Berthoud nonprofit restores 1880s fire department hose cart – Loveland

A Berthoud nonprofit made up of former and current firefighters has finished restoration on a piece of Berthoud’s fire department’s history — a hose cart from the 1880s.

Caretakers of Tradition, according to current Berthoud fire chief Stephen Charles, is comprised of former and retired volunteer firefighters as well as current career firefighter of the Berthoud Fire Protection District to maintain the department’s history. Charles noted that volunteer firefighters have “faithfully served the Berthoud community for more than 125 years.”

“It is important that our community understands their sacrifices made to serve others,” Charles wrote in an email to the Reporter-Herald. “The Caretakers of Tradition is committed to sharing the firefighting history of the Berthoud Fire Department and the transcendent traditions of the fire service with future generations.”

The wheel on the restored Berthoud Fire 1880s-era hose cart from the 1880s is pictured. (Jenny Sparks/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Jerry Ward, who is now a member of the Caretakers, served many years with the Berthoud Fire crew. Ward said he joined the department as a volunteer firefighter in 1971 where he stayed until 1976. After leaving the department for a few years, Ward returned in 1978 as one of the department’s first paid employees and became chief in the ’80s, a role he served until 1992.

“It was a great experience and the volunteer system was not only something that served the community, it was also a big part of our social life,” he said. “We worked together as volunteers and we played together. It was great camaraderie not only for the firefighters but for the families.”

Ward said the hose cart that the Caretakers restored had been around the department since 1888 when it was used by the volunteer firefighters of the department.

According to a handout from the Caretakers, just six months after the Berthoud town government was formed it was determined that firefighting capabilities were essential. A fire committee was appointed, and tools and equipment were purchased a few months later for $1,500.

Soon after the arrival of the cart, volunteers were recruited to run it and Berthoud Hose Company No. 1 was created. With the cart housed on Fourth Street in the hose house volunteers built themselves, if a fire was detected volunteers would make a break for the hose house, ring the bell in the hose tower and head out to fight the flames.

The cart stands out in comparison to firefighting equipment today; instead of a huge metal truck with hoses and engines, the hose cart was simply a steel frame supported on two wagon wheels.

Leather belts attached to the front and back served as the engine and the brakes, powered by the men who put their lives on the line to help their community.

A historic photo of volunteer Berthoud firefighters with a hose cart. The cart has since been restored by Caretakers of Tradition, a Berthoud nonprofit meant to immortalize the history of Berthoud’s fire department. (Photo courtesy of the Berthoud Fire Protection District)

Ward said while the department held onto the cart for over a century, it was lost in the ’50s. In 1954, around the same time the department’s main location was moved, the department bought a new fire engine. There was no more room in the vehicle bay for the cart, so Ward said to make space, the department chained the cart to a light pole out back.

“One day they noticed it was gone,” Ward said.

For the next 30 years, the cart’s location remained a mystery. Ward said when he served as chief, the department began the search to find the missing piece of history. Through talks with former volunteers and other community members, the department was able to track the cart down to the town of Bailey, nearly 90 miles from its original home.

Ward said the cart was being used as a lawn ornament, sitting out in the elements and taking a beating over the years. The department was able to get it back to Berthoud in 1988.

“It was still pretty much intact, but it was in sorry shape,” he said.

While not restored, the cart, alongside a 1927 pumper truck that has also been restored over many years, rode through the streets in the town’s Centennial Parade, according to information from the Caretakers.

While Ward and the rest of the department hoped to restore the cart when they got it, funds were tight and the project stalled. Eventually, the cart was hung up in the station 1 engine bay.

However, several years ago the department got its shot at restoring the cart. Former volunteer Lee Scott, after his death, left funds to the Caretakers to continue the fight of maintaining history. Ward said Scott was “instrumental in reminding us of the importance of maintaining the history of the organization.”

With the new funding, the department got to work finding someone to do the restoration work. Ward said one of the greatest difficulties was finding a wheelwright to repair or rebuild the cart’s wheels, which had become worn down over the years.

The Caretakers were able to find one in Black Forest who was able to fix the wheels, sandblast the whole thing and get some new paint on. A few months ago the cart was brought back up to Berthoud and the Caretakers have taken to finishing the project.

While some more touchups are planned, Ward said the “old-timers” have gotten the cart restored.

“It just was really a great day for us,” Ward said. “We have all been around that thing forever and thinking that someday we are going to try and get that thing restored. To have it accomplished now was really a proud moment for all of us.”

Pete Cowdin, a former Berthoud volunteer firefighter, said that while there are a great deal of volunteer firefighters still actively working around the country, they are becoming less utilized. He said that the cart is a big part of the story of volunteer firefighters.

“This represents a bygone era,” he said. “We are a dying breed.”

Cowdin also noted that it has been a community effort to get the cart restored, backed by Scott’s contribution.

John Beck, another former volunteer firefighter, said that he was working at the department when the cart went missing.

“To see this finished, it is just a blessing to us,” Beck said. “I never thought I would see it again.

Ward said the cart serves not only as a piece of the department’s past, but an educational tool for the future. He said by showing the community, especially young kids, equipment like the hose cart and the 1927 pumper truck can teach them about just what firefighters went through to protect others.

“If you take a look at that hose cart, (when) it is sitting right next to a modern fire engine, the advances we have made from 1888 to 2021 (are) just astounding,” Ward said. “It is amazing to think that you had people back then that would do what they did; pulling that cart through the streets at 2 o’clock in the morning and its snowing and blowing … to help their fellow citizen is truly something to think about.”

An ax can be seen on the restored Berthoud Fire hose cart from the 1880s. (Jenny Sparks/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

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