A Car Accident

A sketch of one of Joplin's early car accidents.

“Great Excitement prevailed for a time, but this soon subsided…” In 1906, automobiles were still a new and intriguing sight on the streets of Joplin. The motorized fire engines were still a dream and the road mainly belonged to horse drawn buggies, wagons and trolleys. Thus, it was still quite a newsworthy event when one of the new machines accidentally plowed through the front of A.C. Webb’s automobile establishment at 2nd and Joplin street. A Joplin paper described the event:

“The automobile has always been noted for its liability to do things, but this characteristic was fully demonstrated yesterday afternoon when a runabout of this make crashed…tearing down a large portion of the building, breaking the glass in both windows and doors and not injuring the machine in the least.”

The unfortunate driver was Gus Mattes who had attempted to drive the vehicle into Webb’s shop but instead failed to slow down and completely missed the entrance, but did not miss the brick wall (“with great force.”) Surprisingly, despite the fact that Webb’s shop had suffered damage described alternatively as “demolished” and “splintered” the actual automobile received only a “crack in the glass of one of the lamps.” Before the day was done, the shop was already under repair, and undoubtedly, Mr. Mattes’ vehicle as well.

Incidentally, A.C. Webb’s shop was only a few blocks away from the Joplin Fire Department. When Joplin firemen responded to a fire a couple years later behind a steering wheel, its creator was Webb.

A Fireman from Joplin’s Past

Today’s post is a glimpse at one of Joplin’s earliest firemen. As previously covered on Historic Joplin, the Joplin Fire Department came into existence in the mid-1870s. Below is an unidentified fireman of the era who helped protect the young city of Joplin from the dangerous threat of fire.

The Modern Fire Department

Courtesy of Jim Perkins, whose sharp eye caught the date error on our photograph of the 1902 Joplin Fire Department, are three photographs from the Joplin Fire Department’s past.  Below are photographs of some of the first motorized fire fighting apparatuses in the nation.  Specifically, is a photo of the Joplin Goat and two of the Webb Engine.  All three were the creations of Al Webb, who had a mechanics shop not far from the Joplin Fire Department headquarters (city hall – which these are parked in front of).    The arrival of these machines helped usher in a new age of firefighting and literally set out to pasture the fire horses they replaced.

The Joplin Goat, courtesy of Jim Perkins.

The Webb Engine, courtesy of Jim Perkins.

The Webb Engine, courtesy of Jim Perkins.

Source: The Jim Perkins Collection

Joplin Fire Department Mea Culpa!

Thanks to the sharp eye of Jim Perkins of the Joplin Fire Department, we discovered that our post from a few weeks ago of a photo of the 1907 Joplin Fire Department was in fact the 1902 Joplin Fire Department.  Not only are we thankful to Jim for spotting this error, but he was kind enough to share with us a copy of the actual photo.  Thanks, Jim!

1902 Joplin Fire Department - from and by permission of Jim Perkins, Joplin Fire Department

Joplin Fire Department 1907 (Correction: 1902)

Following yesterday’s post about the Southwest Firemen’s Association Tournament in Joplin, here’s a somewhat clear photograph of the men who fought the fires of Joplin in 1907 (1902).  This would be the last year before the transition from fire horse to fire automobile.

Joplin Fire Department 1907

Joplin Fire Department 1907

The Top Line from Left to Right:  George Hays, Hiram Franks, Bert Davis, Albert J. Foster.  Middle line from Left to Right: John Hinds, Henry Staab, T.E. Fowler, A.L. Moore.  Bottom line from Left to Right: R.S. Pierson, Fire Chief Frank Zellers, and William Griffith.

The Joplin Fireman’s Tournament and Farewell To Old Friends

In our earlier coverage of the origin of the Joplin Fire Department, we concluded with the transition by the department from horse drawn fighting apparatus to fire fighting equipment mounted on automobiles.  This transition did not occur without fanfare or no little publicity.

The Joplin Fire Department received many responses to the Southwest Firemen's Association tournament

The Joplin Fire Department received an overwhelming response to the tournament invitation.

Instead, the Joplin Fire Department opted to showcase their new fire trucks by hosting the Southwest Firemen’s Association annual tourney.  The tournament, which was to run for three days, was expected to draw the biggest crowd yet in the history of the tournament.  At least 30 teams were expected to come from the four state region to compete in multiple events in teams of 17.  The main attraction, however, was the Joplin Fire Department’s new fire engines, which claimed to be among the first in the nation to harness the power of the automobile engine to power the attached fire fighting apparatus. (Previously, the apparatus was merely attached).  Also of note, Joplin believed itself the first to attach a chemical tank to an automobile, which combined two of the most modern fire fighting technologies.  Highlighting the exhibition would be a race between the 75 horse power fire engines around Barbee racetrack, a first ever in the United States.  The News Herald excitedly predicted the experience:

“At Barbee park they will see the big machines on the line, hear the starter’s revolver fired, then with a chug the red devils will be off, sailing around the track, only a mass of bright colors in which the blue of the fire laddies mingles with the gaudy red and gold of the machines, and they will see the machines, only a streak of red, as their drivers send them down the home stretch faster than 75 miles an hour, with the gong of the big fire bells sounding as the winner shoots over the tape.”

Cartoon of a fire engine racing on a race track

A cartoon depiction of fire engines racing around the Barbee track!

Not to be forgotten were the fire horses, who had there own races as well.  The horses, still retained by the Joplin department, would have a chance to race against those from other departments before literally being put out to pasture.  The big horses which had the hard task of pulling the fire wagons through the streets of Joplin at breakneck speeds, had one last opportunity to demonstrate their ability.

On September 8, 1908, the first day of meeting of the Southwest Fire Association began on a Tuesday morning with the business meeting of the association at the Commercial Club.  Mayor Jesse Osborne enthusiastically greeted the firemen, “Joplin wants you to have a good time.  The city is thrown wide open to you and if you see anything which you want that is tied down, tear it loose.” Speakers included an invocation by Reverend W.F. Turner, the president of the Commercial Club Col. H.B. Marchbank, as well as two past presidents of the association, and the current president from Neosho, Missouri, Jonathon M. Sherwood.  Present at the meeting were 25 delegations from the four states, who opted to adjourn at 10 am.

Jonathan M. Sherwood, President of Southwest Firemen's Association in 1908

Jonathan M. Sherwood, President of Southwest Firemen's Association in 1908

The afternoon must have been a delight to small boys and girls who crowded Main Street and the other streets along the parade route to witness a mile long parade of firemen and their fire fighting apparatuses.  It began at approximately 2:30 pm at the central fire fighting station with the vanguard composed of a handpicked squad of 18 mounted police officers lead by Joplin Police Chief, Joe Meyers and his Assistant Police Chief Cofer.  Behind them marched a band, and behind this musical introduction, companies of firemen from Galena, Weir City, Scammon, Gas City, Neosho, Carterville.  Veteran firemen of the association followed with veteran Joplin firemen right behind them.  These veterans pulled a cart with them, the first piece of fire fighting equipment ever employed by the department. Behind them rode city officials in carriages who were trailed by the four automobile engines of the department, as well four horse drawn engines.  Over a thousand visitors, it was estimated, had arrived in Joplin for the tournament.
After the parade, crowds gathered at the central fire station to examine the “big machines” which demonstrated their capability and even raced down Main Street in a demonstration and “the speed of the automobiles and the dexterity with which they were handled elicited much applause.”  However, the appreciative crowds had to wait until 1pm the next day to see the machines on the race track.

Joplin fire engines on race track

Photograph from 1909 Popular Mechanics of Joplin's fire engines on the racetrack.

Wednesday saw the main attractions of the tournament with fire engines raced around Barbee racetrack.  Nor were the fire departments ready to forget their fire horses with an exciting race between the Joplin departments taking place.  Before an estimated crowd of 3,500, the victor of that narrow contest was Station No. 3 of South Joplin.  The firemen of South Joplin were pulled to victory by the beloved bay and iron gray fire horses, King and John.  They defeated the other Joplin pair of fire horses, Tom and Dan.

“ The horses started on the word “go,” and with a bound were off, throwing dust.  With the bells of the wagons clanging, the horses tore around the track, coming down the home stretch with remarkable speed.”

Other competitions involved laying out 150 feet of hose and then “water thrown” to stop the clock.  Specifically, teams had to race to a line, then attach a hose to a hydrant and put a nozzle on the hose.  It was the firemen from Carterville who ended up excelling at this contest.  Numerous other competitions occurred which revolved around other skills essential to the task of fighting fires.

Highlights from the Southwest Firemen's Association tournament

A depiction of moments from mainly Wednesday's activities at the tournament.

The final day of the tournament was expected to draw even more to Barbee’s racetrack than the 3,500 from the day before.  The main attraction was a real demonstration of firefighting by the Joplin stations.  A two story wood structure, doused in oil, was built upon the race grounds and set aflame.  It was decided before hand that the structure would “be allowed to get well under way before the automobiles leave their stations.”  Before a crowd of thousands, the Joplin firemen arrived, bells ringing, and extinguished the flames.

It was a seminal moment for not just Joplin’s fire department, of which the city and its residents intensely proud, but also for fire fighting across the nation.  It represented the beginning of the end of the fire horse and the introduction of the modern fire engine.  Though, as one editorial cartoon depicted about a week after the tournament, the fire horses, while replaced, were loved and would be missed.

Joplin fireman saying goodbye to his fire horse.

A Joplin fireman bids a tearful farewell.

Source: Joplin News Herald

The Mobile Joplin Fire Department

Here’s a view of the Joplin Fire Department proudly displaying their high tech fire fighting equipment in 1909.  The photograph was taken in front of the City Hall of the time, which served as both a jail, police station, and fire station.

Joplin Fire Department Goat

The accompanying article noted that the Kansas City Fire Department was impressed by Joplin's automotive capabilities.

Source: Joplin Daily Globe

The 1903 Joplin Fire Department Thanksgiving Dinner

The young men and women of Joplin may have not caught a possum on their evening foray in the winter of 1905, but Joplin’s firemen feasted on one in 1903 for Thanksgiving.

The Globe reported, “While the populace of Joplin was enjoying turkey with sage dressing in their dining rooms, the members of the central department were feasting on ‘possum and sweet potatoes.”

Photo of Possum

Some possums may object to the content of this post. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Source: Joplin Globe 1903

From Fire: The Origin of the Joplin Fire Department

Fires today still make the headlines, but the risk to communities as a whole are not as significant as they were one hundred years ago. Before the emergence of professional fire fighters with modern training and equipment, fires posed a considerable risk to towns and cities populated by wooden structures and defended by brave but untrained bucket brigades.  Joplin, like many other cities across the country, learned the hard way of the necessity of a professionally trained and equipped fire department. As one would expect, this story of historic Joplin begins with a fire.

More than thirty years had passed, but the crusty pioneers who witnessed the city’s birth still recalled the first great blaze that occurred in 1874.  Only a year old, Joplin was just beginning to build on the success of the mines. For a city in its infancy, the fire was incredibly destructive. Joplin’s volunteer fire department, formed in 1872, was headed by Edward Porter. Porter oversaw a ragtag collection of twenty men who rode on horseback to fires carrying only their axes and water buckets. It was this small, determined band of men who were able to beat back the fire of 1874. Despite the volunteer fire department’s best efforts, an entire block on Broadway was lost, which at the time consisted of two residences and a store room. The only building that survived the blaze was the Masonic Hall which was built of brick. The potential for devastation had been great and had only been narrowly avoided.  The limited success of the volunteer fire department convinced Joplin’s city leaders that something had to be done to improve the department’s ability to combat fires.

The answer was a 100 gallon tank filled with a chemical fire suppressant set on the back of a handcart.  It was stored in Joplin City Hall which at the time was situated in the bottoms that lay roughly in the middle of town, or rather, between the two former towns of Joplin and Murphysburg that had combined only a few years before.  The fire suppressant’s record was mixed.  A year after its purchase, it failed to stop a fire that burned down two homes, including one on Mineral Street that belonged to John Allington.  This defeat may have been made even more embarrassing as Allington was an influential resident.

Man holding bucket up to horse

A bucket, like the one featured in this photograph from the time period, was one of the main tools available to combat fires.

By this time, Edward Porter had resigned from the position of volunteer fire chief and was succeeded by Frank Williams. It was Williams who was likely in charge when a destructive fire rampaged through near what is now Joplin’s Murphysburg neighborhood.  At that time, the main financial district ran from First Street to Fourth with a few homes located south of Seventh Street.  The heart of the commercial district was situated at the intersection of Third and Main, but buildings extended south to the corner of Fourth Street and Main, where the Worth Block building later stood.  The Joplin News Herald described the fire thus:

“At an early hour one morning two of the buildings in the middle of the block were discovered to be in flames.  The alarm was given and the volunteer company turned out.  The fire had a good headway and before any efforts could be made to check its spread the center of the row was ablaze.”

It did not take long for the volunteers to realize that the buildings that made up the majority of the block between Third and Main were lost.  Built entirely of wood frame construction, a fire could not have asked for any better source of fuel.  Firefighters began a valiant effort to save the buildings located at opposite corners of the block as they were considered cornerstones that anchored their respective intersections. Onlookers crowded to watch the fire feed upon the block’s buildings and the fight by the firefighters to save the corner buildings.  The firefighters succeeded in their desperate battle but the center of the block was reduced to charred ashes.  The next great fire came four years later in 1880 at the famed White Lead Works of Joplin.

The White Lead Works arose from the idea of E.O. Bartlett, a young professor from Pennsylvania.  Bartlett believed the process of smelting lead at the time was a wasteful one that allowed lead carbonate to be lost in the exhaust fumes.  To curb waste, Bartlett devised a redesigned exhaust system that tripped a flour-like substance, commonly known as white lead.  Bartlett requested the permission of Joplin’s largest lead producers to build his experimental lead factory on their site which would use his new exhaust system.  The owners, E.R. Moffett and John B. Sergeant, agreed to the idea.  Such was the success of Professor Bartlett’s plan that Moffett and Sergeant quickly implemented the process in their primary lead factories.  White lead quickly became a valuable commodity due to its use as a paint pigment and was even used by the United States Navy to paint their ships.  It was also commonly used in house paint and posed a great threat to the health of children who might consume the paint flakes.

It was late in the afternoon on April 3, 1880, that a great column of white smoke rose upward into the sky.  If that was not enough to garner the attention of the people of Joplin, then the constant shrill screams of the plant’s steam whistles certainly did.  Something was wrong.  Perhaps someone had stacked the sacks of white lead too tightly together and the cumulative heat of the contents had reached a critical point where the bags had burst into flame. At least, that was the theory settled upon later, but at the moment, all that was known were shouts in the streets of Joplin, “The white lead works are on fire!”   The white lead works employed a significant number of the city’s population and an even greater number arrived to watch it burn and look for loved ones that worked there.

The white lead works of Joplin, Missouri

The white lead works of Joplin after they were rebuilt following the devastating fire.

Moffett, who was at work at the time, coolly remarked, “Well, she’s gone.”  Moffett and Sergeant’s employees had been at their posts with the factory running at full capacity when the fire started. Fortunately, employees were quickly evacuated and Moffett was credited with keeping the crisis in check. All that remained was for the fire department to attempt to save the factory. It was a lost cause before the department even arrived. Joplin’s volunteer firefighters failed due to the enormity and hazardousness of the blaze and they nearly lost the fire department’s chemical tank after it became trapped between two buildings.  The overall loss was valued at $20,000, a great sum in 1880.

It was a jarring loss for both the city and its growing economy.  The white lead works would be rebuilt, twice its former size, but the city recognized the need to reorganize the volunteer fire department. Volunteer Fire Chief Frank Williams may have stepped down at this point and handed the reins over to Taylor Mayfield, although it is not clear. The city ordered water hoses for the department to use and requested that every business keep a barrel of water and bucket handy.  The city also asked for additional volunteers.  It would be another fire the same year that spurred the city to continue its efforts to modernize the fire department.

During the late hours of the morning the city’s sole opera house, the Blackwell, erupted in flames. Rouse from their sleep at two in the morning, volunteers valiantly tried to save the large three story structure that lined fifty feet of Joplin’s Main Street.  Located just north of the city’s courthouse, the flames could easily leap to the next building and destroy the civil center of the community.  Clark Claycroft, a volunteer at the time and later a fire chief, recalled, “We tried our chemical tank but the fire was too much for that, and the bucket brigade did but little better.” As the flames consumed the Blackwell, volunteers recalled the fire hoses that lay inside the fire barn nearby, having arrived only the day before.

“So a bunch of us went to the fire barn, broke open the boxes, and put the hoses together and carried it to the fire.  In half an hour, we had two streams of water going.” It was not enough to save the opera house.  The Blackwell was lost, but the efforts did protect Joplin’s City Hall which briefly caught fire.  The damage was severe and pushed Joplin’s city leaders to continue to improve the volunteer fire department.

Clark Claycroft was selected as fire chief with former city marshal J.W. Lupton appointed as his second in command. Three hose companies were established with their own stations.  George Payton, a future fire chief, oversaw Station One located in East Joplin.  Station Two stood at Second and Joplin and was commanded by A.B. “Tony” McCarty, and further south, at Seventh and Main, Station Three was overseen by L.A. Fillmore.  It was this foundation upon which the Joplin Fire Department was built upon when George Payton became the first paid fire chief at $50 a year.  The year was either 1882 or 1884 as various sources dispute the founding date.

Joplin Fire Department prior to mechanization

Before the adaptation of the automobile, horse drawn carries were the main method for the Joplin Fire Department to move their fire fighting equipment about the city.

By 1890, the city’s water works had been expanded and improved upon which assisted the fire department with one hundred pounds of water pressure.  Up to and past 1900, the companies used horse drawn carriages to respond to fire alarms, but one man would change that. Alfred Webb of Joplin, who operated an automobile livery across the street from one of the fire stations, revolutionized fire fighting. With permission of the fire chief, he mounted one of the chemical tanks and some hose on a motor car and a new era of fighting fires was born.  The mechanized apparatus, dubbed “The Goat,” raced swiftly to the scene of fires, and often times was, as Joplin historian Joel Livingston reported, “ready to return when the hose company, drawn by horses, arrived on the scene.”  By 1908, the city equipped all its stations with the motorized units and was perhaps one of the first cities to take such a step in the first years of the twentieth century.

The motorized Joplin Fire Department

The motorized Joplin Fire Department with its two ladder trucks, chemical truck, and fire chief's engine.

This innovation even made the pages of a 1909 issue of Popular Mechanics, which reported on the “up-to-date fire fighting machines.”  The four cylinder gas engines of the cars also powered the pumps and worked at a furious 75 horse power.  The chief fire engine carried a thousand feet of hose and numerous four gallon tanks of chemical suppressant, in addition to a water pump.  The chemical engine, as it was called, hauled a sixty gallon tank, 200 feet of hose, and was powered by only a 25 horse power engine.  In addition, the department owned two ladder trucks powered by 50 horsepower four cylinder engines which carried a thousand feet of hose, plus two 30 foot extension ladders.

Fire chief's engine and chemical engine of the Joplin Fire Department

Another view of the fire chief's engine and chemical engine of the Joplin Fire Department.

The Joplin Fire Department's two ladder trucks racing on a track

The Joplin Fire Department's two ladder trucks racing on a track.

From a small crew of twenty volunteers with buckets and axes to a modernized fleet of fire engines, the Joplin Fire Department entered the new century.  Despite the hazards it had already faced, it was not until 1923 when the department lost its first fireman, one of four honored by the department for their service and sacrifice.

Joplin City Hall, which also housed the Joplin Fire Department station.

Joplin City Hall, which also housed the Joplin Fire Department station. Note the ladder truck on the right.

Sources: “A History of Jasper County, Missouri, and It’s People,” by Joel T. Livingston, Popular Mechanics, “The Story of Joplin” by Dolph Shaner, “Tales about Joplin…Short and Tall,” by Evelyn Milligan Jones, the Library of Congress, and the Joplin News Herald.