Sunday, October 25, 2015

Two Horses Killed - Slippery Streets in the Age of the Steamer - 1914

Hills & Winding Roads Prove Deadly in Steamer Accident
15 April 1914

Newspaper Headline 16 April 1914
Cincinnati Enquirer

     Two boys were out causing trouble on the campus of Xavier College on Thursday April 15, 1914.  They lit a fire, intentionally or accidentally it is not known, then took off.  Firemen at Engine Company 39 were looking forward to lunch.  The bells rang above the joker stand as an alarm of fire was taken.  The horses, Bull and Roxie, rushed forward to their harnesses and the doors of he house flung open.  Snaps were fastened and the men jumped aboard.  In seconds the engine was off, tearing across Montgomery Road and down Clarion Avenue.  Rain had been falling steadily making the roads treacherous.  Once at the bottom of Clarion the engine made a left turn onto Dana.  The driver, Frank Voellmecke, noted the roads to be very slippery as he passed through the intersection with Woodburn.  With no details about the fire speed remained a priority but care had to be taken.  Hills and bends were a serious threat even in the best conditions.  Horses were driven to pull the heavy engine but once it got moving it could be difficult to stop.  The horses could be unpredictable, despite their training. 

Engine Co.39 as it appeared around the time of the accident.
E39 & Hose Wagon 39 pictured
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum

      The engine continued on and started into the intersection with Winding Way.  Xavier College was to the right and the company was nearing the fire.  Suddenly, as the engine swerved to the right turning onto Winding Way, Bull slipped and fell causing Roxie to be tossed to the ground as well.  The animals let out a terrible cry.  The weight of the engine tossed the horses into the curb with the engine coming to rest on Bull whose neck was broken.  He was killed instantly.  As the engine was thrown to the side of the road it struck a telegraph pole.  Voellmecke was spit from his seat breaking his shoulder as he landed nearby.  Roxie was writhing in agony having sustained a broken leg.  The engine itself was damaged and would require service before it could be placed back in service.

Frank J. Voellmecke
Courtesy Voellmecke Family Collection

     Chief Bunker learned of the accident as he neared the fire and rushed to the scene in his automobile.  The department had only recently started switching from horse pulled steamers to new mechanized auto pumpers and Engine 39 had not yet been changed.  Accidents such as these were one of a number of reasons why it was argued that the change to auto pumpers was a necessary one.  The chief helped to package Voellmecke up and drove him home.  A mounted police officer arrived and euthanized Roxie with his pistol.  Chief Bunker notified a police detective that two boys had been witnessed running from the college just as smoke was seen.  

Engine 39 Joker Stand
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum

     Soon horse pulled steamers would be a thing of the past.  The Cincinnati Fire Department had set the standard model by which all other fire departments followed for 60 years.  Horse drawn steamers operated by paid professional firefighters was a system that worked.  As technology made jumps the world was pulled into the future.  Automobiles were running along the same streets as horse pulled vehicles.  Horses were easily startled by these heavy machines.  It was clear that they would not both occupy the streets together for long.  The fire department had been luck on this day.  Voellmecke was injured and two horses were killed in the wreck but the results could easily have been worse.  The fire department had already witnessed a number of members killed in traffic accidents during responses.  Indeed the response itself was often more dangerous than the emergency the men were confronted with.  

Chiefs Report regarding the accident at Dana and Winding Way
Courtesy B.Houston Collection

Montgomery and Clarion as they appear today - Engine 39s former quarters at the intersection 
E39 crossed Montgomery and started down Clarion prior to the wreck
Google Street View

Report of the City Veterinarian regarding the wreck and the death of two department horses
Courtesy: B.Houston Collection

The intersection of Dana and Winding Way as it appears today. To the right a parking area for Xavier University can be seen
Google Street View

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