Restored pieces of Natchez fire department history now on display

Published 12:04 am Sunday, May 15, 2016

Stories of Natchez’s history can be found in many places throughout the city.

A few pieces of the history of firefighting in Natchez were recently restored and are now on display.

But it was no simple restoration project to repair the city’s Rumsey hose reel wagon and Nott fire steamer, both dating back to the 1800s.

Email newsletter signup

The Rumsey wagon, dated to before 1880, is one of 10 in existence, blacksmith Jay Ginn of Oloh says.

“During the scrap drives of World War I and World War II, a lot of this stud was sold for scrap,” he said. “I’m really surprised the brass on it didn’t get sold.”

Ginn completed the restoration work with his wife Michelle, who specializes in painting.

The work included completely rebuilding the wheels on both apparatuses as well as stripping the Rumsey down to the brass.

The steamer is the largest model made, weighing 6 tons. It was originally nickel-plated, and Ginn explored the option of re-nickeling it.

“The cost was going to be astronomical,” he said. “Instead, we went with metal flake paint.”

Ginn logged at least 1,600 hours on the project and worked and communicated with craftsmen across the country for the various parts needed, many of which are only made by hand by Amish craftsmen.

“You can’t just run to the parts house and get something,” Ginn said. “If something is missing, it’s got to be manufactured.”

Ginn is the only English, or non-Amish, blacksmith — at least south of Tennessee and east of the Mississippi — who could be found to do the work.

He’s restored fire apparatuses in Vicksburg, Dallas, Texas and other cities. Ginn restored an antique farm wagon now on display at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson.

Word spread about Ginn’s work, and that’s how Mayor Butch Brown found Ginn and convinced him to take on the project.

“He really suckered me into it,” Ginn said, jokingly.

The entire restoration was completed for approximately $10,000, Brown said.

Well, almost.

“We went into the hole on this one, but that’s OK because it was for a good cause,” Ginn said. “I think we ended up covering all the materials.”

The project was important to Ginn, he said, because of his family’s history in the region. He also remembers seeing the Rumsey wagon and steamer when he would visit Natchez with friends while in college at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Ginn went on to get a double master’s degree in counseling and psychology as well as his doctorate in educational leadership. He was a teacher and worked in law enforcement before retiring.

Now, he focuses on his blacksmith work. The restoration projects, Ginn said, are important not just because they tell a story with their history.

“But when this stuff is gone, it’s gone,” he said.

Brown said as part of the city’s tricentennial, he wanted to see the fire equipment restored, a piece of unfinished business from his first administration.

The equipment was used by private fire protection companies from which public fire departments evolved, Brown said.

“People would subscribe to the services of the companies much like the do their daily newspaper,” he said.

With the equipment now on display at the Natchez Community Center and Natchez Convention Center, Brown says Natchezians can get a glimpse at a rare pieces of their history.

“We should have done it much sooner,” he said. “They’re really a very valuable part of our history.”