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By Frederick J. Bowlen, Battalion Chief San Francisco Fire Department 1938

Chapter IX
Retirement of Firehorses

It was largely due to the constant intercession of Dr. William F. Egan, and Matthew McCurrie, of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, that the horses won retirement and pensions, instead of drudgery and death, when they became unfit for the heave duty of the Fire Department.

To stand knee deep in luscious growing grass, to rest and relax, whinny and cavort, and kick up their heels if not too old - unrestrained in the ecstasies of second "colthood," to range at will in fragrant clover pastures, soft yielding turf under hoof instead of the hard pavements of the city streets - such was the happy destiny of Brownie, Mollie and Kitty Doherty, three faithful employees of the Fire Department who had been retired on a special pension after many years of devoted service.

Litt was ever said of their six companions, who were condemned at the same time and for whom there was no kindly hand to prevent or postpone execution of the judgment pronounced upon them.  Perhaps, they were trying to accustom themselves to work that was new and strange and muscle taxing, under masters who were not likely to give them the consideration and kind treatment to which they were accustomed.

There were many favorite teams in the days when horses were thought of and know to all the firemen and a good portion of the public by names.  Each firehouse or company had its crack span with loyal adherents ready to hazard any risk that theirs was the finest in the entire Department.

The relative merits of the horses furnished the topic of many a heated discussion and rarely did a horse perform a smart trick or exhibit any unusual cleverness that it was not soon common knowledge.  Naturally, there was also considerable rivalry between teams.

There were other teams which won special distinction and these deserve mention in the chronicles of the Department.  Among these were the Three Grays which comprised the first three-horse hitch team, and were driven with a pole between the two right-hand horses. There was another team of three handsome horses (also grays) known as the Tammany Trio.  Many horses were named after the prominent politicians of the time.

As the downtown horses lost their speed, or began to show the effects of constant duty on the hard pavements, or rugged hill sides, they were sent to easier districts in the more level parts of the city, or to outside stations where the alarms were less frequent.

When decrepitude and stiffness made too far inroads, they were simply turned out of their jobs to sink to no one knows what depths of degradation, as the usual procedure was to sell them at public auction.

It was double hardship to impose upon horses which had been used to good feeding, warm housing, excellent care, and the type of labor required of the firehorses, to subject them to the hard lot which was the portion of the ordinary old horse used variously and too often indiscriminately, with little or no grooming, poor feed and a routine of continuous and unfamiliar work.

The small amount derived from such sales was of little importance to a great city like San Francisco, when weighed against the misery and suffering, hardship and neglect which might even be the lot of these old horses before their existence came to an end.

The majority of the people did not view with equanimity thus turning adrift the faithful animals after their best years and strength had been so splendidly given for the city's service.  Perhaps, lives had been saved by the speed, efficiency and intelligence with which some of the old veterans had done their work, and to go into an unworthy service and probably die miserably after a sad climax for which they were not responsible was not what they deserved.

Occasionally in the past, the Department had in some fifty-two special cases, recognized the faithful service of its equine servants and had provided them with subsistence and proper care.  Due to popular feeling old horses, fine, faithful creatures who had grown old in the service or either the Fire Department or the Police Department, that formerly were either destroyed or sold for a pittance, were finally provided for and they were placed in pasturage.

This method of caring for the discarded animals had come about when a press notice to the effect that Lottie-G, a gray mare, had been condemned after injuring herself in a fall through a trap door, and was to be sold.  The public generously came forward and joined in the responsibility of helping to provide for the old horses.  In this way, the Animal's Home Farm Fund was established.

In accordance with the growth of the Fund, some of the other horses were placed on pasture and cared for, while others, also on pension, were placed on pasturage near Martinez, California.


Old Jerry had served nearly twenty years in the San Francisco Fire Department.  He was thirty-six years old when he died November 16, 1925.  The last years of his life he had spent in comparative ease on The Farm for the Pensioned horses.

For years Jerry had worked in Engine No. 14, and later in Battery No. 2, where he ran to all the fires in the busy downtown district.  There were tears in the eyes of the hardened fire fighters as they bid adieu to Jerry when he left the fire business.  Why, he didn't look half his age and Jerry nibbled the sugar tidbits his old friends had brought him.  He shook his gray mane, snorted and pranced, as though he knew it was his act and he had the stage.  Time was when Jerry romped away with the clang of the fire bell and during all his years of service he was never known to have a bad trait.  He was brought out of pasture when about five years old.  They threw a fire harness over his broad back and taught him to know the clang of the gong and that was all there was to it.  Jerry was a firehorse from that moment on.

Some whimsical tales are told of Jerry's caretaker who started to feed him, but Jerry was feeling so spry that he dashed out of his stall and landed in the firemen's sitting room before he could be caught and persuaded to return to his own part of the quarters.

Teddy Roosevelt

When twenty-seven years old, Teddy Roosevelt was condemned as no longer capable of serving the Fire Department and sent to pasture.  This was in March, 1916.  He was sent to the Animals' Home Farm in February, 1919.  His term of service for the citizens of San Francisco was for a period of seventeen years, during which time he never had a shoe off (except to be reshod) or lost a single day.  This was truly a very remarkable achievement.

He was considered one of the most useful animals in the Department as he could turn hoof to any kind of work and there was not a single Department in the service in which he had not had experience.


Dan was bought at Bakersfield, California, at the Hagin & Tevis Ranch and brought to San Francisco when he was six years old.  Dan, like Teddy Roosevelt, had been driven by many of the Department Chiefs and was a great favorite with them.

Few horses were more intelligent than Dan.  He was one of the horses that never failed to be able to tell instantly when he was going to a fire.  Even in later years it would never do to leave him standing alone when an alarm sounded.

After the automobile apparatus came into use, Dan was used in the hydrant carts.  One morning his driver left.  Dan was standing at the curb.  A fire engine roared past—it was just more than he could stand.  He immediately dashed after the speeding automobile (also on the way to the fire.)  He could not be lost and would always be able to find his way back to his stable, no matter to what part of the City he might be taken.

Dan was sent to the Animal's Home Farm in April, 1921 and died there seven months later, at the age of twenty-five years.


Rosie was twenty-four years old when she was found guilty of "old age" and condemned.  She was sent to the Animal's Home Farm in April, 1921 and at that time she was a venerable old lady of thirty years.

Rosie had worked steadily for the City for a period of eighteen years with only a few days off duty on account of sickness.

A whip never was needed when Rosie started out after a fire as soon as the blaze loomed into view, somehow or other she always seemed to find some extra speed somewhere for she would always increase her pace no matter what speed she had been making.

Rosie died February, 1925 at the age of thirty-four years.


Frank was a sorrel gelding, #788 and was in use with the Fire Department for about twenty years.  He was twenty-five years old when Pensioned April 3, 1921, and sent to pasture.  He died September 1925 at the age of twenty-nine years.


Charlie was also a sorrel gelding.  He had been purchased by the Fire Department in 1900 and never lost a day during his service.

He was driven by various chiefs, which usually meant that a horse popular with the chiefs was just a degree or so better than the others.  He had participated in numerous parades and was exhibited at various horse shows and took the ribbon at the horse show of the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1914-15.  He was sent to pasture in 1922 and died January 5, 1932 at the age of thirty-two years.


Brownie was a brown gelding and held the record of being the oldest horse in the Fire Department.  He worked for many years with Frank at Engine Company No. 34.  He was another ribbon winner at the Panama Pacific International Exposition horse show in 1914-15.  He joined his partner Frank in pasture on February 22, 1921 and died six months later.


Lottie-G was a beautiful gray mare.  She was always in her greatest glory when racing to a fire and always took the keenest delight in endeavoring to show her heels to everything on the road.  Few men were able to hold her once the fire alarm had sounded.

One cold night, Lottie-G became restless and began to wander about the engine house in the dark.  It chanced that the trap door to the cellar was open and Lottie-G tumbled into it.  When the men found her, she was wedged tight and they had to take up part of the floor to extricate her.

She was sent to the Animal's Home Farm in February, 1919 and died November, 1921.

Charlie No. 2

Charlie No. 2 was a horse of thirty years when brought in from the Animal's Home Farm one day.  He had not had a harness on him for eleven years.  He had formerly pulled a Chiefs buggy and had distinguished himself by having the faculty of being able to get under the harness faster than any horse that ever stood on four feet.  He never made a mistake—never a false move.  By the time the Chief was in the buggy Charlie was ready to go and when he went he went in high speed.

So behold!  The illustrious Charlie, grown old, brought in from the country to witness again the frills and frivolities of the City, was barefoot and his mane, tail and fetlocks had grown long and shaggy.  But his old pals went to work (as in old times) and cleaned him up with old-time affection.

Then the Chiefs old red buggy was brought out and the shafts were lifted in the air with the harness hanging in place, and the horse was left standing loose some fifty feet away.  It was proposed that the gong be sounded on a signal from one of the men to see what the old horse would do.  Like a flash of lightening, Charlie leaped for the shafts and a fireman snapped the harness into place.  His old Chief had been invited to participate in the drill.  He watched the entire performance and had intended springing into the buggy in the event the horse had not forgotten his cue.

It was not the horse who had forgotten, nor his Chief either, but there just didn't seem to be any spring left in the Chief.  He awkwardly tumbled forward and threw his arms around the old horse's neck and stood clinging to him with tears in his eyes.  While Charlie (firehorse to the last) turned his head in affectionate surprise and must have been saying in good horse language; "For Heaven's sake, Chief, why don't you pile in?  The whole thing will burn up before we get there.  Don't you hear what I say?  Tumble into that wagon and let's go."  But the Chief didn't hear.  He was thinking of how this grand old partner had carried him to thousands of fires, swiftly and fearlessly in the game of life and death, and whose rating was never less than excellent.

Man may forget, but apparently a horse does not.  It was shortly after this demonstration that Charlie No. 2 received a gift of a warm horse blanket from Mayor James Rolph, Jr., who was a great admirer of fine as well as a lover of gameness and sportsmanship wherever displayed.

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