Old Mission History: Peninsula Fire Department Circa 1945

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This photo of the Peninsula Fire Department was taken in 1945 at the “fire barn,” located on Center Road, just north of the current fire hall in Mapleton.

Pictured, standing left to right: Harry Heller, Arnold White, Roy Hooper, Claude Watson, Stanley Wood and Ray Heller. Seated in the truck are John Lardie (wearing helmet) and Ike (Isadore) Lardie.

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The fire truck was built by volunteers, most of whom had recently returned home from World War II. While the men fought the fires, the auxiliary group, coordinated by Gwen Watson (wife of Claude; they owned Watson’s Store in Mapleton) brought coffee, food, blankets or whatever was needed.

As soon as an emergency call was received by “Central” (Peninsula Telephone Company), the switchboard operator would ring all the phone lines of the volunteers and let them know the location of the emergency. In 1953, when the phone system went to rotary dial, ten red “fire phones” were installed in homes around the Mapleton area. In an emergency, those ten volunteers were called and, in turn, notified others.

A siren positioned atop a 40-foot pole at the fire station notified folks in the surrounding countryside. There were no issues with alerting people, as most of the farming community worked outside in the orchards and field. One long blast meant the fire was north of Mapleton, and two short blasts sent the volunteers south of Mapleton.

Thanks to Theo Weber for posting this photo on Facebook the other day. It’s featured in the book, “A Century of Service: The People and Places on Old Mission Peninsula,” published in 2008 by the Peninsula Telephone Company (Jack and Vi Solomonson, and their daughter Mary Jo Lance).

I believe the books are available at the current phone company, AcenTek, located at 14909 Peninsula Drive on the Old Mission Peninsula. Call them at (231) 223-4211 and double check before heading over there.

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

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  1. I have a copy of this picture. Love seeing my Father and Grandfather again. Many memories of all of theses men. Gwen and Claude Watson were a wonderful couple. Many memories of them and my personal charge account at their store for candy. Gwen installed a hitching post in front of her store for us girls who rode our horses all around the area. It was such a sad day when Claude passed away. I remember my father holding Gwen while she cried on his shoulder.

    • Thanks for the note, Peggie! Yes, such a different time then. Love that they had the hitching post for the horses. I have to email all of you girls to get some memories of the horse riding excursions.

      I don’t recall Claude too much, so am thinking he might have passed away before I came along in 1960 or sometime in the 1960s. Do you recall when he died? Such a heartbreaking memory of your dad holding Gwen.

      My main memories of Watson’s Store center on when we had the strawberry patch down from the barn. A bunch of us would pick strawberries, then my mom would pay us and we’d run across the orchards up to Watson’s to buy candy. Especially remember the candy cigarettes and wax root beer candies. It was shaped like a bottle, and seems to me you chewed the end off and drank the tiny bit of root beer inside.

      Also have fond memories of Harry Jr. riding his minibike down to our house in Old Mission. My brother Ward has a minibike, too, so they’d go out roaming around.


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