“There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight” are the words to an old song that describes the good times of ballgames, festivities on the Square, celebrations.
The words also describe July’s weather, as well as this week’s column. It retells stories that former Fire Chief Tom English remembered.
For example, Mr. English told of a Sunday morning in 1923 when he worked for Coca-Cola on 10th Avenue East. The fire bell began to sound just as he was getting the truck ready for another week’s work.
The fire engine was headed down South Main, but the train – the Dixie Flyer – had the street blocked. It stayed blocked for five valuable minutes.
When the fire engine finally got across the railroad tracks, Tom English followed it. He found that his own house was on fire!
Neighbors tried to help by carrying the furniture outside. Tom and his brother had to push their 1918 Model T away from the heat. And someone ripped the telephone from the wall in an attempt to save the phone.
A paid fire department was created by the City of Springfield in 1933. Frank Murphy became chief. The chief had a little dog named Goodie, who went wherever Chief Murphy went for 17 years. In the fire truck, in a car, Goodie was always there.
The fire department moved in October 1933, to a newly renovated building on 7th Avenue. They stayed there until Nov. 22, 1963 - the day that President Kennedy was assassinated.
In 1938, a second fire engine had been ordered. The American LaFrance was sold around 1957 and was eventually displayed in a museum.
Around 1940, Tom English was appointed assistant fire chief. The winter that same year was exceptionally cold. Several homes on Richard Street caught fire, as well as Qualls Motor Company and George Barbee’s home on North Main.
The engine pump “froze up.” Security Federal on the south side of the Square also burned during that time and the hose froze to the ground. Ladders, as well as the hats and coats of the firemen, were also iced over.
Tom English recalled one particular fire call to the Courthouse. The smoke from the furnace rose up through the bell tower, where a red light glowed. It looked as if the entire building was on fire.
In 1954, Morton Furniture Company burned on South Main Street. English said, “The smoke from that fire covered the city like a blanket.” The Bell Dowlen Mill was saved, but help from the Nashville Fire Department was necessary.
One of the more dangerous events occurred when a train hit a gasoline tanker at the South Main Street crossing. Over 8,500 gallons of gasoline spilled. All of the fireplugs from 10th Avenue to Sulphur Fork were opened to dilute and wash away the gasoline from the streets.
Fortunately there was no loss of life.
When Tom English was interviewed many years ago, he not only remembered the exciting fires; he also remembered the men he had worked with at the Fire Department. He recalled the names of the “City Fathers.”
How fortunate that he shared his memories!
In the Eagle’s Eye is sponsored by the Robertson County Historical Society. Call 615-382-7173 for more information.