By Conrad Jackson

While most of us are acquainted with the image of olden day firefighters using a bucket brigade to douse the flames of a burning building, fewer have seen the image of a hose cart racing down a street.  A hose cart is little more than a handle attached to an axle mounted to two wheels.  Spooled onto the axle are several hundred feet of hose that terminates with a nozzle.  Firefighters would pull the hose cart to the scene of the fire where they would leave one man holding the nozzle.  The remaining firefighters would then pull the cart to the nearest hydrant, unspooling hose as they went.  The hose would then be connected to the hydrant and the water would flow.

Prescott purchased its first hose cart in 1881 to complement a hook and ladder wagon purchased in 1879.  The wagon was hand-drawn by the “Mechanics” company and, as the name suggests, carried ladders and plaster hooks that were used to access burning buildings to salvage goods.  The new hose cart was intended to quickly access the city’s fledgling water system from hydrants located downtown.  The “Dudes” company used the first hose cart.  The “Toughs” established themselves a month after the city formally established the fire department on March 3, 1885.  A fourth company, the “O.K.s”, came along in 1888, but they operated a hand-drawn wagon laden with hose instead of a cart.

The Dudes and the Toughs had an immediate sibling rivalry.  They began taunting each other as to who would be the faster crew to douse a fire.  A formal resolution to the question was in order and so a competition was set for May 1 downtown.  Each company would run two hundred yards, lay one hundred and fifty feet of hose, catch the hydrant, and charge the line.  Heavy betting began and the event was well attended.  When the dust settled, the “dandy runners” of the Dudes handily beat the Toughs.  The Dudes collected a silver trumpet as the prize as well as “floral offerings from lady admirers.”

Tensions ran high following the race and an unfortunate event soon followed.  It was reported that an “orthodox ugly” pug owned by Tough’s member Billy Ryan was so incensed by his owner’s loss that he took it upon himself to jump through the French glass entry of the jewelry establishment of George Curry, a member of the Dudes.  Witnesses to the event stated that the pug left the scene with a distinct air of satisfaction at avenging his owner.

Sibling rivalry was the mainstay for the years to follow, with annual races held on the Fourth of July as well as any other time the proverbial gauntlet was thrown.  The rivalry would be set aside when facing outside fire companies.  In 1890, Prescott Fire Department was invited to attend the Southwest Regional Hose Cart Races in Albuquerque.  The best firefighters from each of the four companies were selected to attend.  They had a special uniform made with a “4” on the chest to reflect the four companies coming together.  The combined company took the prize in 1890 as well as the subsequent two years.

The Albuquerque firefighters were none too pleased at the repeated losses and wrote to Prescott’s council and the department.  They demanded the return of the coveted silver-wrought prize belt, stating that Prescott’s wins were without merit.  Chief Bashford replied, “The belt, having been now won three times in succession will remain in this department forever.”  In a further act of defiance to Albuquerque’s demands, Prescott firefighters sent them a prize belt of sorts…the collar off of Sport, one of the department’s dogs.

Hose cart racing faded with the arrival of mechanized fire engines in the 1920s, but a revival began in Prescott in 1957 when the annual Arizona Firefighter Convention was held locally.  Attending agencies were encouraged to “dust off their hose carts” and bring them to the convention.  Hose cart racing continues in Prescott to this day, regularly held on the Sunday of the July Fourth weekend.  Firefighters from Prescott, Chino Valley, Central Yavapai, and Mayer are regular attendees.  Not to be outdone, the wives form their own teams and compete as well.

The author will present a free lecture on the history of the Prescott Fire Department at the Sharlot Hall Museum’s Lawler Building Saturday, June 20 at 2 p.m.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.