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Frank Nichols

Source: Vertical File, Herman Brown Free Library
Transcribed by JoAnn Myers, 2000

I understand you had a lot to do with the organization of our fire department. What can you tell me about it?

The fire dept. as it exists now began about 1932. It seems there were about 15 men at the original meeting.

Do you know who any of those were?

Yes, I know them very well: some of them are dead. Of course all those names are in the original minutes books over at the fire department.

Did you have trouble getting it organized?

No. At that time some people thought it was a funny thing to organize a fire dept. in a town this small. But we had some pretty serious fires over a series of years and didn't really have much equipment to fight it with. The first piece of equipment they had here was a soda acid cart. I think the museum has the original cart. At that time there was no organized dept. And just whoever happened to be there used it. I think it was bought about between 1916 and 1918. The dept. as it ixists [exists] now was organized January, 1932. I remember when I was a boy and we had a fire that people would get out and shoot pistols and holler fire. About all they could do then was just save things from whatever was on fire. Grass fires were just out of hand, we couldn't really do anything about them.

You didn't have a bucket brigade?

No. Not an organized one.

Did you have a building in 1932?

No. When we got the first truck, the city and the county went together and bought it. But there wasn't any place to put it. The old Burnet Merchantile (where Dilbeck's is) had a tin shed behind it and we put the firetruck in there. Then we got donations and gave money ourselves and got scraps of lumber. The owner of the Bulletin, Mr. L. C. Chamberlain had a vacant place behind the old paper's offices. We built a little fire station right in there between the Bulletin office and that 2 story building over there. Then we got this other place in 1942 or 43.

When did people stop shooting guns off and you used an organized alarm?

When we got the fire dept. organized we provided most of the money, because the city didn't have any money. We bought this truck and then bought a siren. There used to be a big water tower on the east side of the square behind where Western Auto is now. That was the city water supply. Before that there was no city water supply, but when they got that tower up we put the siren on there.

How did it operate?


How did you raise money?

Any way we could. We ran the picure [picture] show here for 3 or 4 years. We took tickets, ushered, showed the picture, everything.

How much did you charge?

I don't remember, and we didn't make a lot of money, but enough to do what we needed to do.

How many members do you have?

The actual working fire dept. always ran around 30 members. During the war a lot of the original members were gone, and everybody helped. Our minimum age is 21. After the dept. was organized no women were members, but the women of this town have helped in many ways-raising money, bringing food and coffee and dry clothes. They have been helpful. I guess about 1972 was the last time I fought a fire.

What's the biggest fire you ever fought?

The longest one was a grass fire that burned the whole [not legible] from the railroad through the Brownlee ranch, Clyde Garener's ranch, the old Adams ranch, over to Donald Duncans, and it came clear up to Hwy 29. We fought that for about a week. That was in the 50's, but just when I couldn't tell you.

I've lived here on this block since 1906. (106 E. Post Oak.)

Where did your parents come from?

My mother grew up here and my father was from Ft. Worth. He came here when they were building the capitol because he was a stonemason. They were hauling the granite from granite mountain on the old narrow gauge railroad and unloading it at the old railroad station. He was a stonecutter down there. They did it by hand and each piece was numbered according to the architect's plan.

My father and grandfather and two of my uncles cut the stones for the old rock schoolbuilding.

Who were they?

O.D. Nichols was my father and my uncles were Willis and Paul Nichols.

Who was your mother?

Maggie Kincaid. In 1882 she and her mother and uncle came here and established the old Churchill Hardware. It operated until the second world war. Her uncle was Jimmy Churchill. The fabric store is there now. The original building was a two story rock building. The old Westfall Bank building was next to it on the east. That was later the county building. The old Bulletin office as on the ground floor. It burned-the Churchill Hardware store and county building both burned, and the old paper lost everything. The old bank vault was in there and the county used that for the treasurer office. The sidewalk in front of there is the old granite sidewalk. Where Heckman is was another 2 story building that burned later in the early 20's.

Do you remember the first movie in Burnet?

I remember the old opera house on Washington St. where that church is. They ran lots of movies there with carbon lights for the projector. These were silent pictures. I guess Mr. J. O. Cole ran the movie the longest. Then Mr. Percy. They'd have dances on Saturday night with a band, from Austin sometimes.

Who had the first car dealership?

I'm not sure unless it was Claude Shipp. Oscar and Bob Lamb had the first car. They were in the saddle and harness business down where Bill's Dollar store is. It was a motor buggy, with a gasoline motor and you cranked it on the side. It had buggy wheels on it and drove with a chain.

In later years Mr. Will LaForge opened a hardware store here and in 1943 he bought Churchill Hardware from Mr. Churchill's daughter, who had run it since he died.

What did they sell?

Chains horseshoe nails, tacks, guns and ammunition, water buckets, cups, tubs, barbed wire, bolts, dishes, stoves, anything. I remember what I thought was the greatest thing in my life-a kerosene oil burning cook stove, down at my uncle's hardware store. It was wonderful at that time.

Do you know how much it cost?

About 30 dollars.

What was $30 worth then? What would it buy, like flour, or a pair of shoes?

A good pair of shoes was about $2.50. Real good dress shoes. You could take $5 and go to the grocery store and get enough food for an ordinary family for maybe a couple of weeks. So $30 was a lot of money. Heating stoves sold for about $10-12, and cook stoves-cast iron wood burning ones-were about 15-20 dollars. The big fancy ones with warming ovens were a little more. Back in those days that was expensive. Nowadays an 18 yr. old kid can go out and earn 8-10 dollars an hour. Back then if you earned that much in a week you were in the money.

Do you think the best times have already been?

I don't know. There's so much more available now-the car industry, radio, tv, all that. You don't know if it's better or not.

Are you optimistic about America?

Oh yes. I've been out of this country, during the war. And I was in Alaska for 2 years and South America for three. It just takes a few trips out of this country, and then you come back and realize how great a country we've got. People don't appreciate it.

The above transcript is released for use by the Burnet County Library and its patrons.

Frank Nichols


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