Berthoud’s Care Takers of Tradition seeking to restore 1888 hose cart
By Dan Karpiel
Renowned New York City Fire Chief Edward F. Croker was once reported to have said, “When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work.”
Croker, who served the NYFD in the early 1900s, was keenly aware of the difficulties firefighters faced more than a century ago. Halfway across the country was the tiny village of Berthoud, Colo., which numbered around 600 residents. Less than a year after Berthoud had formed its town government in 1888, the original Berthoud Fire Department, known then as Berthoud Hose No. 1, had organized itself as a collection of volunteers.
The first fire station was located in a two-story frame structure on Fourth Street, known then as the “hose house,” and was built for the sum total of $250 and also included the first Berthoud town hall building.
This being well before the era of large, motorized fire engines equipped with all the bells and whistles needed for extinguishing fires and rescuing endangered individuals, Berthoud Hose No. 1 used a wheeled cart equipped with a spooled 600-foot hose. A group of firefighters would pull the cart through the streets of early Berthoud, hopefully able to locate a hydrant with enough pressure to extinguish the flames.
As one can imagine, this was a not only a very laborious task but also a very dangerous one for the group of men, which typically numbered between four and 12. Should a firefighter trip and fall, he risked getting crushed by the cart or, at the very least, cause a pile-up that would delay the volunteers’ response, possibly leading to loss of life.
Decades later, Berthoud entered the modern era, and the original hose cart was replaced by a fire truck with an electric siren. In November 1950, a brick building a 330 Massachusetts Ave. became the new home for the Berthoud Fire District. Due to space constraints, the hose cart was stored outside behind the building and eventually fell into the hands of a gentleman named Ralph Craner in the early 1950s.
Craner and his brother-in-law, Pete Hahn, hauled the hose cart to a piece of property Craner owned near Bailey, Colo., where it remained until its whereabouts were discovered in 1985 and, three years later, the original hose cart was displayed in the parade during the 1988 Berthoud centennial celebration.
Longtime Berthoud resident Jerry Ward, who served as the town’s first full-time, paid member of the Berthoud Fire Protection District, began enquiring about what happened to the hose cart in the early 1980s and discovered attempts to locate it were unsuccessful. The fear was the antique hose cart was lost forever.
One day, while reminiscing over coffee with former fire chief, Lee Orville McClung, Ward was informed McClung had located the old hose cart. Generously, Craner’s widow, Helan Hahn-Craner, her daughter Berth and son-in-law Bill Peterson, the latter a Bailey firefighter, agreed to allow the antique hose cart to return home.
After contacting the family, Ward and McClung departed in a flat-bed Ford truck for Bailey to locate the hose cart and bring it home to Berthoud. After finding it buried in the back corner of a garage under a pile of other items, Ward and McClung loaded the hose cart onto their flatbed, strapped it down, and returned home to Berthoud.
A local 501-C3 non-profit group that calls itself Care Takers of Tradition is currently working to restore Berthoud’s antique hose cart to its original condition. The plan is to have the 130-year-old cart, which is currently intact but badly in need of restoration and repair, with dried and cracking wood, rusty parts and peeling paint, professionally restored so it may be proudly exhibited and help honor the legacy of Berthoud’s earliest days.
Care Takers of Tradition will be present, along with the hose cart, at Town Park at this upcoming weekend’s Berthoud Day festivities where they will be accepting donations – which are tax deductible, as the group is a registered non-profit – to help fund the hose-cart restoration project. Further information may be found by contacting Jerry Ward at (970) 290-1468 and John Beck (970) 290-2511. Editor’s Note – Some background information from this story was provided by an article titled “Local Lore – What Happened to the Hose Cart?” by Jerry Ward in the May 2010 issue of Berthoud History News and from a story by Mark French titled “Berthoud Hose Cart spent decades in Bailey,” in the Dec. 19 issue of the Surveyor
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