Rare fire wagons to roll at Rose Parade

Auburn, Pilot Hill relics, horses part of Jan. 1 parade
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Firefighting history — courtesy of an Auburn-area alliance — will be rolling along the Tournament of Roses parade route New Year’s Day.

The Native Sons of the Golden West has secured a slot in the Jan. 1 parade and will be bringing an assortment of horse-drawn wagons, courtesy of the Native Sons Auburn parlor and the Pilot Hill-based Gold Rush Fire Brigade.

A star attraction will be a circa-1890 ladder wagon drawn by three draft horses from Greenwood Ranch in El Dorado County.

The ladder wagon was rescued from disrespectful demise by the Auburn Parlor, whose members found it in Virginia City, Nev., in the 1990s in a state of neglect with only the bare metal “bones” left to work with.

By 2002, the ladder wagon was deemed fully restores and parade worthy. It’s been wowing parade-goers ever since.

The Auburn parlor’s Dave Allen, a past grand president of the state Native Sons organization, rode on the ladder wagon’s debut at the Draft Horse Classic in Grass Valley and he’ll be along for a comeback of sorts Jan. 1.

“The last time the Native Sons sponsored an entry in the Tournament of Roses parade was 1981,” Allen said. “We used to have a big float every year.”

Also on the Native Sons parade roster is a 1901 hose wagon, an 1898 chief’s buggy, a 1900 depot wagon that will carry the nine-member Gold Rush Fire Brigade Brass Band, and an 1897  San Francisco Fire Department steam pumper that fought 1906 post-earthquake blazes.

John Schwartzler, a Native Sons of the Golden West member, retired fire captain and co-owner of Greenwood Ranch, said 11 horses in all will be taking part in the parade, driven by experienced teamsters.

The horse-drawn fire equipment entry last rolled in the Tournament of Roses parade in 2009.

Schwartzler said the parade is as awe-inspiring from a participant’s point of view as it is from the side of Colorado Boulevard.

“The bleachers go up to the sky,” he said. “It’s like parading through the Roman coliseum.”

The Native Sons gained approval for the entry in September and Allen said the call for the $35,000 needed for parade participation has been partly answered by Native Sons organizations around the state. A total of $20,000 has been pledged so far with another $15,000 to go. Allen said donations may be made by forwarding a check earmarked “Rose Parade” to the Auburn Parlor, Native Sons of the Golden West, P.O. Box 9261, Auburn CA, 95604.