Why the Fire Chief Always Wore a Hat After That

anita-hinckleyMy sincere apologies to the readers of this blog, if indeed there are any left, for the recent dearth of entries. I just had that feeling that I had nothing to say to the world. And yet, all this time, I have been reading, and have learned lots of interesting things and, truth be told, was just too lazy to set them down.

I’m hoping to start blogging seriously again, getting back to the first principle of Armchair Travel: great reads for a quarter.

I’ve taken some great trips for GoNOMAD, but the one thing I don’t like about traveling is that I miss the tag sales and barn sales and flea markets.

The other day I went through this enormous tobacco barn on Stockbridge Road chock-a-block full of interesting stuff, but badly stacked, so it was unsafe to rummage. If you were to topple one of the irregular pyramids of crates and boxes, you know the guy has a wildly inflated view of the value of his stuff, so he’d sue you for ten thousand dollars.

I had been there in previous years, and I noticed he’d been sorting through the stuff and a lot more of it was safely accessible, so I’m looking forward to going back next year. This year, though, I got a great score: a whole box of American Heritage.

The box was covered with dust, there was no one else in the world who was going to buy it, at least in this particular part of the word, so he had to let it go for ten bucks. I could have got it for five, but I’m not that kind of guy. I understand how hard it is for this guy to part with his stuff, and I didn’t want to insult him, and a box of American Heritage is worth a lot more than ten bucks.

Getting back to that theme of great reads for a quarter, in the first issue I picked up there’s a first-person account of the Battle of Bull Run (the first one), facsimile copies letters from George Washington, Ben Franklin and Lord Cornwallis, a series of sketches by a German artist who toured the West in the 1840s, a description of life in Mississippi after the Civil War, and a reprint of Wickford Tales by Anita Hinckley.

Wickford Tales is one of the funniest books I have ever read, and I just got through the First Railroad Station Fire, which I will sum up as fast as I possibly can, in order to explain why the fire chief always wore a hat after that.

“I was always glad to get back from Europe, to Wickford, where things were happening,” Hinckley writes.

The First Railroad Station Fire took place the night before a “squirt” — a competition among fire companies to shoot a stream of water the farthest, which was accomplished by teams of men pumping rails on two sides of the engine.

At the time of the fire, several engines stood on flat cars next to the station and were destroyed in the fire. The other engines that had been gathered for the next day’s competition, were completely ineffective in quelling the blaze.

Amidst the tangle of ineffective fire equipment was Wickford Fire Chief George Cranston, who was dashing close to the blaze to save whatever could be saved from the station. Unfortunately, one thing he saved was a spitoon from the men’s section.

As he battled the blaze, he put it on his head to protect it from the sparks — one of those things which seems like a good idea at the time, like getting the whole family together in a cabin in Maine.

Unfortunately, the sweat of his brow, and the expansion of the well-built bronze cuspidor, due to the searing heat, caused it to slip down over his head, and when he withdrew from the blaze, naturally, it contracted again and he couldn’t get it off.

Eventually the town’s plumber had to be called, who used a torch to remove it, but the fire chief always wore a hat after that.