Over the years, the people of Clyde have proven themselves experts at putting three things together: cars, washing machines, and firefighting conventions.
They've been practicing the latter since 1963, and this weekend they'll do it all again, inviting hundreds of firefighters from across the state to parade across Clyde's downtown plaza for the 129th annual convention of the Northwestern Ohio Volunteer Firefighters Association.
“They do it in a different city every year, but there's a tradition here in Clyde,” said Bill Tea, this year's convention chairman. “We run it every 10 years, like clockwork; I don't think any other city in the state does it that often, or that regularly.”
Fire trucks with forces from about 120 area departments are expected to start rolling in at 9 a.m. today.
They'll celebrate their years of service not only with Clyde's 6,300 residents, but also with an expected 20,000 out-of-towners.
“It's a chance for firefighters to unbutton their shirts, let their hair down, and have some fun,” said Clyde Fire Chief Mike Andrews, a 36-year veteran.
Sitting next to him, Assistant Fire Chief Louie Snyder - a 29-year veteran - shook his head and smiled.
“They know Clyde. People always have a good time at this one.”
Today's good times include waterball - the ultimate firefighting challenge where opposing teams blast a ball with hundreds of pounds of water pressure into their opponent's end zone - and the Fire Queen contest and parade.
Tomorrow, the main firefighters' parade will start at 1 p.m. from the Whirlpool plant along U.S. 20. Fire trucks and units will proceed south on Main Street through downtown, ending at South Main Elementary School.
The convention's been a long time coming for those involved in preparations: painting sidewalks, sealing pavement, polishing equipment, and even refinishing the floors of the Clyde fire station.
“I don't think we've ever painted in here before this year,” said Chief Andrews, glancing at his office walls.
Clyde's 35-member force has been putting in plenty of extra hours during the last month - some of them taking up to a week's vacation time from their day jobs just to help out.
“Again, it's a matter of tradition,” said Craig David, president of the Clyde chapter of the association.
The firefighting tradition in Clyde is as old as some of its equipment, now housed in the Clyde Historical Museum on West Buckeye Street.
There, amid helmets, axes, and other firefighting equipment dating to the beginning of the 20th century, a 1920 Clydesdale fire truck - rebuilt in 1983 with custom-made parts - waits for this year's parade. Not only is it the only Clydesdale fire truck ever built, it's a point of pride with the men on the force. Their department is the only one in the state that has a truck built in its hometown.
“It's just a little hard to start,” said firefighter Bob Hintz, after several minutes of twirling the hand crank stuck to the front of the engine. Finally, he gave up and pulled out his cell phone.
“Get Gary over here,” Mr. Hintz said.
Ten minutes later, Gary Ross, 57 - a 35-year veteran of the force who plans to retire this month - arrived in his pickup. He bent down to look at the engine, tinkered with a few adjustments, and started cranking. Soon the engine began to bark and sputter.
“She's a beauty, ain't she?” Mr. Ross coughed through a cloud of exhaust.
The Clyde firefighters have 10 engines, including a 1926 Model T, and their newest model: the 1997 KME tower truck, a $750,000 machine with a ladder platform that can reach 102 feet in the air. Both will be in Saturday's parade.
Clyde's capacity for firefighting festivities has earned it renown, and, at times, notoriety.
After the particularly raucous 1973 convention, Gene Strahan, director of the Beaumont, Texas, convention and visitors bureau, urged then-Clyde Fire Chief David Moyer to “come share your fun with some understanding Texans.”
Even the local police have some trouble agreeing on which convention was the wildest.
“1973 was like Mardi Gras,” Clyde Police Sergeant Mike Roach said. “They had to clean up the streets with backhoes, there were so many bottles and cans.”
Another officer disagrees. “'73 was nothing compared to '63,” he said matter-of-factly.
But after local Reverend James Lewis of the Harvest Temple urged Clyde City CounCil to discontinue hosting the convention in 1982, things settled down a bit.
“We didn't have any kind of problems in '83 or '93,” said Sergeant Roach, “and we expect a safe celebration this year too.”
Just to make sure, Clyde's 14 police officers will put in 12-hour shifts during the celebration, and glass bottles will be prohibited from being sold.
Chairman Tea sees this stipulation as a good thing. “We're responsible for cleanup. Last time, we didn't get done hosing down the streets until 4 a.m ... and then we got a [fire] call at 5:30.”
The early morning call in 1993 came after an evening full of firefighters sounding their sirens nonstop, and some Clyde residents thought it was just another band of firefighters trying to keep the convention going into the morning.
Somebody had thrown a cigarette into a trash heap at the local McDonald's restaurant on U.S. 20 - but with 95 fire departments in attendance, the blaze was snuffed quickly.
“We had plenty of standby help,” said Mr. Tea said.
With its thousands of sight-seers, and sales of T-shirts, mugs, concessions, and raffle tickets, the convention is a boon for both the Clyde economy and fire department.
“It's good for everyone around here,” he added.
“The whole town really comes together for it, and when it's over, our department will kick back and have a soda.”