Painting of Jim the Fire Horse Found!

After 25 years of searching, Mike Tressler, writer for the Toledo Blade, and Toledo Fire Department historian, Bill O'Connor, have located the famous painting of Jim the Fire Horse.  We received an e-mail recently from Mrs. Molly Cowan,  Sylvania, OH, who inherited the portrait from her mother.  The painting has been in her family for many years, originally having belonged to her  grandfather, Harry J. Smith.  Jim's portrait has lovingly hung in  Mrs. Cowan's home  and some day may eventually find itself at  home in the museum in the special stall reserved for him.

The "Beau Brummel" of the T.F.D.

"Beau Brummel" is defined as a famous leader of English fashion, often used to describe someone who is daring, handsome, someone of excellent physique.

It was never known until an article appeared back in the old scrap book of November, 1912, that there were any "Beau Brummels" on the Toledo Fire Department.  Sure enough, there was the story that goes as follows....

"Jim, the 'Beau Brummel' of the Toledo Fire Department is dead.  By the passing of this faithful and valiant server of the public, there is emblazoned on historic annals of the City, a record of equine stoicism seldom, if ever, equaled or excelled.

Jim, the most handsome, strongest, best trained, and most responsive, dependable horse on the department, was Toledo's most distinguished specimen of equine intelligence and fidelity; and, needless to say, he was the unending pride of Engine House #3.  Such an ideal firehorse he was, that he was in the process of having his portrait painted by the artist, H.C.N Crandall, for exposition on the wall at the Museum of Art.

It was the exemplary 'Jim' who always responded first to 'alarms' and ran with unerring accuracy, in his lead position of the three horse hitch on the large steamer at headquarters.  It was after such an alert response to the ninth alarm of the day, that his driver, Charles Harrison, clasping the heavy harness about Jim's massive neck, observed the horse was standing unflinchingly at his post of duty upon three legs, and that his left hind leg hung helplessly from his body.  Hurried examination proved the valuable animal's leg was broken and he was taken from his central place in the engine trio forever.

Toledo's finest veterinary surgeons were called, but it was declared that the horse could not be saved and he was killed by a new modern method of injecting positive poison in the jugular vein.

When and how Jim's leg was broken is a mystery.  He had responded to eight calls during the day and was willing to respond to the ninth.

The horse was only seven and a half years old, and had only served the fire department for two years, but in that short time had proved himself to be the finest and most accurately trained.  He also had the honor of being the most perfect specimen of equine beauty and symmetry of the city's lot of exceptional horses.  He was a very large dapple gray, beautifully marked, and was valued by many to be worth as much as $400.00

The portrait of "Jim" for which he had been posing for several weeks is almost completed.  Artist Crandall said at least two more hours of work had to be done on the canvas and that Jim was to have stood for his last time tomorrow.  Mr. Crandall will finish the painting from memory, and it will so be placed on exhibition in the Secor hotel, before going to the Museum of Art.

The last alarm to which Jim would have responded was received at 11:30 p.m. to 801 Junction. It was a one story frame building used as a bowling alley and was partly burned.  The fire started inside and caused $600.00 damage."

1912 Rules & Regulations Toledo Fire Department  of Fire Drivers
Submitted by John F. Repp, Curator

Rule #204:  The drivers shall have the care of the horses, harness, and stables, and shall keep the same in good condition. In houses where there are extra horses, the Captain will detail someone to assist the drivers in the care of extra stock.

Rule #206:  As soon as the horses return to the house after an alarm or exercise, they must be rubbed until quite dry, particular care being taken to rub their legs until they are dry and warm, and their feet washed with a sponge and thoroughly examined for nails and stones.  Horses must not be fed nor watered while warm.

Rule #207:  Horses shall be exercised every 24 hours (Sundays and stormy weather excepted) but must not be driven further than two squares from the station nor at a rate of speed exceeding 10 m.p.m.  Drivers will not stop their horses to engage in conversation with persons on the street or sidewalks.  They shall travel on such streets as the Captain may designate.

Rule #211:  At fires, after laying hose, drivers shall blanket horses and locate as near the fire as possible so that in case of necessity, they can be found quickly to lay a second line.

Rule #213:  In proceeding to fires, drivers will sound their gongs at every corner and as often as necessary. 

Another rule that is not enforced by the TFD is Rule #60:  No member will engage in idle conversation with any women in or about company quarters.

The Fire Horse 
Reprinted from The Hook & Letter, Summer 1994

The era of the fire horse lasted roughly fifty years, from the end of the Civil War until the end of 1915.  More time and expense was incurred buying one fire horse than ten firemen.

Fire horses came in three classifications:  The lightweight (1,100 pound horses that were used on the hose wagons), the middleweight (1,400 pound horses that were used on the steamers) and the large, 1,700 pounders that were used to pull the hook and ladders as well as other heavy equipment.  Fire horses required much stamina and strength and natural ability.  One expert of the time said it was usually a one-in-a-hundred selection. Their training took between one and two years.  The City of Detroit actually had a horse college where many of Toledo’s horses were trained. 

The Harrison family of the City of Toledo were involved in the training and purchasing of many of Toledo’s fire horses. 

Once a horse was selected, he was then assigned a station and then given a number. This number stayed with him throughout his career, which usually lasted from four to eight years.

Once he entered the station, he was assigned to a team and usually given a name.  The in-station training took many hours in training stalls, getting used to the quick hitches and the sound and ringing of gongs and registers.  These processes had to be repeated many times with much praise and rewards from the trainer, until he became part of the team.

Fire horses were not only part of the fire house, but were a part of the neighborhood.  Children of the area, on weekends, would bring them treats like apples and sugar cubes. They often would get to ride in the exercise wagon with a fireman.

Many of the firemen of the day said the horses received much better care than the firemen. Their medical needs were attended regularly by the city’s veterinarian.

The fire stations in this era were usually built two miles apart as they figured a responding first alarm company could answer an alarm within five or six minutes.

Many of the books I have read on the fire horse claim that the fire horse loved the fire department as much as the men did.  Some men claimed the horses actually could count the number of gongs their station responded to and while on the way to a fire, the first hint of smoke in their nostrils made their excitement grow.

It took a special man to handle these temperamental teams, a man who had strong but gentle hands, one that the team he was driving would respond to his every move.

In closing, I would have to say that this was the most picturesque and exciting era of firefighting.  The last Toledo horse ran out of #15 Fire Station at Airline and Gibbons on August 12, 1916.

by Capt. Bill O’Connor, Ret.
Toledo Fire Department

Click HERE to see old photographs of Toledo's Fire Horses

The Mighty Steed,  The Fire Horse
Reprinted from TOLEDO FIRE DIVISION 1837-1983, Vol. 2

I thought you would  like to know about some of the conditions the drivers and firemen had to contend with in the days of the fire horses.  The horses had to have very good care and be in top physical condition to answer the several alarms which might occur on any given day.  This was accomplished by very good feeding and a regular exercise routine. Each  station had at least one and sometimes two light utility wagons that also could be used for other fire services.  The driver would hitch his team to one of the wagons during his assigned time and drive the team up and down two or three blocks at a walk, a trot and then a gallop.  In case of an alarm, others would sound the bell in the hose tower nd the driver would come back on the run, make a fast change to the apparatus , and be on the way.  Naturally, if they had just answered an alarm, exercise was not necessary.

The horses were trained to stand in their stalls not tied; there was a folding door in front of each which was opened electronically by a man who pushed a button a the sound of the alarm.  The horses then moved to their places to be hitched.  The halter for each horse was also a combination bridle with a bit attached to a small special snap on each side; the bit was only taken out when the horses ate their grain, during which time the men had to be on the alert in case of an alarm.  Good quality hay was always available for the horses, but they had to eat that with the bit in their mouths.  The harness hung in the air over the tongues of the wagons and hose carts.  The collars were made special for fire department use; they were made to hinge at the top, open at the bottom, and snap shut right now.  The names were fastened to the collars as were the traces to the apparatus.  The harnesses pulled down very easily, and all the driver had to do was snap the lines to the bit and they were on their way.   Believe it or not, they could leave the station in twenty to thirty seconds.  One record was made out of old number six at Starr Avenue and Main Street; they made it in seven seconds.  The driver was Harvey Garner, who later became a mortician. 

Many wonder how the old steamers could have steam up by the time they reached the fire.  The steamers were parked at the rear of the station in most cases, or in a two-company house on the side next to the hose cart or wagon.  They were gas-heated, and sometimes in the earlier days a coal-fired, boiler in the basement.  This was connected to the steamer by a device with pins and spring-like connections.  When they pulled away, they only lost about a quart of hot water.  The fire pot on the steamer was ready to be lit by the fireman known as the stoker:  Kindling, coal and waste were always properly placed, kerosene in a small can was ready to be thrown on the above, and a dozen or so kitchen matches had been tied together and these were struck and thrown in as they left the station.

The pipemen and laddermen also had their duties:  A few of them were to keep the lanterns cleaned and to light them every night at dusk; nozzles had to be kept polished.  All apparatus had to be washed after each run, regardless of the time.  When the steamer came back, it was driven along the side of the station where the engineer and the stoker had to completely empty and clean the fire pot under the boiler, and the fire box had to be made ready for another run.  Sometimes they could have several  alarms in a 24-hour period.  Many of the hose carts with chemical tanks were made by the well-known Toledo Milburn Wagon Works.  The thanks used soda acid as in the old-type fire extinguishers.  The department also used Toledo-made buggies for the fire chiefs.  These were manufactured by the Cooney Buggy Works on Ontario Street.  Most of the hook-and-ladders were made by the Seagrave Fire Apparatus Company of Columbus, Ohio.  It should be noted that the apparatus all had roller bearings on the axles.

In the winter when there was deep snow, the hose carts were unloaded and the equipment was loaded onto bob-sleds.  The men used sawed-off broom sticks so they could roll out easily until they hit the snow and were then on their way.  In the event the snow was extra deep, they put two more horses on the steamer in the high-risk district.  Blankets were carried on the apparatus to cover th horses while they were standing at the fire to protect them from extreme weather conditions.  Extra coal for steamers was also kept ready in canvas bags at the station to be brought to the fire by volunteers or a fireman assigned to take a team and bring back coal in a utility wagon.

There seems to be a misconception that old number seventeen was always the hospital for the sick and injured horses.  But since it was the last one built for horses, what did they do before that?  Number nine station at Broadway and Orchard Streets had a large frame barn in back of the station, and the original number fifteen  station at Airline and Gibbons Streets also had facilities and a creek bottom in which to stand lame horses.  The old concrete approach to this last station is still there.

It is interesting to know that the department had three meal-hours of one hour and twenty minutes each for breakfast, dinner and supper.  The drivers were assigned the middle one.  The firemen got off one day in ten, and they really thought they had it made when they received one day off in five.

When an alarm came in, every fire station was alerted by the gong, whether they rolled or not.  My father, Charles M. Harrison, Sr., was a driver; out of old number three he drove a steamer and buggy for Chief Wall, and out of old number nine he drove a hose cart.  He was also in charge of training the horses for the department. Incidentally, area gardeners vied for the privilege of removing the horse manure.

By Warren B. Harrison


Dependence on the Fire Horse

Since the destruction of Jamestown in 1608, one of the greatest dangers faced by urban Americans has been fire. As cities grew, the magnitude of destruction from urban fires became even greater. With the introduction of heavier and more efficient steam pumpers and ladder trucks in the 1850's, horses became an integral part of urban fire departments. Then as now, speed was essential in fire fighting. Intricate systems were developed to hasten the harnessing of the fire horse teams. When an alarm sounded, stall doors were automatically opened and the horses were moved below their suspended harness. The harness, complete with hinged collars, was then dropped onto their backs and quickly secured by the driver. With a good crew, the entire operation could be completed in around two or three minutes. Fire horses were most always draft crosses selected for speed and strength. 

Origin of The Percheron Draft Horse

The Percheron gets its name from the rolling countryside in France known as La Perche. The La Perche land is rich with clover, alfalfa, an herb called "holy hay," apple orchards and lots of fresh water streams. Because of the abundance of the land, its no wonder the Percheron has evolved as the giant spirited horse he is today.

Dating back to 732 A.D., Moslem horses (Arabian and Barb) whose riders fell in the Battles of Tours and Poiters, were captured by the French farmers in the La Perche area. The Arabian, Barb and Turkish blood was infused with the Flemish heavy draft-type horses to produce today what is known as the Percheron draft horse.

The second infusion of Arabian blood into the breed occurred during the 12th through 14th centuries when victorious French crusaders brought back more Arabian horses from Palestine as spoils of war.

Over centuries, the Percheron evolved into the large, heavy yet agile, draft-type horse of modern times.

U.S. History

Large numbers of Percherons were imported from France to the U.S. in the 1870’s. They were used for a wide variety of jobs, circus entertainers, farm horses, deliveries of all types of products within the cities and towns. Percherons were great show horses for advertising hitches, a distinction that still stands today. Many Percherons were the fast and furious fire horses galloping wildly hauling fire equipment wagons to blazing buildings. Thousands of Percherons became the humblest of war heroes in the Civil War and World War I.

Percherons took their places pulling fire-fighting wagons for city fire departments as soon as they arrived in the United States in the 1870’s. Their careers as firefighters lasted a full 60 years before motorized fire trucks took their place. After trying numerous harnessing techniques, the entire operation from the ringing alarm bell to hooves pounding the street took an amazing 30 seconds. A fire horse was one who had to be surefooted, as he had to run at high speeds over sleet and ice, rain or snow. Fire horses would respond to a driver’s commands, avoiding other horse-drawn wagons, trolleys, people, and holes in the roads. A good fire horse was an active-minded, fast-running puller.

"The Fire Ladies"


Although women were not allowed to become members of the Toledo Fire Department until 1984, lady equines had been distinguishing themselves for over a hundred years, before being retired in 1916.  One instance of their ability was back in 1902 when fireman, Benny Miner, driver of  Number 2’s steamer, located at Eagle Lane and Cherry, was feeding his prize team of Percheron mares, named "Min" and "Mag".  Suddenly, an alarm sounded for a Summit Street store,  it was at the noon hour and he knew the downtown streets would be busy.  He raced to his seat and grabbed the reins.  Mag and Min went like a streak from their stalls at the sound of the bell.  Their harnesses dropped and belly bands snapped.  A rookie fireman, relieving at the station, raced by the front of the team, but forgot to insert the bits in their mouths.  The doors opened and the team took off dragging the coal burning steam wagon behind them, at what even a race car driver would consider a good clip.  As soon as they hit the street, he knew he had no control and wondered how he was going to guide this runaway team through the downtown traffic.  He said he felt foolish sitting high atop this rocking steamer pulling at the horses shoulders, but Mag and Min were high spirited and speedy horses and were used to making fire runs in the downtown area.  They made the correct turn on Cherry Street and then onto Summit St.,  wove their way through the many wagons and the other horses and pedestrians that thronged the  streets in front of them.  It all ended happily when the ladies pulled up directly in front of the fire and stopped.  Driver Miner slid from his seat, patted them on the neck and said, “Nice going ladies, you earned your oats today.”  When asked later in the day how he could account for the unbelievable actions of the horses, fireman Miner said, What do you expect?  These are downtown ladies and they know their district as well as I do."

Bill O’Connor,  Toledo Fire Department Historian

The Auto Fire Engine
By J. W. Foley

"Yes, things are changed, doggone the luck!"
said the driver of Engine Three.
"For they're goin' to fires with an auto truck
and th' horse--he's a used-to-be.
It was sugar and oats and a shiny coat
that was dappled and smooth and clean
And now it's a lump in th' driver's throat
and a tankful of gasoline.

"There was romance then in a driver's work
and somethin' you loved right well;
It was snap of a collar, a cry and jerk
and off in the stress pell-mell.
It was 'Steady, Charlie!' and 'Come on, Dick!'
It was sparks where th' hooves came down;
and many a time that it turned th' trick
of savin' a slice of town.

"There was somethin' then in th' stalls back there
that was human - or purty near;
Big eyes and a shiny coat of hair,
and a beast that a man held dear.
As a life-long friend - but th' auto truck
is oustin' 'em slick and clean.
For oil and grease and a lot of muck
and a tankful of gasoline.

"And a driver, it used to be, could stand
and pet 'em and rub 'em down,
and feed 'em sugar outen his hand,
dapple and gray and brown,
but now it's a crank and a chug and wheeze,
and a rattle and roar and grind,
with a smell of gas to make you sneeze,
and a blue smoke out behind.

"Th' march of science along th' track--
I guess you might call it so;
but gi' me them old fire horses back
and le' me hitch up and go!
For a horse was a human sort of thing,
when he ran with that old machine;
but an auto truck for a fire-by jing!
and a tankful of gasoline.

"Then he rubbed down its nickeled and varnished coat
and he shined up its great glass eye;
he polished the brass with a lump in his throat
and a sorrowful, long-drawn sigh.
He lifted the hood where its metal soul
lay hidden and all unseen,
then unscrewed a cap from a yawning hole
and fed it some gasoline!

The Fire Horse's Prayer

To thee, my Firefighter Master, I offer my prayer. Feed me, water and care for me, and, when the fire is put out, provide me with shelter, a clean, dry bed and stall wide enough for me to lie down in comfort.

Always be kind to me. Your voice often means as much to me as the reins. Pet me often, so that I may serve you the more gladly and learn to love you. Do not jerk the reins, and do not whip me when going uphill. Never strike, beat, or kick me when I do not understand what you want, but give me a chance to understand you.  Teach me gently not to fear the smoke and flames and clanging of the fire bells.  Watch me, and if I fail to do your bidding, see if something is not wrong with my harness or feet.

Do not check me so that I cannot have free use of my head. If you insist that I wear blinders, so that I cannot see behind me as it was intended I should, I pray you be careful that the blinders stand well out of my eyes. Do not overload me, or hitch me where water will drip on me. Keep me well shod. Examine my teeth when I do not eat; I may have an ulcerated tooth, and that, you know, is very painful. Do not tie my head in an unnatural position, or take away my best defense against flies and mosquitoes by cutting off my tail. 

I cannot tell you when I am thirsty, so give me clean, cool water often. Save me, by all means in your power from that fatal disease - the glanders. I cannot tell you in words when I am sick, so watch me, that by signs you may know my condition. Give me all possible shelter from the hot sun, and put a blanket on me, not when I am working, but when I am standing in the cold. Never put a frosty bit in my mouth; first warm it by holding it a moment in your hands. 

I will pull the steamer or hose wagon without a murmur, and wait patiently for you long hours of the day or night as you save lives. Without the power to choose my shoes or path, I sometimes fall on hard pavement which I have often prayed might not be of wood or brick, but of such a nature as to give me safe and sure footing. Remember that I am ready at any moment to lose my life in your service, for I now am also firefighter.

And finally, OH MY FIREFIGHTER FRIEND, when my useful strength is gone, do not turn me out to starve or freeze, or sell me to some cruel owner, to be slowly tortured and starved to death; but do thou, My Friend, take my life in the kindest way, and your God will reward you here and hereafter. You will not consider me irreverent if I ask this in the name of Him who was also born in a stable. 

AMEN--Author Unknown

Fire Horse Trivia

The reason firehouses have circular stairways is from the days when the engines were pulled by horses. The horses were stabled on the ground floor and figured out how to walk up straight staircases.

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