HOSE CART RACES
With Billy Irwin’s experience as Leadville’s boxing promoter it came as no hard task to promote and organize hose-cart team races. The picture above is one such event which took place on the 4th of July in 1907. The men in white trunks and tee shirts, harnessed to a fire hose-cart, make up one such team. At far right, in a dark tee shirt with Letter “L”, is Fire Marshall Madigan who headed the team of Leadville’s Second Street Fire Station. Standing next to him, also in a dark tee shirt with letter “L” (and in white short trunks), is Fire Chief Irwin who headed the rival team of Leadville’s Harrison Avenue Fire Station.
Having men, instead of horses, pull hose-carts was not too strange a concept in Leadville at the turn of the century. It was not uncommon for fires to erupt in such out of the way places as mine shafts and surrounding areas outside of the town limits. In the dead of winter, with the roads piled high with snow, oftentimes the horses would play out and cramp up requiring firemen to pull the wagons from where the horses left off.
As a former boxer and trainer, keeping physically fit was a familiar and necessary task to Chief Irwin. And moreover these contests, besides keeping Leadville’s firemen physically fit, provided his fellow townspeople with entertainment and wagering opportunities. Like a typical boxing match of this era large sums of money were wagered and changed hands at these events.
Fire Chief Irwin and his fellow Leadville citizens took pride in their fire department, especially when it excelled in such inter-city and statewide competition. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of ardent supporters lined the streets to cheer on their home team. The winners received accolades akin to modern cities’ successful sports franchises. Losers went back to their hometowns to lick their wounds and practice.
On this particular day (July 4, 1907) the teams competing were Aspen, Buena Vista, Leadville’s Second Street Fire Station (Fire Marshall Madigan) and the Harrison Avenue Fire Station (Fire Chief Irwin). The object of the race was to charge out of the Harrison Avenue Fire Station when time was called … race to the fire plug on 5th Street… rollout the fire hoses…connect the hoses to the plug… and finally turn on the water in the shortest possible time.
At the end of this match the Aspen team won the first prize money with a time of 39 seconds flat. Madigan’s Leadville team came in second (40.8 seconds). Buena Vista took third place (41.4 seconds). And last but not least was Irwin’s rival Leadville team (42.8 seconds).
According to the newspaper (Herald Democrat) the Irwin team “demise” was reported as follows: “When Irwin’s boys tore loose it was plain to see that their speed exceeded that of the other teams, but a sigh of disappointment went up when it was found that they did not throw on the water immediately upon arriving at the plug.”