We had planned on having as our guest speaker this year Bernard Olive, Assistant
Chief and Fire Marshal of the Baytown Fire Dept. Sadly, on April 5th
, Bernard passed
away after having served for 45 years with Baytown Fire Dept.
We extend our sincerest condolences to Bernard’s family, his beloved wife, Kathy, his
daughter Martha and son-in-law Tim and his granddaughter Kathryn.
But Bernard had a story to tell about the events of April 16, 1947 and the role that Pelly
Fire Department played and Bernard would want that story told.
If Bernard could he would say not to ruin a good opportunity to show off Pelly’s fire truck and tell its story. Bernard was an historian and believed that history was an important part of America and should be told and remembered.
We will honor Bernard’s belief here today as we remember those who perished on April 16, 1947 and as we remember Chief Bernard Olive.
When I spoke to Chief Olive, last year about this time, he had signed up to attend our annual Fire Games in May and wanted to make sure I had received his registration for his antique fire truck. I told him I did and assuming is was a former Baytown Fire Dept. apparatus, I commented that Pelly was an unusual name for a fire engine and asked if it was named after a family member.
He chuckled a bit and asked what I knew about the Texas City Fire Dept. I told him I
had read everything I could find all the way back to a letter from 1914 sent by the City
Commission asking Fire Chief Wilcox to stop using Mr. Lankford’s horse to pull the hose wagon. I figured if they knew what fire apparatus was going to cost 100 years later, they’d have bought the horse.
As we were talking, we discovered that we both had grown up in a fire station
atmosphere, playing on the fire apparatus as young children, and that we shared a love of fire service history.
He asked what I knew about Texas City’s response to the fires aboard the SS
Grandcamp. I replied with.
27 FF responded under the direction of Chief Baumgartner
1936 Diamond T
1947 Seagraves – 1 st fire
All 27 had perished along with another 550 civilians and all 3 trucks were destroyed.
He said I was absolutely correct and then asked what I knew about the mutual aid
response following the explosion. I told him I was aware that depts. came from around
the area including Houston, Galveston and other departments, fought fire for three days,
but we didn’t possess a lot of information on that.
This is the story that Chief Olive told me:
Across the bay north of Texas City were three communities: Pelly, Goose Creek and
Now known to us as the City of Baytown
The ground shook and windows were blown out.
A call for help went out was received in Pelly by the Mayor. The Mayor contacted the
Pelly Fire Chief, Burl Elliott, Bernard’s cousin, who unknown to him at the time had just
lost three nieces or nephews, all three of his sister-in-law’s children had been killed and
herself, lost an eye in the explosion.
The Mayor told him there had been a massive explosion in Texas City, they were calling
for help, get a crew together, take that new Ford, the very truck you see sitting here now
on my right, and go to Texas City and help them in any way you can.
A crew of five responded
Assist. Chief Joe Amato
Engineer Jim French
S. V. Robberson
Buck Turner, and
O. J. Olive
With Chief Elliott, Alton Olive, and Leonard Olive arriving later in the day.
As responding units arrived it was necessary to set up the trucks for relay pumping as all the water mains in the area had been destroyed.
The rule in relay pumping is the largest pumps go to the water source and the smallest go to fire.
This truck was assigned the position about two blocks from the High Flyer and was
used in the attempt to extinguish the fires aboard the High Flyer.
On the evening of the 16th
it became apparent that they were not going to be able to
extinguish the fires aboard the High Flyer and the decision was made to evacuate the area. As a convoy of fire apparatus was departing they had just about made it back to Hwy 146 when the High Flyer blew, about 1:12 a.m. on the 17th of April.
Shrapnel began falling from the sky, in
fact; Alton Olive was hit by a piece about the size of a 50-cent piece on the helmet which knocked him off the back of the truck. The
dove under the truck in an attempt to avoid the falling metal from the
explosion of the High Flyer.
After the sky’s cleared and they got their wits back about them, they climbed back on the apparatus and returned to the fire scene, went back to fighting fire, and three days later they went home.
The Engine remained in service serving the citizens of Pelly and later Baytown until
1975 and was scheduled for auction in 1977
Bernard bought the truck and with the help of some friends, worked on it from time to time as he raised a family, became a master of his profession, and later restored
the unit to what you see today.
Thanks to the efforts and dedication of Bernard, his family and friends, the truck you see here today is as it was on the day it responded right down to the equipment mounted on the truck. Bernard sincerely
appreciated all the help he received from his friends, believing he
would have never got it done without their help. Most importantly, Bernard who
was always one to give credit where credit is due, believed all the credit belonged to his loving wife, Kathy. As Bernard stated “It’s not every wife who’d tolerate having a pumper
truck in the back yard.”
Now buying the unit was no easy task for Bernard either. Young firefighters didn’t make a lot of money back in 1977 and that’s a brass pump on that truck. Old fire apparatus
were a popular item for salvage purposes and many units fell prey to the local
scrap dealer. Pelly Engine 2 was no exception and the bidding between Bernard and the local scrap dealer was intense. As the bidding escalated, Bernard said he could just see 30 years of history going down to the crusher. Chief Elliott stated that bidding got so hot and heavy that Bernard outbid himself once. A fact that Bernard freely admitted to when we went to lunch last month; we were
exchanging newspaper articles about the disaster. I said “Chief, it says here you out bid yourself once.” “I did, I was nervous and running out of money. It was awful.”
As the amount neared Bernard’s cap, some of the retired firefighters in attendance, 6 or 7 including Chief Elliott, approached the scrap dealer, unbeknownst to Bernard, and inquired about his interest in the unit, which he responded was in scrapping it.
These retired firefighters next informed the scrap dealer that if he placed one more bid on the truck they going to severely physically assault him and although they were old, they figured there was enough of them to get the job done. They further asserted that although they would likely be arrested, they were all retired and could just as easily visit in the jail house as anywhere else, didn’t have anywhere else to be, and didn’t really care how long they were in the jail house.
Now the scrap dealer didn’t know how many of these retired firefighters it was going to take to “clean his clock”, but he knew how many were prepared to participate.
Needless to say, Bernard got the truck.
To my knowledge, it is the last remaining operational fire apparatus that responded on April 16, 1947 to the request for mutual aid to the Texas City Disaster and we are very proud to have it here today on display and very appreciative of Bernard and his family for the sacrifices they have made to maintain this significant and beautiful piece of not only fire service history, but Texas City & Pelly Fire Dept. History – Pelly FD Engine 2.
IT IS THE CUSTOM OF THE FIRE SERVICE ACROSS THE WORLD TO
ACKNOWLEDGE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE, THE
LAYING DOWN OF ONE’S LIFE FOR ANOTHER, BY A RECITATION OF NAMES OF
OUR FALLEN FIREFIGHTERS FOLLOWED BY A TOLLING OF THE FIRE BELL
ON APRIL 16, 1947
FIRE CHIEF HENRY J. BAUMGARTNER
JOSEPH MILTON BRADDY
LLOYD GEORGE CAIN
ROY LOUIS DURIO (dur – e – o)
ARCHIE BOYCE EMSOFF
HENRY JOHN FINDEISEN (fine – a – sin)
VIRGIL D. FEREDAY
EDWARD HENRY HENRICKSEN
WILLIAM FRED HUGHES
WILLIAM CARL JOHNSON
FRANK P. JOLLEY
WILLIAM LOUIS KAISER
JACOB OTTO MEADOWS
HARVEY ALONZO MENGE (men – gee)
MAURICE R. NEELY
SEBASTAIN B. NUNEZ
WILLIAM C. O’SULLIVAN
WILLIAM D. PENTYCUFF
ROBERT DEE SMITH
JOEL CLIFTON STAFFORD
MARSHALL B. STAFFORD
MARION D. WESTMORELAND
CLARENCE J. WOOD
CLARENCE ROME VESTAL
ON OCTOBER 5, 1999
CAPTAIN WILLIAM M. BETHUNE
AND ON APRIL 5, 2018
BAYTOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT
ASSISTANT CHIEF/FIRE MARSHAL
Written and read by:
David B. Zacherl
Texas City Fire Dept.