Friday, November 2, 2012


Contacts: Nancy Loliva, (559) 713-4535
                   Monty Cox, (559) 713-4591

Date: Friday, Nov. 2, 2012


            The Transit Center will be the new home of a model train display, beginning with an unveiling at 10:30 am Thursday, Nov. 15, at 425 E. Oak Ave.

            Visalia Mayor Amy Shuklian will pay homage to the three individuals who spent countless hours putting the display together for no other reason than for Transit Center patrons, young and old, to enjoy. The three individuals – Ron Humason, Louis Whitendale and Ron Wyatt – spent 3,000 hours putting the N scale model train layout together. Their love of trains is already on display at the Imagine U Museum and the Tulare County Museum in Mooney Grove Park, an actual replica of the Visalia Electric Railroad that ran in the early 1900s.

            The display defies description, but it does include 2,000 handmade trees with10 Redwood trees matching the ones in Sequoia National Park. It also features 3 circles of track to carry the San Joaquin Daylight, and long-haul and local freight lines that make a complete loop around the entire display that is roughly 4’ by 12’ in size.

The town, which features its own park, transit system, and Farmer’s Market, centers around the Palace Hotel, which was once a landmark in downtown Visalia. It also features a 500-count ‘em – 500 cow dairy and a lake for the fishing enthusiasts. The Sequoia National Park is also featured in the display, including a Sequoia Shuttle making its way to the Park.

            One of the sets used in the Transit display was donated by Ron and Debbie Schuler.
 “We built this to honor Ron and Debbie Schuler who donated the original layout and we agreed to rebuild it and find a good place to put it on display,” said Louis Whitendale. Businesses and individuals provided financial support, including Bill and Claudia Whitendale, Ron Humason, Ron Wyatt,Central Coast Trains, Alex’s Paint and Body Shop, St. George Spine and Paint Institute, Dr. Hany Nasr, Buckman-Mitchell Inc., Dr. Gerald M. Schneider, Mary’s Vineyard, Lone Oak Veterinary Clinic, and Expetec. The funds were used to purchase scenery, rolling stock, people, animals, buildings, etc.

            The unveiling is open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, contact the Visalia Transit Center at 713-4100.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Direct Magazine
May, 2010
Visalia Fire Volunteers Lose Their Jobs

When Visalia began in 1852, I’m sure the early residents had much discussion about fire protection. Fire, after all, was the biggest single threat a town could face. But the formation of a fire department to deal with it was slow. In 1860, the Visalia Weekly Delta reported, “We call attention to the call of the citizens and taxpayers of the town for the purpose of forming a hook and ladder company. All persons interested in the permanent prosperity of the town should attend and render whatever assistance they can toward the furtherance of this enterprise. Now is the time to act.”

The citizens didn’t act at that time, but nine years later they did, and a fire engine company was organized. It was formed by a group of civic minded citizens and was not connected to local government. They raised money for the fire engine, hose wagon and hose and all they asked for from the Visalia Board of Trustees [City Council] was a firehouse and a bell. Wiley Watson, President of the Visalia Board of Trustees, spoke for the board thanking the fire company for “their unremitting energy and activity in organizing a fire department for the protection of our town and for raising the pecuniary funds necessary for its successful establishment.” He further acted by appointing A. J. Atwell, as a committee of one, to secure a suitable building for an engine house.

The new volunteer company called Eureka seemed to be working well, although in 1871, the editor of the Visalia Times noted, “Just as we go to press we notice the members of Eureka Engine Company engaged in washing hoses that were used by them in filling the fire cisterns during the week—a very commendable job. There seems, however, to be but a limited number of them doing the work, the same we see employed in all work of this kind. This is, we think, very unfair. Every member of the company should come forward to do his part. The work should not be left to a half dozen members alone. We notice that on the occasion of a parade or ball, the ranks are generally full and a few volunteers added. This is not right. Every member should discharge his whole duty. The company wants no kid-glove and sidewalk members.” Praise, however, seemed to be much more common, especially after a valiantly fought fire.

For 66 years the Eureka Engine Company, later renamed the Visalia Volunteer Fire Department, fought fires as a voluntary organization. Membership was by application only and becoming part of it was an honor. Those lucky enough to be selected actually paid dues for the privilege, and many prominent community leaders were on the membership roster. The volunteer force held fundraisers, marched in parades and was the first line of defense for fires. During fires the men damaged their clothing and gear and suffered injuries, all for the privilege of serving their community.

From time to time over the years, the City of Visalia paid some expenses associated with the volunteer force. Some equipment was purchased and some drivers were paid for operating specialized equipment. Also after the 1923 adoption of the city charter, the Fire Chief received a salary, and the City Council provided $100.00 per month to reimburse firefighters for cleaning, repairing, and replacing clothing, hats and other gear damaged or ruined. But the fire company remained separate from city government.

But by 1935 the modern era had arrived and the Visalia City Council began considering a radical change in the way fire service was delivered to the town of 8,000. The council consulted with the State Fire Marshal Jay Stevens and Loren Bush, Engineer for the Board of Fire Underwriters. Both men appeared before council and Stevens spoke very bluntly and said, “There is no doubt as to the need for change. We have been wondering just how long you would get by. It is just luck that you haven’t had a real conflagration. Visalia is too large and has too much valuable property to depend upon volunteers. No matter how willing volunteers are, firefighting is a business and you’ve got to have trained men.”

Bush also addressed the council saying that replacing the volunteer department with paid firefighters would likely result in a fire insurance rate reduction. But Bush added that regardless of council action, much of the department’s fire equipment was obsolete and needed to be replaced.

Committed to change, the City Council moved forward with the plan to replace the volunteer department. In its place would be a system of professional firefighters who would receive a salary and would get formalize training with the Fresno Fire Department. In August, 1935 the council announced that effective September 1st the change would take effect.

In response to the council’s announcement, the volunteers issued a written statement which said in part, “We feel that the Volunteer Fire Department during its sixty-six years of existence has a very fine firefighting record and has had the good will of the citizens of this city. This department has been as efficient as any volunteer fire department in the State of California, as is shown by the good insurance rate this city enjoys. But in view of recent articles appearing in the daily press which indicate that your body believes that the present system of volunteer firemen is inefficient and that the city has outgrown such an organization, we have decided that the volunteer firemen as a firefighting unit will cease to function on September 1, 1935.”

When September 1st arrived, the transition was made with little fanfare. Chief Hubert Glenn “Bert” Williams remained as head of the department. Williams, a veteran of the volunteer force for over 30 years, most of which as chief, began training his new department immediately. “The first drill proved highly satisfactory,” the chief said.

For the last 75 years, Visalia’s fire service has been a paid professional municipal service, but its beginnings are well grounded in volunteerism.

Thursday, February 18, 2010