The Tribune is always printed on Thursday afternoons or evenings. Last Thursday we got to press early. We had only about 100 copies left to print when all at once about 5 o'clock our electric motor stopped. The power had been shut off. Going to the door and looking out the whole town to the northwest of us seemed to be a sea of flames. We ran home and got the garden hose and attached it to the pipe in front of the Tribune building.
So rapidly did the fire spread that while we were doing it flying fire brands put our clothing on fire several times. We were kept so busy trying to save our own building that we had not much time to watch the fire. But we saw the laundry, the bakery and at last Haines Hardware store rapidly becoming the prey of the devouring flames.
Several fires started in the rear of our building which we put out with buckets of water. But the Tribune building would have gone too had it not been for the gallant fire fighters, led by F.F. Brasher. He came carrying a long ladder and soon several of the boys were on top of the building.
We hereby want to express our sincere gratitude to the boys for their timely aid. The boys also save F. D. Boone's building on the corner, from which building Mrs. J.T. Boone and her new-born child had to be taken, during the fire, to a place of safety. In less than two hours it was all over but the smoke. One could commence to take an inventory.
Just as the fire started Mrs. Schmaling, ever true to her post, telephoned the fire department in Stockton. They connected her to the Mayor's office, who immediately ordered a fire team to Escalon. The engine broke down six miles out of town and they could not get any farther. Mrs. Schmaling also telephoned Manteca, Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale. Ten minutes later all telephone connections with the outside world was cut off. Mr. Brasher, not knowing what had been done, then telegraphed to all those places. It did not take long for the Riverbank team to arrive, but had we had a bride across the river, they could have been here 20 minutes sooner, and thus helped to save thousands of dollars worth of property. Help and equipment also arrived from Oakdale and Modesto.
How the fire started is and will continue to be a mystery. Herzinger had an oil stove burning on the rear screen porch of his candy store, and everybody believed that the first started there. Nobody was there at the time. After the fire was well underway, Herzinger came running to save his dog, who was on the back porch at the time. He first went to the front door but was met with a sea of flames. He then rushed to the back door and kicked it in and called the dog who came out uninjured. Mr. Herzinger believes the fire started either in the pool hall or the alley between that and his store. The flames sweeping the open porch soon set his building on fire.
Of the main business block now only the Coley building remains standing. From the roof of this building the boys were able to play the streams of water in all directions. The rafters of the building got so hot that they had to cut a big hole in the roof and send a stream of water between roof and ceiling, the only loss that building sustained.
Let us say right here that Escalon excels in her water system. With almost every hydrant and water faucet in town open to it's fullest capacity, our pump kept the reservoir full to overflowing.
Everybody was so busy fighting the fire in the business section that for a time the residence section was forgotten. The roof of Wray Peck's house caught fire. Children were screaming, women were yelling, but no one paid any attention. At last Clements Stockel succeeded to get on the roof with a garden hose and put out the fire. He stayed there for almost an hour, keeping the roof wet.
Next came a small building, formerly occupied by Olsen, the shoemaker, now vacant and being fitted up for a real estate office for C.M. Carlson.
Next in order was the Hotel building, recently renovated by J.A. Coley at a cost of $3800. Part of this building was occupied by L.G. Brownell's real estate office, Samuel K. King's law office and Wm. Stroble, real estate. Mr. King lost his law library insured only for $500. Brownell saved only his insurance book and his typewriter. The balance of the ground floor was occupied by Ted Littlefield's Grill and Restaurant. He had just installed a modern French range, dishes, tables, etc. He lost everything and carried only $500 insurance. Mr. Coley had just finished furnishing the hotel with water and modern furniture and carried only $3,000 insurance on the hotel and $1000 on the furniture.
The Irwin building was next. He carried only $4500 insurance on the building. The post office fixtures alone were worth $600. The occupants of the building were A.E. Runsten, with a shoe store, Escalon Drug Company and the post office. Mr. Runsten had some costly machinery for doing repair work, beside quite a stock of shoes for sale. Nothing was saved except a showcase. He carried $2000 insurance. The Escalon Drug Company saved nothing. Partially covered by insurance. Postmaster Peterson saved everything out of the Post Office.
The only damage to the Coley building was a hole cut in the roof, though it was damaged somewhat by water, it was occupied by the barbershop, Kramer, Lake and Clemo's real estate office, J.A. Kjelber, watch maker and Wray M. Peck's confectionery. Mr. Peck sustained some loss in trying to move his goods and soda fountain out into the street. In the rear of that building are the real estate offices of Dr. David Franklin and W.F. Anderson. The only loss sustained was the back door was burned up.
Of the Bakery building, the most substantial building in town, owned by S.J. Irwin, nothing but the walls are left standing. Mr. Irwin carried $3500 insurance on the building. Arno Bender carried $2000 on the building. Arno Bender carried $2000 insurance on his bakery stock. As he had just put in $1000 worth of sugar into the building the day before and had a lot of flour and other ingredients, besides some furniture and other fixtures, he did not have enough. P.M. Pierce had his office in the bakery building. His friends save the most of his goods. He only lost a few maps and blue prints. He now occupies temporary quarter again in the Tribune Building owned by J.A. Coley, none of the contents of the laundry were insured.
R.N. Haines had an immense stock of hardware and farm implements and the safe was saved. He carried $2000 insurance on the building and $10,000 on the stock.
The Tribune building had two front plate glass windows cracked by heat. Fully covered by insurance.
The roof of the Escalon Department Store is supposed to be fire and water proof with substantial fire walls. So the boys covered the roof with water. But some of the water leaked through and damaged some goods below, fully covered by insurance.
Such, in short, is the story of the third great fire to hit Escalon in about three years. We hope it will be the third and last call.
Escalon has the American spirit. The ruins had not yet stopped smoking before plans were made for a larger and better Escalon. S.J. Irwin appeared fore the county commissioners Monday for permission to put an alley through the business block so that the back yards could more easily be kept free from rubbish. The floor has already been put down in the bakery building under the efficient management of McDonald Brothers, general contractors. Arno Bender has already left for the cities to buy fixtures and supplies, so in a month he will be doing business at the same old stand.
The Escalon Drug Company has bought the stock of Wray Peck and leased the building and in a few days they will have a new supply of drugs on hand.
R. N. Haines has already built a sheet iron covered shed to house the farm implements saved from the fire. The post office opened up in the Tribune building at 8 o'clock in the morning after the fire and is now receiving and distributing the mail as if nothing had happened. The only draw back is that those who had lock boxes will now have to call for their mail.
Plans for several new brick buildings are already under consideration.
Escalon Hit By Disastrous Fire 1920 City Fire
Main business block gone
Note: Escalon was hit with three devastating fires during it's earliest days. According to this article the fires occurred between 1917 and 1920. The last one in 1920 is chronicled in this story which appeared in the Tribune newspaper on June 11, 1920. We assume the paper was the Escalon Tribune but we do not know that for fact. The reporter's name is unknown. Perhaps you may have information about the people or places in this article. We would appreciate hearing from you with any information you may have. Click here and send it to us via e-mail.