You might think I’m about to talk about the tragic New year’s Eve of 2011, when arson ignited a roaring blaze in a section of the long-closed Westclox factory – a fire that continued to smolder for several weeks. Well, you’re wrong. I want to go back more than a century before that fateful night!
Western Clock Company, a.k.a. Westclox, organized its own fire department in 1909, to act as a first-line of defense in the event of an accidental fire within the factory complex. This was an extremely forward-thinking, proactive plan for that time period. Better to be prepared than suffer tragic consequences. Community volunteer fire departments were not as vast and able to respond as quickly in the beginning of the 20th Century, but a well organized in-house department could quickly respond and get to work while waiting for assistance. (if such assistance was even required)
We don’t have a lot of information on those earliest years of the Westclox fire Department, but we do know that the brigade was made up of Westclox employees, who were willing and able to leave their assigned positions at a moment’s notice to respond to any emergency. In the earliest years, response was on foot, assisted by hand-pulled hose carts.
What we are sure of is the Westclox fire truck went into service in 1929, thanks to modifications and retrofits to a 1929 Ford pickup truck. These modifications were made in the factory by members of the maintenance department. The truck was designed to fit between the aisles of the factory floor, so nothing would impede their rapid response. The men who outfitted this truck were quite skilled and created an extremely fine specimen for the factory fire brigade! They also kept it in excellent repair for the more than 50 years it was in service!
The earliest photo we have of the Westclox Fire Department and truck is dated June 28, 1929. We have not yet identified all of the men in the photo, but subsequent photos dated 1938, 1962, 1964 and 1969 have all the members identified. It is believed that very few members of the fire brigade are still living. At present, our museum collection includes several photos of the truck and brigade members, a brass hose nozzle from the truck and two 20th Century fire extinguishers that were used in the plant.
It is believed that the Westclox fire truck was sold to a private collector, possibly in Wisconsin, after the plant closed in 1980. A former Westclox tool and die maker, Ron Unzicker, has recently completed a custom-built 1/25 model of the truck, and has donated it to the Museum. The model will go on permanent display on October 10 – Fire Prevention Day. On that pay we will pay tribute to the former members of the Westclox Fire Department and their families.
Did you have a relative who may have been a member of the Westclox Fire Department? Do you have any photos or memorabilia concerning this? If so, Please join us on Saturday, October 10, 2015 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Perhaps you can identify some of the members in our 1929 photo, or provide other names of former members. If you are unable to visit on that day, stop by the museum during any open hours or contact us via this site.
“You never know what you might find in the Westclox Museum!”