The Old Fireman’s Ball
It’s New Years Eve, and this brings to mind a few almost forgotten experiences from the past. Dances were a big thing in small communities during the 1940s and ‘50s. The bars in those communi-ties had not yet discovered the idea of having an in-house band for dance music, so people relied on community dances for this form of entertainment. The big dances at Soda Springs High School when I was a student there during the 1950s, were the Junior Prom, Senior Ball, The Sweetheart Ball (centered around Valentine’s day), and the Senior Barn Dance.
In those days, the patrons of these high school shindigs were not confined to just high school students. The “old folks” supported them as well. They were usually fund raisers for the various class coffers. An out of town professional orchestra was hired, the high school gym was decorated from wall to wall across the ceiling with twisted crape paper stringers, and the attending crowds were large.
In addition to those high school dances in Soda Springs , there was the Zenith of dances—the annual “Fireman’s Ball” on New Year’s Eve. It was the big fund-raiser for the Soda Springs Volunteer Fire Department. Members of the community looked forward to this function, and it was an elbow-to-elbow, standing room only, affair. Almost the entire community, as well as people from the other two communities in Caribour County—Grace and Bancroft—came out to ring in the new-year. There were ample amounts of the barleycorn—that’s booze to those unfamiliar with rural lingo—floating around the parking lot outside, and there were many feuds that had been festering during the preceding year that were settled in the parking lot that night.
Again, as it was with the high school dances, a professional band was hired to provide the music; hats and horns, and whistles were dispensed for the purpose of ringing in the new-year at midnight. The town had a fire siren—not unlike those used by the allied cities of Europe during World War II to warn of impending bomb raids—that was used to call out the volunteer fire fighters whenever a fire sprang up. At midnight, new-year’s eve, this same siren rang out across the whole town to usher in the new-year.
In my memory of this celebration, there were no midnight fires on new-years eve. If there had been, a few houses may have burned down because of the confusion of whether this screaming siren was simply ushering in the new-year, or if it in fact, it was calling out the firemen to fight a fire(not to mention the fact that most of the firemen were probably too drunk to respond, anyway). The festivities didn’t always end with the last number at the Fireman’s Ball, either. In a conversation with a long time friend, she reminded me that there were after dance parties that moved on to various homes where food was dispensed and games were played into the wee hours of the morning.
Unfortunately, as is the case with many traditions, the old Fireman’s Ball eventually fell by the wayside in later years. With the advent of a new form of entertainment coming on the scene known as television, people began spending more and more of their new years eves at home. I was told by another friend, who was a longtime member of the volunteer fire brigade, that the last Fireman’s Ball didn’t even raise enough money to pay the orchestra. Sigh…another fatality of the Passing Parade.
This discussion of the Fireman’s Ball brought back memories of what might have been “the” fire of the twentieth century in Soda Springs, when the Largilliere Co. bank and general store burned to the ground. I was home from college at the time, and when I heard the siren, I went outside to see if I could determine where the fire was. I looked toward the downtown area and saw the bright orange glow against the cold black winter skyline. A night when temperatures would eventually reach 38 degrees below zero. I went downtown to see if there was anything I could do to help fight the fire.
As it was, fighting the fire turned into an exercise in futility. All that was saved was the bank vault and the money and papers it contained. The building which housed the bank, a grocery store, and department store, was consumed by the raging inferno.
In the cold of that night, spray from the fire hoses caused our clothes to freeze stiff as boards. When returned home after the fire I remember removing my trousers and I literally stood them in a corner of Mom’s laundry room; after, which, I headed for the tub and a steaming hot bath. 🙂
If you’re one who enjoys nostalgia or remembering things of the past, you might want to click on the “free download” button at upper right of this homepage and receive your free copy of the prologue and first three complete adventures of my book entitled, Buddy…His Trials and Treasures. It’s a compilation of short stories about a young boy growing up in small town America during the 1940s. If you read Jean Shepherd’s book In God We Trust, you might enjoy this book as well. A print copy is also available for purchase at www.amazon.com as well.
Coming soon, memories of the early days of television in my old hometown of Soda Springs, Idaho during the 1950s, that I spoke of earlier in this post.