Dawg talk leads to a little fire whistle history
Noelia, not a dog lover, voiced her dilemma in e-mails to all the Cooke clan. She got lots of advice on the subject, including my notions that kids, and particularly boys, should not grow up without the companionship of a good dawg.
Our No. 1 son (and Augie’s uncle) Kyle responded from Houston with some neat recollections:
“All this dog talk brought back some memories. My friend Gregg Nystrom used to live next door to Sparky (the Charles and Johnnie Faye Thomason family). Gregg had a black dog named Ebony, and Sparky’s family had a yellow dog named Puppy.
“Ebony and Puppy went everywhere with Gregg and me when we were growing up. They always followed us around. We used to go exploring in the ‘dead-end woods.’ (So named because the main entrance was the north dead-end of Calhoun Drive. Those woods are now private property but they were once the exploration domain of every kid who grew up in west Rockdale.)
And then we get to the nittygritty: the town’s 6 o’clock whistle. Kyle continued:
“There used to be a fire alarm that went off every day at 6 p.m. and every kid in Rockdale knew that it was time to come home for dinner when that alarm went off. Do they still have that thing? I think it was near the high school but you could hear it no matter where you were.”
At this point I jumped into all the e-mail exchanges, anxious to impart a little history of the town’s 6 p.m. whistle. When the Outlaw In-law, daughter-in-law Christine, a “big-city girl” who grew up in El Paso, read my offering she said I should put it into a column because lots of people in Rockdale might find it interesting.
Okay. Rockdale’s City Hall (now the police station) was built in 1895, a huge red brick structure with a bell tower. The bell was the town’s first and only fire alarm. Two ropes were suspended from the tower down to the center entrance, the fire alarm was sounded loudly by the first person who got to the
ropes. That put Rockdale’s volunteer fire department, established in the mid to late- 1880s, on the run with handd rawn hose carts.
Somewhere along the way Rockdale modernized from the bell to a very loud whistle atop City Hall that could be heard all over town.
Now, to make sure that whistle was working, it was tested every day at noon. The noontime whistle signaled lunch time for decades.
The Alcoa and Industrial Generating Company complex was built in the early 1950s, quickly doubling the town’s population with residential additions sprouting up to the west. Those areas, including a new high school, were beyond the City Hall whistle’s reach, so a second whistle was installed atop a utility pole on Murray Avenue near its intersection with Hogan Street.
Alcoa and IGC also brought a major change: shift workers operating the smelter, lignite mines and power plant. That high-noon whistle was a terrible nuisance to Rockdale’s considerable number of day sleepers.
So the whistle test was moved to 6 p.m.
And that’s the whistle that used to get Kyle’s generation of kids home in time for supper, or “dinner” as the Alcoa-transplanted Yankees called it. Us poor hillbilly natives, of course, knew the three meals of the day were breakfast, dinner and supper.