It was a warm fall day and the windows of Mrs. Mustard's first grade room were open. Suddenly the fire gong on the side of the firehouse close to the courthouse square started clanging calling the volunteer firemen to race to get the hose cart. In a few minutes word was whispered around from pupil to pupil that the courthouse was on fire. I don't know how they knew; I saw nobody come into the room. Then Mrs. Mustard came to my seat and asked me if I wanted to go home. I should have guessed that it was our house that was on fire but I didn't, though the question made me uneasy. It wasn't until I got nearly home and saw all of our furniture out on the sidewalks and in the street that I realized the awful thing that had happened. Six year old boys, however, can't be sad for very long. I soon started trying to locate my toys and not finding them decided they must still be in the window boxes under the bay window. I went in to the house by the side door and started trying to lift the charred, blackened beams which had fallen to the floor to get at the boxes when grandma Courtright spotted me and hustled me out of there. For several nights after the fire we all slept across the street at grandma Bashore's then my father found a vacant house across the tracks in Dixie. Fortunately I wasn't transferred to the Dixie school but that was where Raymond had to go when he started school the next year.
It wasn't until I was in high school that I learned how the fire had started. The lamp on the small table in front of the dormer window had been left burning and the window had been open. A sudden wind came up and blew the lace curtain into the lamp chimney and caught the curtain on fire. The fire was put out before the house was a total loss. What was left of it was moved a block west and north to Cherry street and rebuilt. I knew nothing about that, however, until we moved into it some years later. It had been a dirty, black, smoking mess when I went in to try to get my toys. After the house was moved away the lot was leveled and planted with grass. The grass had a struggle to survive after we moved back to the south end of town as all of the boys in the neighborhood gathered there to to play. Dr. Neeley bought the lot which still had all of the fruit trees, the grape arbor and the vegetable garden which my dad had started. A group of 8 or 10 cherry trees stood near the front walk (they had originally been on the south side of the house) and there were pears, apples and plums toward the rear. Dr. Neeley became very much interested in flowers and turned the former vegetable garden into a flower garden. Corydon and Arthur were always having to weed the flower gardens, dig up or plant bulbs and so on when the rest of us wanted to start a game of croquet or rounders.
So far as I know the Paulding Fire Department consisted entirely of volunteers. The town had two pieces of equipment, a hose cart, dragged by hand by as many men as could get in front of it, and a hand pump which could be operated by as many as eight men, four on each side. These twO vehicles were kept in the firehouse on Williams Street near downtown and the fire alarm was a gong fastened to the outside of the building 10 or 12 feet above ground. A rope attached to the clapper dangled down within reach of adults. The temptation to give the rope a yank and run was irresistible but no one paid any attention unless the gong kept sounding. The source of water to put out a fire was the cistern that everyone had somewhere on the property to catch rainwater from the roof. By the time I was in high school, however, the city had a regular waterworks and fire hydrants at strategic places.
We moved twice in Dixie but only remained for a short while in each house, then we moved back to the east side of the tracks into a big house on north Cherry Street, catecornered from the yellow brick Presbyterian Church. The house had been occupied, perhaps built, by a saloon keeper by the name of Lowenthaw so we called it the Lowenthaw house.
The Lowenthaw house had a wide veranda on the north and east and a porch at the rear where the icebox stood. The icebox always had a big crock full of rich cream from our Jersey cow. It would get thick like gelatin, tempting me to eat it with a spoon when no one was around. That may account for my having to have my gallbladder removed when I was about fifty. There was a yellow barn at the rear of the lot, next to the alley, where Maxie Lowenthaw had kept a horse and buggy, with the usual haymow above the horse stall. Our barn was built against the barn of the neighbor on the west who raised Angora rabbits. On the day we moved in the children thought the rabbits were ours and we went wild with excitement for a few minutes.
Like the other four houses we had lived in, the Lowenthaw house had no basement. The town had built a water and gas works, however, just west of the tracks in Dixie, and we now had water piped into the house, tho any hot water needed had to be heated on the kitchen range, or in the reservoir on one side of it. There WaS no bathtub in the house yet, we still took our baths in a washtub on the kitchen floor. My mother heated the water for baths in the big copper clothes boiler also used for heating water for washings. The water still had to be carried in buckets to fill the boiler but now she didn't have to go outside to the pump to get it. My younger sister Florence (we knick named her Fritz) was born in the Lowenthal house so there were now five children and four adults in the Courtright family. John was born in the first house we lived in in Dixie. Saturday night baths took a lot of water, also a lot of time and very likely my mother was exhausted by the time she could take her own bath and get into bed.
Central heating was in the future but stoves for heating the house in cold weather were much improved over the old wood burners we had had before. The kitchen range was the same tho the fuel was now lumps of soft coal which we kept in a coal bin in the the barn. It was my job to keep the coal scuttle filled and next to the range. I also had to split the kindling with the ax to start the fire in the morning. The big improvement however, was the use of the base burner for heating the downstairs bedroom, sitting room and parlor as the fire never went out all winter. It even put a little heat into the upstairs hall thru a register in the ceiling directly above the heater. Instead of soft coal the baseburner burned hard (anthracite) coal, which was as hard as stone and shiny black.
During the summer the baseburner was stored in the barn; then in the fall, when the weather began to get nippy, I was sent to the hardware store to get the special truck used to transport the heater, a narrow, low cart that could be slid under it. By pulling back on a lever on the handle the heavy object could be raised two or three inches so it could be moved on small iron wheels to the corner of the sitting room where the chimney was. There, by releasing the lever it was set down on a sheetmetal covered wooden base about ½ inches thick and connected with stovepipe to the hole in the chimney.
The baseburner was about as high as a man's shoulder and between four and five feet square at the bottom. Made of cast iron with grapevines and other designs on it it was nickel plated at the top and on the three footrests place about a foot from the floor. A truncated cone shaped magazine near the top could be opened by swiveling the cover around and coal poured in on top of the fire. As the fuel burned the whole mass slowly descended. A shaker handle, kept on the sheet metal pad underneath, was used when ecessary to shake down the ashes into a square pan under the grate. Another of my jobs was to carry out the ashes. How pleasant it was on winter evenings to sit with stockinged feet on the warm foot supports gazing into the blue flames thru the isinglass windows of the bell of the baseburner. My mother, grandma and Aunt Irene usually had some mending to do. My Data read the Literary Digest (not the same magazine as today - it was more like "Time") and we kids were supposed to be doing our studying, we had schoolbooks in our laps.
We no longer had to depend on coal oil lamps for light after we moved into the Lowenthaw house; the house was supplied with gas from the Paulding Gas Works. In the bedrooms and hallways a small pipe came out of the wall at about the height of a man's shoulder for a distance of 4 or 5 inches, then went vertically for another two inches. A valve at the elbow turned on the gas flow. For places where not much light was needed all that was necessary was to turn on the valve and light the gas coming out of the pipe with a match. It didn't produce much light but was sufficient for a bedroom. Where more light was needed a Welsbach mantle was fitted to the end of the pipe. Gas mantles, invented by the Austrian chemist Karl Welsbach, were sold in grocery stores and hardwares and came in a small box about the size of a light bulb. They were supported on the end of the pipe by two wires fastened to a ring. Before they could be used the coating they were covered with had to be burned off after which they could moved as they would crumble at the least touch or jar. They emitted a brilliant white light much truer to the sun's spectrum than the electric bulbs which followed a few years later.
For turning on the gas and lighting it in the ceiling fixtures of the downstairs rooms we had a special gadget, a thin taper fastened to a rod about a yard long. The tapers came in coils, if I remember right, and could be extended as they burned back. The same gadget was used in churches and public buildings where the gas fixture was too high to reach without the use of a ladder.
I was in the third grade when my sister Florence was born and my favorite girl was then the school superintendent's daughter, a black-eyed girl with pigtails. I always had a favorite girl, tho I kept it a secret. Arriving home from school one day I discovered I had a new baby sister. When I went in the bedroom to see her I inquired what her name was and was told she hadn't be named yet. "What name would you give here?" my mother asked. What would say but Florence? And that is her name tho somehow we got to calling her Fritz. I never told anyone that I had picked the name Florence because Florence Stinchcombe was by secret girlfriend.
While we were living in Dixie and in the Lowe thaw house the shell of the first Courtirght house had been moved a block west and a block north to South Cherry street and rebuilt. The two bedrooms upstairs were the same as before but the stairs leading to them did not enter the sitting room directly; they turned at right angles halfway down. The former screened-in porch on the south side was turned into a dining room and a kitchen was built onto the northeast corner. Extending north to allow room for a kitchen door on the street side as well at one opening onto an unroofed porch on the east. The woodshed adjoined this porch. That's where the baseburner was stored in the summer. From the back porch there was a wooden walk leading to the back of the lot where the privy was, next to the alley. When we had to go to the privy at night, usually before going to bed, my mother would light the coal oil lantern and set it on the back porch, especially if there was no moon. Chamber pots were kept under the beds in case of emergency. For ablutions each bedroom had a washstand on which was a big porcelain bowl which you poured your dirty water. Emptying the slopjars was another daily chore which could not be avoided. /The jars had porcelain lids which kept the odors fairly well. Since toilet paper had not yet been thought of; it was customary to use pages from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue. On cold snowy nights we would wrap ourselves in thick wool blankets before setting out for the nether regions. The man who cleaned the privies- always done at night- was on the lowest rung of the social ladder. In Paulding it was a halfwit by the name of Billy Banks, a friend of everybody in town. Many people made fun of him but he kept his dignity.
Our neighbors to the north were the Swindlers who were members of our church. They had a boy Raymond's age who was always into trouble so we never had much to do with him. He was the kind who would go out on Halloween night and knock over privies. On the corner beyond Swindler's was the blacksmith shop of Jacob Knoedler who shoed horses and repaired anything made of metal. I took a lot of pleasure in stopping on my way to or from school to watch him work on his anvil with hot iron. He lived across Cherry street in a big house that had fruit trees in the back yard. He was a big man with strong arms and dark eyes. None of use boys dared to swipe apples from Jake Knoedler's apple trees.
The last lot on the street, next to us on the south, was empty when we lived there. Beyond it was the north end of Straw's field with its small pond surrounded by scraggly willow trees where we spent hours playing with little boats we made from shingles and catching pollywogs.
In having the house rebuilt my father had had gas pipe installed in the walls and ceiling before replastering we were no longer dependent on coal oil lamps for lighting. The old cast-iron range was still used for cooking, however, though more coal was used for fuel than wood. There was still plenty of scrap lumber around which we boys had to split for kindling. In the winter the baseburner was set up in the parlor, no longer kept closed except to entertain visitors. There were now six of us children and four adults in the family and we needed all the space in the house. And we were not there long before Bill, my youngest brother, came on the scene and we were seven small ones, a total of eleven.
Although we started calling him Bill almost as soon as he was born, the youngest member of our family was named Claris B. in honor of the preacher at our church, a rather chubby, jolly man that everybody liked. The B, I think, stood for Bashore but to me it suggested Bill and, since I thought Claris was a sissy sounding name, though I was fond of our preacher, also because it sound so incongruous to call a tiny baby Bill, that is what I dubbed him. It stuck and today few people know his name is Claris.
In 1910, the year that Bill was born, Halley's comet reappeared in the night skies and scared a lot of ignorant people into going to church. It was an awe-inspiring sight when it reached a point in its orbit closest to the Earth, almost reaching from one horizon to the opposite. I wasn't superstitious; I was 12 years old and knew what it was, but it make me just a little bit uneasy just the same. Every time I went out of the house at night and looked up, there it was, a bright, fuzzy ball at one end about the size of the moon and a long sweeping, curved tail thru which you could see the stars. It seems to me the comet was in the sky all winter but it gradually got smaller and faded away. I missed it.