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Pete the Firehorse
By Tom Carnegie
Fire Chief Ward drives a 1914 Ford roadster. It belongs to the town of Baton Noir, Idaho. It is now six years old, but he continues to use it and update it because it is right hand drive and he likes it. This morning he is talking to Joseph Vant about installing an electric starter on this vehicle. Joseph manages the Laydon Garage. Most of the local folk just call it the Model T Garage. In walks Jesse and Hayes Olson, who are two of Joseph's mechanics. "Howdy" says Chief Ward. "How are the Olson twins today?" though he knows full well that Hayes is several years older than Jesse. "Those three years of labor were really tough on my mother." jokes Hayes. Soon the Olsons are giving their opinions about the best way to convert the firehouse T to electric start. "It won't be that easy to covert, because the hogshead is backwards from normal model T's", says Jesse. As Joseph thumbs through some trade magazines he pipes up, "Gray and Davis makes a system that looks pretty good, but by the time it is all said and done you're looking at over $100.00." "Whoa. That's a good chunk of loot. I don't think the city council will approve that kind of expense." Said Chief Ward. A voice comes from across the room. "I know! sell Pete." This proposal is from Butch Dunsel, the youngest member of the Laydon team. "Hmmmm," says Chief Ward, "I'm sure half the people in town would like to buy old Pete, but he is not for sale and never will be." Everyone in the room knows he is speaking the truth.
Chief Ward is the only paid member of the Baton Noir fire department. The rest of the members, including Stripe, the dog and Pete the horse, are volunteers. Stripe is a Dalmatian, and Pete is a fine big Percheron. There is also Molly the horse, but she is pretty much worthless without Pete by her side. Some of the townspeople want to put the horses out to pasture. "Why, you could buy a hook and ladder truck for the cost of Pete alone" one of the locals has been heard to say. It is true too. In fact the city council has plans to buy a new Ahrens-Fox pumper when Pete is out of the picture. But for now, whenever the fire bell goes off, Pete comes a-running and stands in front of his apparatus. Once Molly is there and they are hitched up, he gallops off to the fire taking Molly along for the ride. Pete never has to be guided, he knows right where the fire is. At the scene of the fire he stands calmly while men shout, machines roar and even as hot embers from the fire land on his back.
Children are particularly fond of Pete. They bring him fresh grass and hand feed him crabapples. Pete is very gentle and seems to love kids too. At the end of the year the teachers at the elementary school hold a poetry contest. The winner of the contest gets the privilege of riding on Pete's back as he is led through the annual Independence Day parade. It is a huge honor, and every student tries his best to win. Mostly the winners have written poems with words like "eventide" and "ineffable" and other words nobody uses. This year is different. The judges are the folks from the Model T Garage. They are looking for humor.
The runner up is a poem that has this recurring tag line: "quoth the Ragman, Baton Noir". The winner is Art Rickerton who has submitted a series of limericks about the Model T Ford. Here are some samples:
It has thirty by three's in the frunt.
The upholstery is not elegunt.
Has a nine gallon tank,
It starts with a crank.
And it cranks with a groan and a grunt.
I decided to be a detective.
To find out which coil was defective.
I tore it apart.
It finally did start,
When I uttered the proper invective.
I cranked and she started to crawl,
And pinned me right up to the wall.
I pulled the choke wire.
Made the motor expire.
I'm half inch thick now and seven feet tall.
The 4th of July 1920, dawns hot and will get even hotter. The parade starts at 10:00 a.m. By 10:30, Art is on the back of Pete proudly waving to all his family and friends. Pete is so big that Art's legs stick almost straight out. At 10:39 something happens that no one expected. The fire bell sounds, and when Pete hears the bell, he is off. Men struggle to control him but there is no dissuading this horse. All Art can do is hang on till Pete gets to the station. At the station the volunteers unload a slightly shaken Art. They hitch up Pete and Molly, and off to the fire they rattle. It turns out that Harvey Shoehorn's shed is blazing nicely. The crew gets there just in time to watch the last remnants fall in on themselves. "Well, we've never lost a well or a foundation." says Chief Ward. They return to the station.
It is Chief Ward's job to take care of the horses. As he curries Pete's fine brown coat, the Chief's mind begins to wander back to his Model T and the conversation he had had with Joseph Vant a few weeks ago. Besides a self-starter he thinks that four-wheel brakes are a great idea. One of the magazines that Joseph and he had been looking through when they were talking about self-starters had an ad for four-wheel hydraulic brakes. He had decided to ask the city council to install them on his car, but Joseph was at the city council meeting and persuaded them that mechanical brakes were better. Joseph's argument went something like this. "I have been involved with Model T's and things mechanical for nearly 15 years now. Hydraulic brakes are a bad idea and will never be practical. I can tell you exactly why. It would seem the perfect system, as all four brakes would get equal pressure, but the problem is that if any one wheel should lose pressure, all the wheels would lose pressure and you would have absolutely no brakes. With a mechanical system, this is not the case. It is easy to see the inherent unsafeness of hydraulic brakes." Chief Ward's mind now drifts from the city council meeting back to Pete, whom he continues to curry. "What a fine horse you are." He whispers into Pete's ear. About this time Chief Ward and Pete are startled from their musings by another fire alarm.
This time it is a small grass fire on the edge of town, not far from the station. Across the field bump Pete and Molly and the apparatus. The department quickly gets a handle on the blaze. It appears that some kids playing with fireworks started the fire. It isn't until the firemen get back to the station that Chief Ward notices Pete holding up his left hind leg. The vet is called and the worst fears are confirmed. Somehow Pete has broken his leg. "I'm sorry Chief, we'll have to put him down." Just then the third alarm of the day sounds. In spite of his broken leg, dutiful old Pete hobbles his way back in front of the apparatus. "Oh no, Pete old boy," whispers Chief Ward into his ear. "Your fire fighting days are over."
The town of Baton Noir now has a new pumper, but no one is particularly happy about it.
(end of story)