Milford's First Automobile

Milford's First Automobile

When a blaze was really burning in the early 1900s, the Milford Fire Department would often call on Walter Billings and his speedy horseless carriage. As the first car in town, purchased by his daddy in 1902, young Mr. Billings’ Oldsmobile was used for more than just Sunday drives. Case in point: On the afternoon of July 12, 1911, the fire department was alerted of a “fierce forest fire” burning in the plains between Ponemah and South Merrimack. Running out of the station situated in the old library annex of the town hall, they flagged down Billings, who was soon “at the throttle, with his running orders,” according to the Milford Cabinet. Fire Chief Winslow jumped in the back along with a couple more of his crew. Additional men stood on the running boards while fire fighter William Gangloff rode the “read mud guard with a grip of death,” in a scene reminiscent of a Warner Brothers cartoon.

On another day in 1912, the local newspaper praised the “prompt manner” of Mr. Billings as he sped off with the assistant fire chief and a small brigade to battle another blaze. Indeed, throughout the 1910s, the Milford Cabinet kept readers up to date on Billings’ activities. A one-day roundtrip to Boston was news enough to make it into print.

Certainly, driving on Milford roads in the early 1900s was an audacious enterprise. A reporter from the Milford Cabinet told readers of his hair-raising ride through town in a 1903 article. Concerns included wind gusts, trouble with the crank, lots of “muck and mire,” flocks of hens crossing the road and the horse-driven buggies that still dominated . The intrepid reporter told how “we reached the boulevard and came down the grade flying. That was fun but we saw in the distance a lone lady driving a horse and our anxiety grew as we approached them.” In this case, the horse did not spook but a self-propelled, obnoxiously loud machine was certainly out of place on Milford roads in the early days of the 20th Century.

Cars would soon come to the town en masse and it would  be the horse-drawn carriages that became the on-road oddities. By the 1920s, the fire department had a truck to call their own and would no longer be bumming rides off car-owners down the block.

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