History Corner: Pages from History with Phil Coburn

Weston’s horse-drawn hook and ladder. Photo courtesy of Weston Historical Society


As always, the Owl is fascinated with all things fire department and today the Weston Historical Society facebook page highlights a story from Weston’s fiery past, as told by a Coburn. If you do not know of the Coburn family, who no longer resides in our town, it’s time to pick up Pam Fox’s wonderful book From Farm Town to Suburb for a quick tutorial.

And now for a quick trip back to 1915…

From Phil Coburn’s autobiographical history “Growing Up in Weston:”

“Fires were common in Weston, particularly in March and April, when the coal-burning locomotives on the Fitchburg and Southern Division of the Boston and Maine would sometimes leave a trail of grass fires along the track. These could usually be extinguished without too much damage, but when a building caught fire the chances of saving it were not so good.”

“[A] fire I witnessed occurred on March 15, 1915. It was a brush fire off Newton Street by Pheasant Trail on MDC property. I was in front of Cutting’s Store when the alarm at the Baptist Church sounded about 12 o’clock. In a matter of minutes, I saw the horses come galloping up Church Street from McAuliffe’s and turn down the lane between the back of Cutting’s Store and the Old Town Hall. I left my bicycle and ran down to the door of the Fire Station and watched the men back the horses under the harnesses suspended on pulleys from the ceiling. While one man lowered the harnesses, another put on the bridles, snapped on the reins, and a third closed the round collars together, and another connected the traces to the whiffle trees. “

[what’s a whiffle tree? Here’s a tutorial]:


“By this time, George Lamson, who lived within sight of the Town Hall, was up on the driver’s seat, reins in hand, and drove the big hook and ladder slowly up the incline until he was on the highway. Then he stamped on the foot-activated bell and the horses started galloping down School Street to Newton Street. When half way down the hill before Pheasant Trail, he pulled off to the side of the road. I was on my bicycle right behind the hook and ladder when it stopped. I carried water to fill the extinguishers and also put in fresh charges of sulfuric acid and soda before carrying them to the men who were fighting the flames. I worked from noon until the two bells sounded the ‘all out’ at 5 o’clock. I was dirty from the burned-over brush but what a thrill to realize I was old enough to help and be paid for it. I received $1.50 for the afternoon and my name was recorded in the Town Report!”

Phil Coburn is pictured center. He is about 9 years old here. In the recounting of his first firefighting experience, he was about 15.

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