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OPINION: The first Pea Ridge fire station brought excitement to town

by Annette Beard | November 23, 2021 at 1:30 p.m.

In downtown Pea Ridge, on the northern most block of North Curtis Avenue, there is a small white building which I would guess to be one of the least-noticed little buildings in town. Tucked in between the Telephone Company and a building materials storage shed, stands our town's very first fire station. Barely wide enough to allow the original 1948 Dodge fire truck to park inside, the little building probably could not handle any of today's fire trucks. But from about 1950, and for many years following, the little fire house served our community well, enabling our new volunteer fire department to offer protections that had never before been available in our town.

I'm wondering how many of us even notice the small building as we drive by it from time to time? Most of the traffic flowing past the location is Intermediate School traffic, parents picking up or dropping off students, school busses coming and going. If many people are like myself, we may drive past a building every day of our lives, but never really notice it.

When I was quite young, in the 1940s, Pea Ridge had no fire department, no fire truck, no fire station, no fire fighting equipment other than a water hose if a house happened to have running water. Most did not. At our house, on the farm, we carried water into the house from the well in buckets,. If your house caught fire, as ours did once, you beat down the flames with a wet towel, or threw water on it from the water bucket by the sink. Before 1945 we didn't have running water, nothing to produce a stream of water for fighting a fire. But in about 1950, Pea Ridge got its own fire truck and its own little white fire station.

As a boy, I had become familiar with fire trucks and sirens in Bentonville and Rogers. In those days, Rogers was about the size of town that Pea Ridge is now, and Bentonville was about half the size that Pea Ridge is now. But all my life, both Rogers and Bentonville had their city fire departments, and real fire trucks with real sirens. To me, as a young boy, when the fire truck went on a run, siren wailing, it was real excitement! In those days, the fire sirens were not like today's electronic screechers; their siren sound was produced by a real whirling rotor inside, which slowly built up to a maximum RPM and sound level, then slowly died down, producing a powerful, long, mournful wail. We all knew it meant "Make Way, Make Way, the fire engine's acomin'!"

My mother loved to tell a story from Model T Ford days in Bentonville, when she was just learning to drive the family's Model T car. She was driving north on Main Street in Bentonville, with Grampa in the passenger seat, and was approaching the square. As she stopped the car at the intersection, waiting for traffic to clear so she could enter the square, she heard the fire engine right behind her, giving out an urgent and startling wail. She was trying to keep her cool, when Grampa said, "OK Eun, take 'er around!" Grampa himself was not known for keeping his cool in exciting circumstances like that, but Mom, (whose name was Eunice), was so proud of herself that she was able to calmly press the low pedal and give the T the gas, and they went chuckle, chuckle, chuckle right around to the right and out of the way on the south side of the square.

In those days, your fire truck might itself be a Model-T, with no great powerful engine, but with the real siren, so it had the sound of real authority and real urgency. Our first Pea Ridge fire truck was a 1948 Dodge truck, with a six-cylinder flat-head engine. It was certainly no powerhouse, nothing like the authoritatively powerful fire trucks that our Fire Department uses now, but it had that real siren sound.

I remember being so excited about getting to see our new fire truck set out on a fire run. From time to time we would hear the truck had gone out to fight fires, but I was rarely in town, other than during school hours, and it was some time before a fire run happened while we were at school. Finally, the day arrived, the fire siren at the fire house began sounding, and we school kids were a-buzz, watching out the window as best we could, anticipating the sight of our new fire engine dashing out of town to put out the fire. The siren wailed and wailed, and still no fire truck. Evidently the fire truck was slow to start! Finally we saw it emerge from the fire house, turning left at the intersection, siren wailing, and passing by in front of the school. By the time the fire truck reached where the Park Motel and Cannonball Cafe are now, I know the old truck must have built up to fully 5 miles an hour, the old engine just a-singin' in second gear.

Of course the fire truck was carrying a full load of water, and I shouldn't have expected it to go dashing out of town at 40 miles an hour! It wasn't as exciting as I had expected. But, thinking back, it really was a great thing for our town and community. There is talk now of restoring the little original fire house. I'm thinking that will be a great thing, too!

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Editor's note: This column was originally published Sept. 16, 2015. Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, was vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society.

Print Headline: First Pea Ridge fire station brought excitement to town

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