But then again, not everyone is a firefighter for the City of Alpena and thus interested in how the hollow log may have been utilized around the turn-of-the-century to draw water while combating fires.
The log in question — bored through the center, sheeted in metal and coated with a creosote or tar sealant — at one time served as part of the city’s water system. Long since abandoned, during the current road construction project it was pulled from beneath a section of River Street located directly behind the Alpena Fire Safety Building.
“I’d always heard about wooden water mains, and how firemen used to dig a hole in the ground and then poke a hole in the pipe with a pick head axe,” Adrian said. “After the fire, they would place a wooden plug in the hole. That’s where the fire hydrant supposedly got its name, fire plug. They would then mark the spot for future use.”
With permission from the project contractors, the fire department took about an eight foot length of the wooden pipe as it was being removed from the ground. The department plans to display the artifact and talk about its usage whenever tours come to the fire safety facility, Adrian said.
Because of its age and condition, he’s not sure whether the pipe is oak or some other wood.
“It was a very slow growing tree though,” Adrian said. “We looked at the rings, and it had about 20 years of growth per inch.”
He also did some research online and discovered that about the time the water system would have been installed, wooden pipe sold for 65 cents a foot while the old cast iron pipe was $1.60 a foot.
Adrian is not the only one to share an enthusiasm for the wooden pipe. Janet Smoak, director of the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan, was more than pleased to accept the donation of a piece of the log from the fire department.
“I was incredibly pleased to get it,” Smoak said. “I’d heard about this particular type of piping, but I had not actually seen it, so to get a section that is as much in tact with the banding and the creosote sealant is pretty amazing.”
Smoak has put the pipe on exhibit beside another fire fighting related treasure — the 1870 Sagonahkato fire pumper that fought the great fires of Chicago as well as fires in Alpena.
She said the technology of using wooden pipes for transporting water had been around for centuries, and that it would have been a natural choice in Alpena, with so much timber available in Northeast Michigan.
According to Mike Glowinski, utility manager for Earth Tech Operation Services, which operates the city’s water and sewer systems, wooden pipes like the one pulled from behind the Fire Safety Facility probably were installed in the early 1900s to 1920s in the older parts of the city.
“They are abandoned pipes that have not been used since the elevated storage tanks were put into service,” Glowinski said. “They probably haven’t been used since the late 1950s.”
He said the pipe was pretty well preserved, but that it was never made to handle the type of high pressure used in today’s water system.
Last year, while working on a project on Fifth Street, an old wooden fire plug was discovered at the end of a water line. Like Adrian, Glowinski had also heard the stories of how such fire plugs were installed to plug up holes in the water line after a fire was put out. He said this particular one, however, was intentionally designed for usage at the end of a line.
As with the fire department, Glowinski recently donated the wooden fire plug to the museum. It too is now on display along side the wooden pipe section.
News Photo by Diane Speer
Capt. Bob Adrian, right, and firefighter/paramedic Chris Morrison of the Alpena City Fire Department examine a section of wooden pipe that once served as the city’s water system.