Fido’s friend

By BRIAN KELLY

Herald Writer

LAKE STEVENS – They come from far-flung places such as Oskaloosa and Albertville, these cast-iron orphans of red, gold and green.

Like some great parade of metal midgets, the fire hydrants line the lawn of Patrick Macey.

But now, it’s time to make some Dalmatian’s dream come true. Macey is selling off his collection of old fire plugs.

"It’s a fire sale," he joked.

Macey, a former GTE repairman six years into retirement, started snagging the hydrants from a scrap metal yard about nine years ago. They were in bits and pieces when he found them, and Macey mustered enough parts to put more than a dozen back together.

His penchant for plugs didn’t surprise those who know Macey.

"I’m known to be weird and outspoken and open-minded in many things," said Macey, who was a volunteer firefighter almost 20 years ago.

"I’ve always wanted one," he explained. "It could be because of the tradition, the spiritual energy that these things are life-savers. Why did I want a grandfather clock? It’s something that’s part of history and can live on and on."

Macey didn’t stop at just one. He eventually gathered 18.

The former Marine and Army veteran has been selling the hydrants for about a week and has sold six or so.

"One guy is going to tie his dog up to it," he said.

Others plan to use them as garden art.

Now Macey’s down to just 10 hydrants; six red ones, two blue ones and two gold-and-green. Weighing in at about 250 pounds each, most are more than 40 years old, though some sport a design patented on Feb. 14, 1928.

Prices for Macey’s hydrants range from $50 to $75.

Rich Larson, a public works equipment buyer for the city of Everett, said new hydrants cost up to $800, depending on the length of the pipe that connects the hydrant to a water main.

Hydrants usually last 30 years or so, he said, and Everett does what many other cities do when a hydrant has had its last hurrah: It sells them for scrap.

The meltdown is an ironic end for the firefighter’s friend. Some fire plug preservationists, though, are hoping to save historic hydrants.

"We’ve got guys that have 85 hydrants in their collection. I have 17 in my house," said Thomas Ingalsbe of Marietta, Ga., one of the country’s experts on hydrants.

Hydrants were first made from wood, but by the 1840s, they were made of cast iron. Ingalsbe’s collection has a number of hydrants from the 1800s.

"Some of them are really priceless," he said.

About 40 people across the country collect fire plugs, he said. Some of them will gather at the first Hydrant Enthusiast/Collector Convention later this month in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Most of Macey’s hydrants were made by Mueller Co. in Albertville, Ala., and Iowa Valve Co. in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Others hail from Utah and California.

Even though Macey is parting with his plugs, he’s setting aside one as his "keeper."

He plans to put it on his pasture at Mount Annie, near Oroville about 25 miles south of the Canada-U.S. border, and laughs at the reaction he expects to get.

"I’d like to take it into our property in Eastern Washington and kind of shake up the ranchers up there.

"When they see a fire hydrant up there, (they’ll say) ‘What? Where did they get all that water?’"

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