The little fire engine that could
The Uncalled four, The Fire House Five, The Easy Valley Eight: A friendly tradition on four wheels
It was a warm morning on Fourth of July in 1972. The beginning of the parade was signaled by an over-flight by Elmont George and Crew, who were the Fixed Base Operators for the recently named Ashland Municipal Airport. One twin- and two single-engine planes skimmed the parade route, dipping wings to the gasps of our small-town crowd. Now, two F-15s from Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls seem to do all of Southern Oregon, from Chiloquin to Eagle Point in an afterburnered vapor-trail within three minutes.
The parade then was a quintessential slice of the small-town American pie. It seemed that half the town was in the parade while the other half watched, hooted and hollered. In sharp contrast to the mega-floats of the televised Rose Bowl Parade, our entries were somewhat more provincial and less sophisticated, though the spirit of the effort washed over the crowd like the bright beam of a lighthouse, basking the viewers in a fever of local fervor that felt like homecoming to the 10th power &
133; all surged, frothed, screamed and shouted their approval of the central celebration of the year. As far back as 1955, local legends Bob O&
Harra and Dick Cottle manned the brooms and shovels to attend to the exhaust of the many equestrian entries that braved the roars from the sidewalk.
In the midst of the frenzy, a mid-1920s fire engine (1926 Reo Hose Wagon) lurched, jerked and bounced down the boulevard with a testy and marginal clutch, making each lunge from a stop a threat to the reed players, who feared choking on willowed wood with each advancement. Aboard this hallowed vehicle, which was Ashland&
s second fire engine, was a raucous Dixieland jazz group known as the Ashland Fire House Five.
— — —
The Ashland Firehouse Five Plus blast down Main — Street on an ancient pumper engine in 1963.
In 1972, as I recall, the Five consisted of Dick Cottle on trumpet, Dave Wight on clarinet, Chris Hald on tuba, Dave Fortmiller on valve trombone, Don Tingle on trombone, Warren Moore on saxophone and Bob Reinholdt on drums. Well, sometimes the Five were several more, along with a retinue of supporters who latched to and climbed aboard the engine along the route. At that time, they were known officially as the &
Ashland Firehouse Five Plus,&
morphing from an earlier incarnation named &
The Uncalled Four.&
By the late &
50s, they were the backbone of the parade.
Some of the others that played were John Lusk, Raoul Maddox, John Lazzari and Gene Piazza.
After the parade started, I applauded the Fire House Five as they rolled by in a flurry of blown notes, for it was the first time I had seen such a frenzy in motion. The whole town clapped as one in appreciation of and encouragement to our favorite local pep band. What I didn&
t expect was to see the crew reappear 10 minutes later, this to even greater applause from the insatiable onlookers. When these icons wheeled by yet again, I was ready to pull on a jersey, don a helmet and beg the coach to put me in, at least for one play. I turned and saw my long-haired and bearded image reflected in the display windows of Fortmiller&
s and bounced back quickly from fantasy to reality: No way I was going to get into the civic game anytime soon.
Jack Mills, who has started the parade for decades, would wave the Five into yet another run down the route, regardless of whose feathers got ruffled. Mayors, dignitaries and flogged floats were regularly put on hold as the Five wheeled through a shortcut and into the fray. Jack knew what he was doing and the whole town roared with approval.
I recently went over my observations with Dick Cottle, whose commitment to the community, legal profession and SOU (then SOSC) is legendary. Dick served on the city council, was our municipal judge and founded the Ashland Juvenile Court system. He was vice president and a member of the board of directors of the Oregon Shakespearean Festival Association and a business law professor at SOSC. Not to diminish his eminent credentials, it is fair to say that he blows a mean trumpet, recently burning a CD as a member of the Easy Valley Eight.
Every time I pass our new fire station, I think of the antique fire engine enshrined therein on the wall (the one on display is another vehicle) and replay in my mind the lively music of the Ashland Fire House Five, who have helped define the vibrant spirit of a small town that has been graced with giants of stature who spill their talents into and through this cultural jewel of the Pacific Northwest.
For those who want to listen to the Easy Valley Eight on CD, please give Dick a call at 482-1528. For $10 you will have a piece of Ashland&
s history. Who knows, maybe he&
ll deliver it in the fire engine, if your interest is hot enough.
Future columns will focus on various businesses as well as key individuals and events that will lead the charge from times past to lend perspective to the revival of Ashland. Send your favorite remembrances to: email@example.com.