Virginia City hosts firemen’s muster
August 14, 2009
The Comstock Firemen’s Museum will mark 30 years in existence by hosting a firemen’s muster this weekend.
The muster competition features antique hand-pumped fire engines dating from 1810, steam-powered fire engines, motorized fire engines and hose wagons as well as bucket brigade contests and hose cart races.
The firemen’s muster is open to the public at no charge, and was organized by the Comstock Firemen’s Museum/Liberty Engine Co. No. 1, a non-profit group that has hosted several firemen’s musters in Virginia City beginning in 1981.
This is also a competition sanctioned by the California Firemen’s Muster Association under whose rules visiting teams and antique equipment will compete.
Festivities begin Saturday with a parade on C Street at 9 a.m., followed by a competition on E Street at about 10 a.m., including a motorized fire apparatus competition, hand-drawn hose cart races in the women’s, open-vintage and over 40 divisions and the men’s bucket brigade contest.
Awards will be presented each day to teams winning first, second and third place in each event.
A street dance will be held in the Delta parking lot next to the Bucket of Blood from
8-11 p.m. Saturday.
Sunday’s competition will start at 9 a.m. with steam fire engines pumping, motorized pumpers, the men’s hose cart races; and women’s bucket brigades.
The museum is housed in the original brick structure on C Street that survived the Great Fire of 1875 and once housed Virginia City’s volunteer fire department.
Its collection of artifacts includes silver trumpets, belts and helmets, photographs and other memorabilia of the volunteer fire companies of the community as well as items representing more than 70 Nevada towns and communities.
At its peak, the Virginia City Fire Department included six engine companies, a hook and ladder company and seven hose companies manned by more than 500 volunteer firefighters.
In nearby Gold Hill, more than 300 volunteers manned a steamer, a hand engine, three four-wheel hose carriages and several two-wheel carts.
Throughout the years, however, most of the equipment was sold and has been lost to history.
Over the past 30 years, the Virginia City volunteers, organized as the non-profit Liberty Engine Co. No. 1, have taken the few remaining pieces and restored them while embarking on an acquisition program to bring surviving Virginia City fire equipment and artifacts back to the community.
The museum includes some of those artifacts including the centerpiece, an 1874 Clapp & Jones steam fire engine that has been restored to operating condition by the museum members and will pump in competition at the muster.
Also on display is the oldest piece of fire equipment in the state, an 1839 four-wheel hose carriage originally built by Christian Hight for the Philadelphia Fire Depart-
ment and purchased by Virginia City’s Young America Engine Co. No. 2 in 1870. It was later acquired by Gold Hill’s Liberty Engine Co. No. 1, and served the community until retired in 1938.
Also on display:
• 1879 four-wheel Button hose carriage purchased new for Gold Hill’s Yellow Jacket Engine Co. No. 2.
• 1856 hand-drawn, hand-pumped engine originally built for Marysville, Calif., and brought to Virginia City in 1870. The engine has been restored to its 1870s condition when it served with Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5.
• The first fire engine in the town of Gardnerville. The hand pumper was purchased in 1899 and sold in the 1930s.
The extensive museum collection has far outgrown the former firehouse where it is displayed, and a major effort is underway by the museum organization to raise funds for a multi-story museum addition.
Grants are being pursued as well as individual donations that will lead to a facility large enough to display a restored hand-drawn ladder wagon, and several motorized fire engines including Virginia City’s first – a 1929 Chevrolet – and other memorabilia.
The museum, located on Virginia City’s main street, is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., May-October. Membership in the museum is open to the public.
For more information on the firemen’s musters, including photos of 2008 musters, visit the CFMA Web site at http://www.californiamuster.com.