The Turner - Marson Building – Part 2
The History of the Molalla Fire Department
203 North Molalla Avenue
1926 – 1970
by Gail J. McCormick
In 1913, the City of Molalla incorporated. The need for community services was evident. However, the first meeting to form an official Molalla Fire Department wasn't until July of 1924. At this 1924 meeting, Laurence Masterton asked for the purchase of a new fire truck.
The City Council also approved a louder fire siren and ladders for second floor fire rescues. There was no money set aside for these purposes so Masterton searched for ways to raise the funds. He set his sights on the town’s yearly rodeo that had started with the first city's celebration in 1913. In March of 1925, the following men formed the “Molalla Buckeroo Rodeo”: Sid Powers, Walt Cockrell, Walt Taylor, L. E. Masterton, Bill Miller, Fred Parks, Paul Robbins, Arthur Farr, Henry Dahl and Jim Riddell. They decided to use the profits from the rodeo to start and support the new fire department. Also planned, to raise money, were 22 local dances a year.
Some informal previous efforts had been made to address the problem of fires. The first need of a fire department was water. A water tower was constructed at the corner of Section Street and South Molalla Avenue. At a Molalla City Council meeting on February 20, 1914, it was agreed to put in a series of water pipes on a hill a quarter mile south of town. The pipes ran down Molalla Avenue to Main Street. At this corner, they connected to pipes bringing water five blocks down Main Street, up to Molalla Avenue, to Toliver Road and two blocks east on Third Street. To provide the water for the piping, they then installed 24 hydrants. In addition, they purchased two large hose carts with 600 feet of hose per cart. These carts were hand pulled down the streets to the hydrants and the fires. The first volunteer fire department was headed by Henry Case. Over the early years, there were several other volunteer fire department chiefs before the official Molalla Fire Department was formed and Molalla had its first paid Fire Chief.
Laurence Earl Masterton was officially appointed the first paid Molalla Fire Chief by Mayor Ralph Holman on February 25, 1924. Laurence was the only child of William and Jennie Naomi Masterton. He was born in 1893, at Michigan. Laurence's father, William, had immigrated to America, in 1872, from Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, where he was born. He founded Masterton's Garage, in Molalla, which was the featured story in Part 1. In 1918, during World War I, Laurence joined the United States Military Service. He departed for Europe in March of 1918, as a private of Company M, 23rd Engineers, USNA. He returned, from France, in May of 1919, as a Sergeant Engineer. After he returned home, he worked in the house construction industry as an electrician.
Laurence seemed the perfect pick for a Fire Chief. He had acquired some experience fighting fires in the community and had shown no fear. Within six months, Laurence had designed a fire department, complete with designated volunteer firefighters and an equipment list. The newly formed official Molalla Fire Department was announced on August 1, 1924. By 1926, they had raised enough money to buy their first fire engine. It was Laurence's idea for the Buckeroo directors to wear matching western outfits. Viewing the 1920's photos today give us an idea of their dedication and enthusiasm. Duane Robbin's hard work kept the financial end of the Buckeroo Rodeo in good condition. Many men and women contributed their time and efforts to run the Fire Department. Ossie Marson was outstanding in that he served for 37 years. In the late 1930’s, the Molalla Rural Fire Protection District was formed, with a five person Board of Directors and a tax district that supported the Fire Department. Of course, we still have the Buckeroo Rodeo, but the profits go to other charities.
“Ambulance Deployed by Molalla Residents”, Molalla Pioneer, March 4, 1948
“Fire Chief to the Rescue”, Molalla Pioneer, 1921
“Gravity Water System Put In”, Molalla Pioneer, May 19, 1921
“Molalla Fire Department”, Molalla Fire Department website, 2018
“Molalla Fire Department”, Molalla Fire Department 75th Anniversary Brochure, October 6, 1999
“Molalla Water Works”, Images of America: Molalla, 2008, By Judith Sanders Chapman and Lois E. Helvey Ray
“Round Up Boosters”, Molalla Pioneer, June 25, 1925
“State Fire Marshall Favors Better Water System”, Molalla Pioneer, April 21, 1921
“Trout Creek Water Turned”, Molalla Pioneer, November 17, 1921
© Gail J. McCormick, 2018