that 1988 interview:
In 1912, an ordinance was passed to form a fire department. At that time the village limits were at the river on the east and the railroad tracks on the west. The entire village population was 165 people.
The first fire truck was a lumber wagon, outfitted with oak ladders with three leather pails on each side. Leather was used for the buckets because they could be carried up a ladder and emptied, then dropped to the ground without denting. The tongue of the wagon was straight, with a rope tied to it. There were handles on either side of the tongue and the first two men to arrive would grab the handles and start pulling. The men who came along later grabbed onto the rope and pulled it to the fire.
As soon as it became feasible, a soda/acid tank was added to the equipment. When water was added to the tank, the resulting pressure would propel the water out onto the fire. This equipment was kept in a cement garage belonging to the street department at the corner of Clay and Railroad Streets.
Next, a Ford truck joined the collection. It had no cab and in rainy weather the driver often sat in a puddle. It was an improvement even though road speed was about 10 mph.
The next piece of equipment was an ambulance they built from an old panel truck, purchased with money raised by the firemen themselves. They held various fundraisers and paper drives. The fire chief outfitted it with two canvas cots he bought at the army surplus store. Lyon Metal Company donated a new toolbox that they painted white for use as a first aid kit. Later, with proceeds from turkey raffles, etc. they were able to buy a new panel truck.
The next big purchase, in 1944, was a $500 siren. Chief Gaylord used his considerable talents as an electrical engineer to rig up an alarm system. He worked at his drawing board at home for several months perfecting it. When he was satisfied he assembled the system in his basement workshop. It consisted of components from a discarded pinball machine. When an alarm box received a call, a marble ran down a chute, closing the contact. Can’t you just picture this? Just like a Rube Goldberg contraption. Then a code sent electrical impulses and the new $500 siren blew!!!
To solve the problem of who would answer the telephone alarm, the village made an agreement with the Burlington tower man, who was on 24-hour duty at the Webster Street crossing. He received $1.50 a call to relay the message.
Chief Gaylord designed and installed a telephone dial in the tower, stringing lines up the poles himself, drawing on his past experience as a lineman for the Burlington Railroad. Since they could not afford to buy all the wire at one time, it took the Chief and his nine firemen another year to wire all the call boxes in the village.
In 1952, Montgomery and the five-mile surrounding area, elected to become part of the Montgomery and Countryside Fire Protection District. This time they borrowed the money to purchase a new truck. A better alarm system became necessary, too. Again, Chief Gaylord took the challenge and designed a highly advanced system using junk clock gears and discarded alarm boxes.
The new machine accepted calls, blew the siren, turned on the station lights, and started the truck’s engines. It opened the station doors to increase the speed of answering calls, as well. Montgomery was the first volunteer department in the area to have such a sophisticated alarm system. It was also the first to have a radio, its own base station, and a fog nozzle.
The village owes a debt of gratitude to the fine men who devoted so much time and energy to looking after the welfare of the rest of us. Chief Gaylord was a visionary who led the way. It is fitting that the fire station on Railroad Street be named for Chief Charles Gaylord, who incidentally, designed it.
Among the earliest Fire Chiefs, these names are remembered: Ed Rector, John Weber, Bob Woodrow, Howard Livsey, Charles Gaylord, Ray Manning, Doug Holmes, Jack Steinhoff, and Gene Kunkel. Unfortunately this is not a complete list. Before the 1930s no records exist, and the list does not include more recent names.
In 1962, at the grand opening of the new fire station, the following fire fighters were listed: Charles M. Gaylord, chief; Roy Manning, assistant chief; Fred Neupert, captain; Ray Kyes, captain; Elmer Weiss, captain; and Doug Holmes, Harry Schmidt, Lee Briggs, Stan Peck, Jim Schaefer, Hugh Wyeth, Charles Van Meter, Roy Weiss, Irving Messenger, Gene Kunkel, Charles Kozloski, Jim Woodrow, Bill Curry, and Bill Lindoo. Fire Commissioners were Bud Burnett, president; Bud Dix, Jr. secretary; and Robert Bereman, treasurer.
How far the fire department has come from 1916 when an Aurora Beacon News article stated: “In case of a fire in this town people will find a Babcock fire extinguisher at Lysander Hord’s office and another one at the home of Alderman Lew Gaylord.”