Fire Department History

History of Firefighting in Linn Township

John Kronwall April 1, 2000

In the old days:

Most of rural Linn Township was served by the Farmers New Era Telephone Company out of Hebron, Illinois. If someone had a fire, he would usually call the telephone operator, who was located in Hebron. She would call all the neighbors on that road and others in the near vicinity. The neighbors would respond with milk cans full of water, brooms, wet burlap bags and other things to use to fight the fire, depending on its nature.

Most rural residences had an outdoor hand pump on top of the well, and some of the helpers would supply the manpower to keep the pump operating for the duration.

There were probably many large fires on the lakeshore. Most of the first mansions were very large, made of wood with many fireplaces, stoves and chimneys, mostly wood burning.

In the late 1930's the lake people started asking for some police and fire protection. They found out that they could get a discount on their fire insurance if a fire department could answer their calls for help. After some discussion, the Town of Linn decided to take some action.

Lake Geneva City had no trucks for fighting country fires. They only carried one hundred gallons of water, just enough to prime the pump after connecting to a hydrant. Therefore, the Town of Linn decided to buy a fire truck and contract the Lake Geneva Fire Department to respond to fires in Linn and other rural areas.

The first truck was a 1939 International, offered complete by IHC, and purchased through O.L. Bakkom Implements, which as then the IHC dealer in Zenda.

The Lake Geneva Fire Department answered fire calls in Linn and surrounding areas for some time. One of the problems was that they often did not know the exact location of the fire site, alas; there never was enough water.

At this time the Town of Linn had a large number of young men who were just bursting with energy and thought they could do a better job if we had a fire truck in Zenda. For about two years there were discussions around the township about the desirability of having a local fire department.

Meanwhile, O.L. Bakkom, the local IHC dealer, had sold his business to a partnership of Wahlstedt and Schulz. The partners could not get along, so they sold the business to Russell Gethen in the fall of 1947.

And then guess what happened???? In late March of 1948 Mr. and Mrs. Gethen's building caught on fire. A pail of gasoline for washing parts was left in the building and was ignited by a spark. The building and its contents burned to the ground. Murphy's law was in effect that day. What could go wrong did go wrong.

Walworth Fire Department arrived with their pump frozen up, Hebron had some trouble with their truck, and of course there was very little water available.
Then the discussion of a Fire Department in Zenda really did heat up. Mr Gethen always thought that if we had a department in Zenda his building could have been saved, and perhaps it could have been.

At the Annual Town Meeting in April 1949 Mr. George Brennan made a motion that the Town of Linn buy a fire truck to be placed in Zenda. The motion was seconded and passed. However, the motion was slightly flawed. Nowhere was there any mention of money to be used to pay for the fire truck. After some thought by the town board, they decided that they should comply with the motion and buy a truck. There was some surplus money in the highway fund. This was shortly after World War II and they hadn't been able to do any road repairs for some time. Thus, some money from the highway fund was used to pay for the fire truck.

The town board was suspicious that the men who now wanted to be firemen might not be as interested after they had been in a few fires, so they did not want to spend too much money.

Mr. Gethen, still the IHC dealer, thought that he could have a combination pumper and tanker built by Botts Welding in Woodstock, Illinois, that would do the job we wanted to do. The Town of Linn contracted with Gethen Implement Company to buy the chassis and have a pump and tank put on the rear.

After the town board decided to buy the truck, they put out a call for all who wanted to be firemen to come to a meeting to organize the department. About 20 men responded to the meeting in the wooden highway department building on or about July 10, 1949.

The first officers elected were:

  • Elmer Conklin -- Chief
  • Clarence Smith -- Asst. Chief
  • Clifford Snudden -- Secretary
  • Tom Gavin -- Treasurer

After word got around that a fire department had been organized, many more residents of Linn became members. At one time, we had 35 members and a waiting list.
It took until about the end of March 1950 before our new truck was delivered. After a few practice sessions we were ready for our first fire run, which was a grass fire at the northeast corner of Swamp Angel and State Line Roads. The department handled it very easily.

Before the new truck was delivered, Elmer Conklin closed his garage business and bought a resort at Stone Lake, Wisconsin. He and his family moved there. Clarence Smith was advanced to Fire Chief.

The Linn Fire Department was organized, and we had a new truck, but we were very dissatisfied with it. It was an 89-horsepower engine in a 2-½ ton truck. It had a 500-gallon per minute pump mounted behind the cab. The pump was driven by 5 V-belts off the drive shaft of the truck. (Davy Split Drive Shaft to drive 3 air compressors, etc.) The truck was 158" wheelbase. There was supposed to be a 1000-gallon water tank (tanker) on the truck. When they loaded the tank with water it almost raised the front wheels off the ground, so Botts Welding cut 16 inches off the rear of the tank and made that space into a cupboard.

The Linn Fire Department struggled with this truck for 16 years, when through the great efforts of Chief Everett Nichols and Assistant Chief Richard Morgan we were able to get a new 1966 Ford-Darley 500 gallon per minute pumper. It was one of the handiest and finest fire trucks I have ever seen.

Time goes on - this is as it was in the beginning days of the department.

John Kronwall April 1, 2000


Linn-Zenda's First Truck
Put in service February 1950
Standing L to R: Mrs. Alice Wilcox, Mrs Frank, Virginia Wilcox, David and Jerry Wilcox, Betty and John Kronwall, Karen Kronwall.
Picture taken at the Zenda Fair October 1957