ES Independent Column – Fire Trucks

The first time I heard of the Premier Fire Apparatus Company of Eureka Springs, Arkansas is when Duane O’Connor mentioned that Tommy Walker had seen one of the company’s fire trucks in a museum in Sheridan, Arkansas. The reason that we were even on the topic was because I’d seen an obituary for Minnie Barbee that listed Duane O’Connor as a pallbearer. He told me that Minnie’s husband had owned the fire truck assembly plant that was located on White Street at the top of Owen.

Having learned the name “Barbee,” I did what I do: I searched for the name on the internet and looked it up in my paltry collection of reference books. It turns out that Minnie Barbee’s late husband was Roscoe Barbee and he was a big deal, both in Eureka Springs and in the region. He not only owned the Premier Fire Apparatus Company, but he was also in a partnership with Sam Leath for a number of years. (They owned Camp Leath, now the location of Inn of the Ozarks.) On a wider scale, Roscoe Barbee came from a family that was widely known in Missouri politics. Online, I found a copy of Roscoe Barbee’s 1942 Draft Card. From this, I learned that his middle name was Cleveland and that the odds of his being drafted for World War II were slim: he was 57 and had only one leg.

I then talked further with Duane O’Connor about Mr. Barbee and his fire truck company. He remembered hearing that the trucks were delivered to Eureka Springs without a body or cab before being outfitted into a fire truck. He recalled a story about one such truck being driven to town in the middle of winter and that the driver was covered with icicles when he arrived.

Tommy Walker kindly emailed me a photograph of the sign at the Grant County Museum that described the fire truck that he’d seen on display. It was a 1939 Chevrolet (with a six-cylinder engine) modified by the aforementioned Premier Fire Apparatus Company. The truck was purchased by the city of Sheridan in 1940 and was the first motorized fire truck in Grant County, Arkansas.