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Behind the water: The fire hydrant

A Von Roll fire hydrant of Switzerland.
A Von Roll fire hydrant of Switzerland.

Did you ever stop to consider the lowly fire hydrant as something more than a target for local dogs? Let's face it:  You hope it's never really needed, but it's nice to know that it's still there for us.  Still and all, are they all the same?

Hardly.  There's more hydrant manufacturers in the world than you could shake a four-inch hose at.  For some, the creation of a hydrant was an artistic endeavour---a labour of love, really.  For others, it was a project to work on while you served your sentence at the Lorton Prison.  Europeans usually have their nozzles pointing downward, so as to more easily accommodate the hoses that need to be attached, while the Japanese host a company that prides itself on a design for the mountainous areas that's tall enough for even the deepest snows (no need for a flag!)

But what about here in America? We still manage to display something for about every taste, no matter where you go.  And some of the stories of the manufacturers could have you pursuing a whole new hobby!

Take James Jones Company, for instance.  They themselves didn't even know---when I contacted them a few years back---that their firm used to make casket handles and mausoleum doors! "Bob" asked me where in the world did I find this factoid.  After I told him, I noticed their website changed to reflect this revelation.  Note;  They make what are called "wet barrel" hydrants, because warm climates can handle water that's above the level of the pavement; since it never freezes, there's no danger of bursting.

In Chicago, on the other hand, a former water superintendent (later mayor) designed a model that was low-pressure for park usage.  It was more of a water fountain, really, with the overflow running into a trough that was just the right level for service animals such as horses and dogs.  As with other units built for occasional cold weather, it was what we refer to as a "dry barrel":  the water stays underground, further away from the icy crust that forms on the surface.  Thus, if you open the cap on a dry barrel, it won't emit any water unless and until the operating nut is opened.  Don't get any ideas, kiddies---this is made to be a tough as possible for you to do.  Your friendly fireman has the right tools for the job, so getting Dad's toolbox out won't help you a bit!

If only those hydrants could talk, what stories they tell....