THROWBACK THURSDAY: Cowan’s passing jogs memories of fire station’s beginnings
By JAMES WEAR
A few days ago I learned that Clyde Cowan had passed away after a long battle with cancer. I can’t recall exactly when I met Clyde, but over the years Clyde — a painter and drywall finisher by trade — helped me out a number of times on various jobs.
Clyde, husband of Alice Cowan, the former owner of Hobo Depot (known today as Hill Country Cafe), was never one to attend civic meetings. He was more of the 8-to-5 kind of guy, and he never denied enjoying a cold beer or two after he got off work. But if he saw somebody needing a hand, he’d be quick to respond, and that’s exactly what he did back in the spring of 1998.
The Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department was racing to complete construction on its new station on Loop 332. The drywall was up, but we needed a guy to tape and float. I attempted to finish the mud work in one small office. It took me an entire day, and that wasn’t going to cut it. With only a few weeks until the annual barbecue and the move in deadline, we needed a professional.
Clyde offered to help, and within a few days, the station was ready for paint. The rest of us marveled at his expertise as he defly spread the drywall compound with his 12-inch knife. He made a difficult task look easy.
Alice also chipped in. Each Saturday, when a large group of volunteers would work on the station, she fed us lunch at her cafe, on her dime.
Of course, Clyde wasn’t the only local citizen to contribute his talents. The eventual completion of the 7,200-square-foot structure remains a testament to what a small community can accomplish when folks set aside personal differences and work toward a common goal. The building at the time was far bigger than the 1,500-square-foot building the department had occupied for a number of years in downtown Liberty Hill.
The land that the station was built upon was a two-acre spot donated to the department by the Liberty Hill Development Foundation. It was a huge gift, as the department had been looking for property for several years to build a station that could better serve the community. The department had simply outgrown its old station, which is now a strip center of businesses at the intersection of Myrtle and Loop 332. Only inches of space separated the back ends of fire trucks and the back wall, and there wasn’t any storage space to speak of. One truck was actually parked outside beneath a shed roof.
But early in 1997, a new board of directors for the fire department determined that the time had come to build, and put the old station up for sale. If the new station were to be built, the old station would have to sell. The board determined a new metal building could be built for $150,000 and while the new building would not have any bells or whistles, it would be a start. We agreed additional improvements could be made at a later date.
Paul Revelle, a local contractor, offered to buy the old station, and agreed to allow the fire department to use the building for a year while the new station was built. Right away the community rallied.
Ronnie Dean prepared the pad for the new station and shaved thousands of dollars off his usual price. Connie and La Veta Tolivar, owners of Lamar Steel, provided $1,000 worth of rebar for the slab. Snow Montemayor, a local concrete contractor, poured the slab at no cost and negotiated down the price the department had to pay for concrete.
Leading up to the slab being poured, department members and others set forms and tied steel. The late J.B. Williams came to the job site after the pad was prepared and helped establish batter boards for the forms. Christianson Plumbing provided the materials and labor to install the rough-in plumbing.
With the concrete poured and the shell of the building up a few days later, volunteers helped frame interior walls. Roy Floyd, who along with James Pogue designed the building, worked tirelessly in making sure the walls were straight and true. Robin Bledsoe, the late owner of Cashway Building Materials in Leander, made sure the volunteers had materials when they needed them and cut the department a discount on materials purchased.
With the interior walls framed, the department turned to the late Dick Vaughn, an expert electrician. Vaughn, along with Charlie Carlisle, pulled hundreds of feet of wire and made sure the building was wired above and beyond code. He never charged the department a penny.
Tracy Wiggers ran the gas lines, and his wife painted. George Sybert, the fire chief at the time, did whatever he was asked. Glen Gavin down at the hardware store, waved us away anytime we ran down to the store to pick up any miscellaneous items needed, declining to charge us.
The late Francis Hanna, one of the department’s board members at the time, proved to be my right hand man throughout construction. Whatever task lay before us, he was the first to grab his tool bag and the last to leave at the end of the day. Francis kept working hard for the department even after the station was completed as he undertook the task of cutting through all the red tape to help establish an emergency services district, a taxing entity that would ensure the department would have a financial base to continue operating.
Over the years, many changes have been made to the station. A few years ago, a large addition was built to house an EMS unit and before that, an interior remodel was undertaken as the needs of the department had changed.
But none of these changes have impacted me like the initial build. I recall one day when I was picking up my tools and about to head to the house when I looked up and there stood Bill Burden. Burden, who has since passed away, asked me to give him a tour of the facility and he marveled at the work that had been done. Burden, the former school superintendent and a member of the “Codger Construction Crew” that had built the ballfields at Lions Foundation Park, was not one easily impressed.
“You all did it,” he said, giving an approving smile as he looked about. “What a great building.”
A great building, indeed, perhaps greater due to the love and friendship that made it possible.
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