Randy Watts and Melvin Monismith have a real writing problem.
They have way too much material for the book they are preparing for the 225th anniversary of Carlisle's Union Fire Company. They figure they already have enough for more than 500 pages.
But they want more for "The Union Legacy: A History of Carlisle's Union Fire Company, 1789 to 1914."
"There might be some people out there who have something we can use for the book - artifacts, stories, whatever," Watts says. "Maybe they have stuff in their attics or basements. Maybe they have some recollections we can use."
For example, he says a local resident recently brought in Union-related anecdotes about fires in the 1890s. The material had been typed onto loose pages that were stored in the home of a former firefighter who died in the 1970s.
That's the kind of intriguing find that motivates Watts and Monismith to continue researching despite the wealth of material they already uncovered.
"It's really become an obsession," Watts says.
Monismith, who serves as the fire company's treasurer, says he's been haunting Cumberland County Historical Society's files for up to eight hours a week since fall 2009. He's focusing on the early years of the fire company, which was launched in 1789 by Carlisle's upper crust - the town's lawyers, pastors, merchants, Dickinson College officials, county row officers, doctors, judges and so forth.
Union "has been around for so long, there's almost too much history," Monismith says.
For instance, the founders included men elected to statewide office and men who served on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Two of the founding members, James Lamberton and John Duncan, had opposing political views and became so incensed over the elections of 1793 they fought a duel - and Duncan died from his gunshot wound.
The Civil War proved even more lethal for Union members, as seven of them died while serving in Abe Lincoln's army. One cannonball killed two of them in September 1862's Battle of Antietam in Maryland, says Watts, who has been spending up to 30 hours a week on research for the book.
"There are so many interesting stories," he says.
One of them involves Union's first motorized fire engine in 1913. In fact, the American La France vehicle was the first motorized firefighting vehicle in the Cumberland Valley, Watts says.
And the engine's first fire was not in Carlisle - it was in Newville.
The Aug. 22, 1913, edition of The Sentinel says five Union firefighters along with "Chauffeur Ruggles of the La France auto engine manufactury of New York" covered the 11 miles to Newville in about 29 minutes despite "tire trouble" that forced a 10-minute delay near West Hill in West Pennsboro Township.
Watts says Ruggles did the driving, since the vehicle had not yet been officially activated.
And no wonder. The Sentinel article, which says the vehicle was in Carlisle for "testing," adds "two tires of the temporary wheels came off and, until they were replaced, considerable delay was caused" in West Pennsboro.
Regardless, Newville officials credited the new fire engine with helping save the town and fed the visitors as a gesture of thanks, Watts says.
He explains the blaze damaged 8-10 structures and was threatening to turn the entire downtown into cinders.
He and Monismith plan to publish the book in June 2013 in advance of the fire company's 225th anniversary on April 6, 2014, They anticipate the initial press run will be 500 to 1,000 copies. They expect a brisk demand even if the price ends up being $65, since the company's long history reflects America's history as well as the history of America's volunteer firefighting efforts.
The book "will have a national audience," he says.