Everyone I am sure at some point has heard the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. This famous quote is believed to have originated in a December 1921 article which appeared in an advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink. The article by Fred R. Barnard was entitled, “One Look is Worth A Thousand Words”, referring to advertisements on the sides of streetcars. Here is a picture that is only worth one word, but the word was priceless to me. That one word helped me to solve a ten year old mystery.
For many Kittanning historians, this is a familiar photo that depicts several early fire apparatus from Kittanning. Most people recognize the dark toned fire truck to the front of the photo. It is Hose, Hook and Ladder Company Number 1’s first motorized fire truck. Ordered in 1912, this Lange Chemical and Hose Truck is believed to be the first motorized piece of fire apparatus located West of Harrisburg in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Of the $3,600 plus dollars the truck cost, Kittanning Borough paid for $1,000 with the remaining balance was paid by members of the department. It was at that time that Borough Council offered $1,000 each year to the other fire departments to help in the purchase of such equipment.
Hose Company Number Three was the first to put their bid in for 1913. After having demonstrations from several truck companies, the members of Hose Company Number Three decided to purchase an auto truck from the Adams Truck Company of Findlay, Ohio. This truck was built on the 1 1/2 ton chassis with a 35 horse power engine, capable of 40 miles per hour. The truck was painted white with gold leaf embellishments. A large exhaust whistle was installed on the truck to help alert citizens of the trucks movements when traveling to a fire call. The truck also carried axes, ladders, chemical tanks, fire extinguishers, and an electric search light, capable of being directed in any direction. The fire truck was completed on October 29, 1913 and arrived in Kittanning the first part of November. This truck is the furthermost away from the photographer in the picture.
The truck located between Number One and Three’s truck was built by the members of Hose Company Number Two. To date, I have not been able to unearth the model of the truck. In a May 1915 newspaper article, states that two members went before borough council to request $1,000 to purchase a new fire truck. Council did not grant them $1,000 for another fire truck as they had a truck ‘built out of a second hand high power automobile’ which cost $600. There was one mention in an early Kittanning newspaper from the 20’s, that the truck was referred to as the Grey Ghost. Both Hose Company Number Two and Three have disappeared into the pages of the past, and only few individuals even remember of hearing about these two departments.
So now the question is… Where was the picture taken? It doesn’t take much for anyone to determine the building was some sort of repair garage, tire shop or auto dealer. Since there are many homes in the background, one can determine that is located in a mostly residential neighborhood. Three other noticeable features in the photo are also important. The first is presence of many flags and buntings draped and flying from the buildings. The other two items of interest are the extreme narrowness of the street and fullness of the tree on the street. It seems clear that the firemen are present for a parade, such as for Independence Day or a Firemen’s Convention. Once can also assume that it was taken during the peak summer months and they are located on a side street.
For the past ten years, I have studied this photograph, made many visits to several older citizens of Kittanning. I have spent hours scouring over every historic map that exists of Kittanning. It certainly became clear to me that the photo was not taken in Kittanning. In more recent years, I have used the extensive cyber technology to visit neighboring towns and study every street carefully using map sites. With each attempt, I am defeated in conquering the task to identify the location and exact year of this photo. As with any obstacle I come too, I always am conscience that someday, somewhere, I will stumble upon something that will reveal the answer.
Well,… if you have guessed it by now, ONE word did just that. Two weeks ago, I was making my searches on e-bay and an individual posted an original image of this photo. The individual was not aware of the location or date of the photo, but he pointed out the garage sign, the name Lange on the first fire truck as well as the name Kittanning. He also pointed out that on the corner of the building was a street sign. On his original photo you can see the name. The sign states that the side street is Lavic. I immediately used the search engine BING, which also offers map searches. I simply typed Lavic St., PA for my search criteria. In the second that is took BING to perform the search, suddenly in front of me was Lavic Street, located in Sharpsburg, PA. Immediately, I clicked for a close-up bird’s eye view. As I felt the blood move through my veins, and the hair on my neck stand on end, there stood the same brick building nearly unchanged after all these years. In fact, most of the houses on what I learned was Middle Street were still there.
I could hardly contain myself, with the excitement that felt like it was electrifying every portion of my body. A decade old mystery, solved in just minutes as the result of a single word. My next endeavor was the narrow to time when the picture was taken. With the knowledge about the fire trucks in the picture, I knew it had to be taken between 1914 and 1918, since it was 1918 that Hose Company Number Three disbanded. I also was 100% certain that it was taken for a Firemen’s Convention. The following day, I made a telephone call to the office of the Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association. The secretary was very pleasant on the phone, as I told her I had a very unusual question. With her assistance I discovered that the Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Conventions are always held the week after the first Tuesday in August. I also discovered that Sharpsburg was host of the 1915 Firemen’s Convention. I know not only could give a year for the picture, but I could nearly give what day it was taken in August. The secretary could tell my excitement as I thanked her and politely said ‘good-bye’.
It is intriguing to imagine the ‘boys’ from Kittanning traveling in 1915 on the road to Sharpsburg on a hot August afternoon to the annual firemen’s convention. It certainly would be nothing compared to the making with our modern cars and road of today. Now as I glance on the wall at my large print of this great picture, a large smile appears on my face as I know I closed another chapter in my trek to learn about our past, and wait eagerly for the next one.
Newspaper research conducted over ten years, The Leader Times & The Daily Times
Assistance from the Hancock Historical Museum, Findlay, OH.
Historical document, pictures and newspaper clippings
Original photo copied from William Gordon Baum (deceased of Kittanning, PA)
Assistance from the Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association
Current image taken from My places on Google Maps