Fifty and Going Strong 1929-1954
The one event in 1929 which would go on to affect Weldon Fire Company’s operations profoundly was the Stock Market Crash of 1929 which brought the United States into the Great Depression. While its effects weren’t immediately known, this one event would plague the company through the 1930s when two banks holding Weldon’s funds would close their doors. Weldon obviously survived, but it was at this time that glimpses of what it meant to not only be an individually chartered fire company with its own sense of identity, but also what it meant to be part of a Township department would be seen. When the banks closed their doors, other fire companies in the township pledged their help if needed. And throughout the Abington Township Fire Department’s history, no group of companies has ever abandoned another company in times of need.
By 1931, the fire company was organized well enough to cut back it’s business meetings from twice a month to just once a month on the first Friday of the month. It was also during this year that the company proposed to purchase 1½” hose line for fire attack. The Abington Township Firemen’s Association would also become more formalized. In May, the company began to think of ways to purchase another truck as the 1923 La France was becoming overcrowded when responding to calls. But as quickly as these discussions began, they had to come to an end as the Company received word on October 5, 1931 that the Glenside and Willow Grove Banks had closed their doors. Almost immediately McKinley Fire Company pledged to help the Company financially if necessary. As luck would have it, the Company did not have to accept McKinley’s kind offer. Owing a great debt to the Company officers who during the first 25 years managed the company’s finances very responsibly, the Company tightened its expenditures for a time, but was never in any danger of ceasing operations.
As the Abington Township Firemen’s Association became more organized, representatives from the five fire companies were quick to realize the importance of training for their members. They also understood the benefits of training together as one unit as well as individual companies. In 1933, John McKee of Weldon was appointed to represent the Company on a committee to organize a Township Fire School. Members also again heard rumors that the Township had plans to remove fire hydrants from the district.
As 1933 came to a close, Weldon held its initial first aid class for its members, a class that was well attended.
The year 1934 began with members doing their civic duty for one of their neighbors. At the January meeting, it was decided that as many members as possible would chop wood for a sick man who was unable to leave his home and not able to afford fuel to heat it. Members performed this task while keeping in mind 1934′s motto: “Make 1934 the best year yet.”
Fire Police Unit
At that year’s July meeting, members of Roslyn Fire Company’s Fire Police unit were present and offered information on creating a Weldon Fire Police Unit. The next month, members received word that Wharton Road from Keswick Avenue to Jenkintown Road would be renamed Keswick Avenue to remove the confusion of having two intersections of Wharton Road and Jenkintown Road—one in Switchville and one in Glenside. The Company also reported that it had received $1600 from the Township as part of the tax appropriation.
As 1934 came to an end, Roslyn Fire Company representatives were present at the November monthly meeting to discuss a new relay system being installed in firehouses so that the police station would know which fire companies were answering alarms.
Never neglecting the safety of its own members and possessions, Weldon sought out a report covering the safety of its own buildings. The report, returned from Harrisburg in May of 1935 called for a second means of escape from the firehouse, which became the fire escape from the second floor; emergency lights; a fire proof door leading from the engine room; and that chairs be bolted to the floor. The rest of 1935 remained relatively quiet.
In early 1936, a decision was made to blast the firehouse siren once a day. The policy adopted was for the siren to be tested every day at 1700 hours. Children for 50 years hence would know it was time to come home when Weldon’s siren blew at the end of the day. Weldon also received a request that it blast its siren when school was cancelled, but the Company declined. A special meeting was called later that year—the 1923 American La France was in dire need of repair. A truck committee was formed to look into the purchase of an additional truck for the firehouse, and the necessary repairs for the 1923 American La France were authorized. The rest of the 1930s passed by with relative ease for the company. Financially times were tough, but they were tough all over. The Company still managed to draw up a list of specifications for a new fire truck, and in July of 1940, it took delivery of a Ward La France triple combination pumper to compliment the 1923 truck. This truck featured a 600 GPM pump and a 200-gallon booster tank.
The 1940s would prove to be a somewhat trying time for Weldon Fire Company. It had plenty to look forward to with its 50th Anniversary just over the horizon. But the end of the 1930s brought a second war to Europe, and the possibility of America’s involvement in it was looming. December 7, 1941 brought the United States into the war as Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. America was officially part of World War II. Several changes in leadership would take place at Weldon as chief officers joined the U.S. Armed Forces. In August of 1942, Chief Robert Beatty entered the army. Kenneth Clark, Sr. was made first Assistant Chief and was acting chief for a time before he too served his country during the war in 1943. Shortly after selecting new chief Joe Moffa, he too entered the war. The list of Weldon members who served in the armed forces consists of:
World War I
WALTER ELLIS (KIA) – U.S.A.
The 1940s would also be a time of expansion for Weldon’s district. Glenmore Farms would be developed into the neighborhood made up of the west side of Pleasant Avenue, Castlewood Road, and Fairfield Road (then known as an extension of Charles Street). In 1942, Weldon went on record opposing the proposed housing project in and around Jenkintown Road and Highland Avenue—the Janke Farm.
In June, 1943, members discussed the possibility of erecting a hose tower at the rear of the firehouse. By July, plans for the hose tower were practically complete, but in August plans were put on hold due to a lack of materials because of the war. Another reality of war were plans to use the fire gong in case power to the firehouse and consequently the siren was lost. Weldon also became a war time rationing distribution point.
In August of 1943, long-time friend of Weldon Fire Company W. Rich Norman was proposed for membership. Norman would go on to hold several leadership positions in the fire company, ultimately receiving a township commendation, to be covered later.
In February, 1944 Carroll Ripley was voted into the company. This individual remains an active life member of the fire company today. 1944 was also the year the company opted to not rent its second-floor hall anymore. The company bought its first cellar nozzle this year as well. This was also the year Weldon formed its bowling team.
In July, Weldon received word that Keswick Theatre management had put boards across the bottoms of two exits. Recognizing the threat to life safety in the event of a fire, Weldon Chief Russell Fitzgerald made several requests to have them removed not knowing that in just nine years the company would respond to one of its most serious fires at this location. In August all members present at the monthly meeting were encouraged to write to “the boys” that were in the service, and two months later tragedy struck as the Company learned that Robert Allen was killed in action overseas.
On May 7, the same day Germany surrendered to the allies bringing to an end part of World War II, a motion was made, seconded, and carried that the Company make the final payment on the firehouse. On June 4, a mortgage burning party was set for the end of the month. On June 2, lending credibility to the common stereotype of firemen, Weldon Fire Company was called to rescue a cat from a tree.
On September 10, the Company decided to participate in the Victory Day parade scheduled for September 22. Also a flag pole was to be dedicated to Robert Allen. The Company did end up participating in the Victory Day parade, winning a prize for the best appearing trucks. And speaking of trucks, it was time again to establish a fund toward the purchase of a new truck. At this point the 1923 La France was 22 years old and showing its age.
In 1946, short on equipment for all members, the Company instituted a waiting list for active membership. In October, movie trailers highlighting fire prevention week were to be shown at the Keswick (a movie theater at this time) and Glenside Theatres. The trailers were sponsored by Weldon Fire Company.
The rest of 1946 and 1947 passed by with the occasional major fire. In August a barn burned at the corner of Fox Chase and Meetinghouse, and in September a garage and a barn burned at Jenkintown Road and Forrest Avenue. Indicative of the times, the December, 1947 meeting was postponed for one week for members who wished to go deer hunting.
Underwriters Laboratories paid Weldon a visit in March of 1948 and found that all equipment and records were in “first class shape” and that they were “perfectly satisfied” with what they saw. In April, both fire trucks would pass the U.L. test. In March, the Company also proposed to order new and modern gas masks for the crew and to install a fire alarm system in the firehouse. A special meeting was called in April to demonstrate gas masks and a Scott Air Pack. The Company opted to remain with gas masks for the time being.
In May, the fire company decided to purchase its first television set. After investigating models and prices, Weldon Fire Company purchased its first television set from Gerhard’s Appliances for $329.21—a special price to the fire company.
In June, it was reported to the Company that the five township fire chiefs were to approach the township board of commissioners to see permission to erect a drill tower on the grounds of the old Florey Brick Works at the bottom of Florey Lane.
In July of 1948, W. Rich Norman was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year of Abington Township. And the next month a special meeting was held to make Norman a life member of the Company when the following was resolved:
The Weldon Fire Company has been greatly honored by the fact that one of its Active Members has received the Abington Township Association’s Award for the Outstanding Citizen of the Year 1948.
This is the first time that any Active Member of the Abington Township Fire Department has ever received this award.
That the Weldon Fire Company, who has been so honored by the naming of W. Rich Norman as the Outstanding Citizen of Abington Township for the Year 1948 and also because of his many acts of goodwill extended to the Fire Company, does Hereby elect and make him a Life Member of the Weldon Fire Company.
Be It Further Resolved:
That a copy of this Resolution be properly engraved and presented to W. Rich Norman. Also that a page be set aside in the minute book for the copy of this Resolution so that it may become a permanent Record of the Fire Company.
Adopted July 12, 1948
WELDON FIRE COMPANY, NO. 1
Franklyn V. Renner
In November a suggestion was made to purchase a Rockwood Nozzle. This nozzle is still in service today.
In 1949, the task of creating maps of all the different streets and locations of hydrants in each company’s local calling area was again taken up. The purpose of the maps was to help when companies were called for mutual aid. 1949 also saw a proposal for a one mill fire tax. In December, Weldon received word that house numbers were to change in Weldon’s district. Weldon Fire Company went from being listed as 342 North Easton Road to its present address of 412 North Easton Road.
By January, 1950 the address/hydrant book was complete and ready to be printed for distribution to the five township fire companies. Chief Beatty also announced a new system whereby active crew members would be required to keep equipment in “first class condition.” The committee would be changed often so all members had a chance to maintain fire company equipment. The Company began talking more seriously about replacing the 1923 American La France truck. In July a special meeting was called to sign a contract with Ward La France to purchase a new pumper. The cost of the truck (equipped) would be $13,920. Rather than dispose of the American La France, the company decided to sell the 1923 truck and approved have it advertised for sale. The Company received word in September that the map books were ready to be distributed.
The new truck arrived at the firehouse on February 9, 1951. This truck featured a 750-GPM, two-stage pump and a 250-gallon booster tank. The American La France truck remained and eventually it was decided to take the best offer for the truck or to give it away, In the meantime, it had to be maintained and kept in top operating condition. Glenside Fire Company graciously offered to house the American La France until it was purchased. In October, Perkiomenville Fire Company purchased the American La France for $300.
Ken Clark, Sr. was elected chief for 1952 and wasted no time in ensuring members continued to train regularly in firefighting skills. The Chief announced that every Thursday, starting on March 20, there would be meetings of the active members for firefighting instruction until further notice. Weldon also went on record as being in favor of erecting a new training tower. To that end, the 1952 township appropriation was increased by $2000 to aid in erecting a fire tower. The township agreed to provide the land for the fire tower but the five township fire companies were to assume full responsibility for the building and maintenance. In June it was reported that only Abington and Weldon Fire Companies were 100% in favor of the drill tower.
Chief Clark also guided Weldon through the most significant fire alarm to date at the Keswick Theatre in December. It would be months before all the details of the fire would be known. Weldon was in service for five hours and forty minutes working to extinguish the fire which caused $112,077.20 in damage to the structure. Through the efforts of Weldon and several surrounding fire companies, the fire was confined to the roof and air conditioning system, but it would be 1954 before the theatre would open its doors again.
As 1953 began, the reality of the Company’s approaching fiftieth anniversary set in and a committee was appointed to organize a celebration. A new siren was purchased to be placed atop the hose tower. This siren was louder than the original siren and hopes were that more members in some of the outlying areas of the district would be able to answer fire alarms.
A truck committee was appointed to look into replacing the 1940 Ward La France truck. The committee would ultimately select Seagrave as the company that would build this truck. It was also decided that old timers and regular members would get together near the 50th anniversary of the organization date of April 20, 1904.
In December Ken Clark, Sr. was again nominated for Chief, but he declined the nomination believing that since it was Weldon’s 50th year, Russell Fitzgerald should be chief. Fitzgerald accepted the nomination.
Always keeping an eye toward possible expansion, discussions began on expanding the firehouse to house a third piece of apparatus. A third piece was considered to accommodate all the active crew. At the time two trucks were not enough to hold all the members who responded to fire alarms.
In April of 1954 a modest celebration was held to commemorate Weldon’s 50 years of service to what began as the village of Weldon. As a result of the fine job he did compiling a collection of photographs tracing the progress of the fire company through the years, Edgar Refsnyder was made Weldon’s permanent historian.
The reality of World War II and the recently ended Korean War made occasional air raid tests necessary. Such a test was conducted on June 14, 1954 with the all clear sounded at 2048 hours. In October of that year plans were made to take a picture to be known as the 50th anniversary picture.
As 1954 came to an end, it was back to regular business for Weldon. The next 25 years would see increased racial tensions, culminating in the riots of mischief night 1969. Weldon would also see many of its members join the armed forces in service to their country during the Vietnam Conflict. It would also be during the next 25 years that several major expansion projects would take place and the property as current members know it today would take shape.