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1923 SUSSEX PARADE POSTCARD—The lead vehicles in this 1923 are the Sussex Fire Chief’s coupe and the new $2,500 Nash-Pirsch fire truck.

The most notable thing in this classic Sussex history photo—taken in 1923, probably at the Fourth of July parade—is the first Sussex fire truck.

1923 Parade Shows Off First Sussex Fire Truck

by Fred H. Keller, Staff Writer, Sussex Sun, November 16, 2005

    The Ashlar Masonic Lodge, which had just been completed the previous year, is also a highlight, as is the then-new concrete-paved Main Street (Highway 74) going west to North Lake and east to Menomonee Falls.

    The photographer, Roy Stier (1902-1983), used a 122-A post card camera. Roy's great-great- grandmother was Melinda Weaver (1813-1886), the first woman pioneer of Lisbon, who arrived here in 1837. Roy was also related to Fire Chief William Smith and to Otto Smith, who are both in the photo.

    Roy was a charter member of the Sussex Fire Department and a future fire chief, village trustee and village president. He was also a charter member in 1939 of the Sussex Lions Club and later its president.

    The parade had assembled in west Sussex, probably at Lisbon Town Hall (today, Sussex Family Practice). It marched east through Sussex's four corners (Maple Avenue and Main Street) to Templeton's four corners (Waukesha and Main), then across the Wisconsin Central Railroad tracks to a picnic in the woods where Quad/Graphics is today.

    The picnic in the Viergutz Woods (also known as the Orgas Woods and later the Mamerow Woods) included legal bingo, illegal beer and a 10-cents-a-couple dance on a wooden floor laid on the forest floor. The picnic earned $1,100 that day for the Fire Department.

    The department was only one year old at the time. It had been formed in 1922 after the massive Jan. 30, 1922, fire that destroyed the nine-year-old Sussex Main Street School. The initial organizational meetings were held May 3 and 9 and the bylaws written.

    There was an immediate push to buy a fire truck. Department member John Stier, who owned the Nash automobile franchise at the Sussex Garage (today Paul Cain's Service Station), sold the department a Nash truck for $1,000.

    It was driven to Pirsch in Kenosha to be outfitted with two 45-gallon steel water tanks, ladders, a siren and other equipment, including a chemically operated pumping sys tem.

    Ten pounds of baking soda and some sulfuric acid were added to one of the tanks, which would be agitated to create a chemical reaction inside the sealed tank. Pres sure would build up to 175 pounds to push the water out of the hose when its valve was opened. Then the second water tank would be charged the same way. It was like shaking a bottle of soda and then taking the cap off.

    Fully equipped, the first firetruck cost was $2,500. It was first parked at the Sussex Garage, later at the Universal Garage (Lotter's Car Care Center today) before the 1937 construction of Sussex Community Hall.

    Driving the firetruck in the photo is 15-year-old Joseph LeVern "Mickey" Clarey (1908-1994). He was not a member of the SFD, but from the get-go, even though he was only 14 years old, he ran to every fire call, and when the new fire- truck came in 1923, he was one of the very first to learn to drive and clutch the Nash truck.

    He officially joined the department in 1926 when he turned 18, and remained a member for the next 42 years, the current record for longevity on the department.

    Current Fire Chief Corky Curtis is trying to break that record. He also joined at age 18 right out of Hamilton High School in 1975. He has 12 more years to go to tie Clarey when he turns 60. He wants to go a few years longer even to create a new record that will probably never be broken.

    Born in Colgate, Mickey Clarey was a 1925 graduate of the two-year Sussex High School. He spent all 54 years of his working life at the Mammoth Spring Canning Co.

    In 1986 at the Lisbon-Sussex sesquicentennial celebration, he saw to it that his collection of fire department memorabilia and trinkets were included in the large time capsule buried at Sussex Village Park, which is scheduled to be opened 50 years later in 2036.

    Note: The Sussex Fire Department was originally called Lisbon Fire Company No. 1. The name was changed a couple of times in later years.

©Sussex Sun 2005

Gissal, Keith R. Always of Lannon. July 27, 2006, age 86 years. Beloved husband of Ramona (Seraphine) and the late June. Loving father of Terry (Laurie), Thomas and Robert (Karen) Gissal. Dear brother of Sydney (Jeanette) Gissal. Further survived by 10 grandchildren, 4 great-grandchildren, other relatives and many friends. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Sat., July 29 at 11 AM at St. James Catholic Church, W220 N6588 Town Line Rd., Menomonee Falls. Private burial Sunnyside Cemetery. Visitation Sat., 9 AM until time of the Mass. Memorials to St. James Building Fund or VFW Children's Home. Keith was a veteran of WW II, postmaster of Lannon for 26 years, a member of Lannon Volunteer Fire Department for 47 years serving as chief for 22 years. SCHMIDT & BARTELT A.A. Schmidt & Sons Funeral and Cremation Service Sussex 262-246-4774
Published in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on July 28, 2006 - See more at:

Tales are told of firefighters' early banquets

On Jan. 30, 1922, the then-9-year-old Sussex Main Street School caught fire and was totally destroyed, with only four brick walls left standing. In quick order the then-unincorporated village had a special meeting of the Sussex-Templeton Advancement Association and the end result was the formation of the Sussex Fire Department.

There was a crescendo of ideas to raise money, recruit firefighters and buy equipment. This endeavor was led by John P. Kraemer. The preliminary work was capped by a May 2, 1922, meeting at the Lisbon town hall (today the reception room of the Sussex Wheaton Franciscan health care center). This was followed a week later, on May 9th, when it was finalized and the fire company was founded.

Stag night

Each year following there was a stag night outing for the all-male membership of the company, a sort of founders birthday party for the 33-member firefighter company.

For the first 30-plus years the banquet usually consisted of Oyster soup (into the 1950s), when it was converted into an annual banquet that the wives were invited to attend. By the early 1980s women were allowed to become firefighters in the department.

Now, over the years, things have happened at these banquets, besides eating, raising a few beverages and giving out awards.

Recently I was asked to recount some of the funny points and some of the hijinks that have occurred at these annual founders parties.

Jack Clarey

There is a story about the 1940s, when there was a banquet at the Sussex Community Hall. Towards midnight a local character, Jack Clarey, who had relatives in the fire department, was a gate crasher. He came in with a buzz and the firefighters catered to his thirst, and Jack just plain got tired and fell asleep. As the firefighters left the community hall, they wondered what to do with snoring Jack. So they put him on top of a table, and left him stretched out, sleeping away.

The next morning Rudy Kerstein came to the village hall and as caretaker he was going to start cleaning up. He found Jack still asleep, and roused him to go home.

Now in the 1940s, several of the firefighters were also on the Sussex Village Board. They had a village meeting the following Thursday and made a motion, and sent a letter to Jack Clarey, charging him for a "night's lodging in the village hall."

New uniforms

Then there was the night of a 1960s banquet when all the firefighters reported to the banquet fully dressed in the newly issued formal fireman's uniforms. Well, about 11 p.m. the Sussex Fire Department was alerted that Pewaukee had a major house fire that was threatening to set fire to adjacent homes.

The Sussex firefighters donned their fire coats, hats and boots over their pressed uniforms, and away the equipment went to Pewaukee. Now the Pewaukee firemen noticed that the Sussex firemen had dress uniforms under their fire coats and boots, and asked about this.

The quick answer was, "Well, in Sussex we always wear our dress uniforms when we report for duty." Never telling them the real truth.

Missing bottle

Then there was the tale of the missing bottle of booze. For several years in the late 1960s the founders banquet always had a contingent of old former retired firefighters who were guests of the event. Then, on cleaning up the following morning, the bottles of booze that were consumed were counted, and each year somehow a bottle of bourbon was missing, and this happened a couple of years in a row.

So the following year there was a designated bar server who watched the inventory closely, even to the point of removing himself from the immediate area, but still spying.

There were a few old cronies, including former Chief George Podolske and former firefighter and longtime village President Charles Busse, who hung around the banquet for food and the awards, and then suddenly left for a card game at Busse's place with a couple of other old-timer retired firefighters, and they helped themselves to a full bottle of booze as they left.

Problem solved … but the decision was made to let the old-timers have their fun, and they were not remonstrated against.

And there are more

Then there were the stories about Philip "Chinny" Stier and Vilas Kraut that would fill two more columns if told. Year 2014 saw the annual founders day celebration held again, 92 years later, this time at the Bone Yard banquet hall, and there will probably be a 93rd next year, and so on.

Also see: Sussex Downtown 1966 "Urban Renewal" Fire


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