Silver City Fireman's Ball has unique history

After four years, the storied Silver City Fireman's Ball is back to raise funds for the tiny town's volunteer fire department and celebrate a special rebirth.

The Fireman's Ball in 2004 was a sad affair, coming only a few weeks after the disastrous fire that took the Silver City Schoolhouse Community Center.

"We had just constructed the fence around the site, and there was smoke, and we put posters on the fence," said Ron Reno, who led the archaeological preservation effort.

This one will be happier, he said, with the schoolhouse finally rebuilt and new grass planted in the park.

"It will be the first big Fireman's Ball since then, and the fire department has had close association with the building since they used to be inside the schoolhouse," he said.

Reno said the two-room structure housed the fire department on one side and the community center on the other until the mid-1990s, when the department got a new station and the community center got some upgrades, including indoor plumbing and heating.

The fire department and the schoolhouse have a common history and use. The fire department housed all the activities that were homeless after the schoolhouse burned, including its library, after-school program and town meetings.

The 2008 Fireman's Ball Fundraiser & Music Festival, set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the Silver City Town Park, will feature live music from Michelle Lundeen, "the Queen of Steam," with Blues Streak in from San Diego, and local favorites Red Rose, Trippin' Buddhas, the Downwinders, and others.

There will be vendors, tie-dyed memorabilia and dancing - all free.

Booth space for vendors is available and there is no upfront charge for a booth. The fire department requests a donation of 20 percent to 50 percent of receipts at the end of the event.

Chandler Laughlin, who moved to Silver City in the late '60s, said it all started when a local man, who was part of the two-man volunteer fire department, saw his shack burn down.

"The shack caught fire and all the boys from down at the bar rushed up to put it out, and we were invited to join the fire department," he said.

Laughlin said the two men, whose names he didn't recall, only kept the station alive so they could go to military bases and collect military surplus items.

"We had a 1947 Dodge truck with a couple of red lines on it and wheels that pointed in different directions," he said with a laugh. "So we voted ourselves in and started fixing the truck and making the pump run and doing stuff."

He said in the late '60s the town had five or six push-button alarms that set off the siren in the schoolhouse, and when it went off, everyone met at the fire department and rushed to put out the fire.

"We were a bunch of rock and roll hippies, so we brought a couple of bands in and threw a fundraiser, a fireman's ball, raised a few hundred bucks and everyone thought it was great."

That was the beginning of the Silver City Fireman's Ball, which went on for 11 years and eventually attracted more than 1,000 people with performers like Dan Hicks and Queen Ida and the Bonecone Zydeco, as well as local bands like the Sutro Sympathy Orchestra.

But the events became a victim of their own success, and some got out of hand, so the department quit holding them, Laughlin said. But from the money raised, the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department became the top one in Lyon County with equipment and training.

"We were great firefighters but we didn't take orders well and along came organized firefighters and everyone had to be qualified," he said. "But in the process of throwing those Fireman's Balls we were able to train everyone on the department."

Not only that, he said, they made history with the first women on the fireline and have started a dynasty, passing their passion on to the next generation.

"All our kids grew up and the people running the department now are largely Silver City second-generation firefighters," he said. "It's a great gang and I'm proud of them."

Fire Chief John Gillenwater of the Central Lyon County Fire Protection District said the Silver City volunteer department was very important to the district and backed up departments from Virginia City, Dayton and Mound House.

"They do a great job, and Silver City has done a good job keeping their community involved and their numbers up," he said. "They also have a lot of seniority as volunteers and their skill levels are very high."

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or call 881-7351.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Silver City's Fireman's Ball

WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Silver City Town Park, High Street, Silver City

CALL: 720-0543

ON THE NET

www.silvercityfiredepartment.org

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