Fighting fire with Chester Barton cir. 1936
Fires are frightening acts of nature and through the history of the Comstock have at one time or another leveled the towns around. On Memorial Day, I had company and we went to Virginia City. As we were about to leave, I noticed smoke coming from Dayton. I told my guests that the smoke looked like it was coming from where I live.
Sure enough, as we approached my house, you could see the mountain across the road was ablaze. I heaved a sigh of relief that there weren’t homes involved and it looked as if the fire department had it under control.
Although the early Dayton fire departments were all volunteer, they did a terrific job with the equipment they had to work with.
On Feb. 9, 1936, Dayton got a new fire truck and Chester Barton, former Lyon Sheriff’s deputy, had a new toy. He spent the first few days using the new hydraulic pressure hose seeing how far it would reach. He hosed down everything in downtown Dayton.
Whenever the town water supply lines plugged up, he used the fire truck to wash out tadpoles, crawfish, fish and sand. The new truck was so effective that when there was a fire, whoever was in town on the fire department’s roster answered the call and was usually able to tame the fire by himself.
But, there were exceptions:
One on them was the Sutro Mansion, built in 1879. On Nov. 21, 1941, the mansion burned to the ground before responders arrived. It was a terrible loss.
Sutro has had its share of fires over the years. On May 24, 1943, the Sutro Heights’ fire occurred. Many out buildings were lost.
Barton usually responded to most fires – if he wasn’t fishing or hunting. Or, his friend, Bob Hankammer would drive the fire truck. I wouldn’t want to have been on the same road with Bob as he was legally blind.
The old fire engine, “Granny”, now languishes in the 1875 fire house and jail on Pike Street. It gets polished every now and then when it has visitors. You are invited to visit the fire house over Dayton Valley Days, Sept. 16 and 17 in Dayton.
The Dayton Museum is at Shady Lane and Logan in Old Town Dayton. It’s also the location of the Dayton Chamber office. It is open during the week upon request and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Check out the Web site: daytonnvhistory.org. Group tours are available. Call 246-5543, 246-0462 or 246-0441.
The Historical Society of Dayton Valley meets at noon on the third Wednesday of the month at the Dayton Valley Community Center. Visitors welcome.
• Ruby McFarland is a board member of the Dayton Historical Society, a docent at the museum and has lived in Dayton since 1987.