New Boston Historical Society
New Boston, New Hampshire

muster-1963
New Boston's team winning the New England League Muster in 1963
The Constitution No. 2 hand tub threw water 194 feet


The Firemen's Muster

A Firemen's Muster is a competition among teams of firefighters from several towns, an opportunity to demonstrate strength and skill as each team tries to "throw water" the farthest distance. There have been Firemen's Musters in New Hampshire since the late 1800s.

New Boston firefighters once competed with the Constitution No. 2 hand tub, a hand-pumped fire engine that was used to fight actual fires until 1924. Constitution No. 2, now retired, can be seen in the Historical Society museum. The 1851 handtub built by Hunneman & Company is described in detail on our Fire page.

July 4th 2009
Bob LaPointe and Constitution No. 2 — July 4, 2009

For many years Bob LaPointe maintained the handtub and pulled it to the Fairgrounds behind a team of horses every 4th of July so that visitors could try their hand at pumping. Bob died in 2021, and I am grateful for his work on Constitution No. 2 and for sharing with us this piece of New Boston history.

I hope to give you an idea of what it was like to pump a fire engine using muscle power only. Whether competing at a muster or fighting a fire, to work at maximum capacity a handtub requires thirty to fifty strong men, with more ready to take their place. The dozen volunteers Bob would recruit at the Fairgrounds could produce only a fraction of the pressure needed to "throw water" any real distance, but I will tell you from personal experience that it was exhausting work!


A demonstration of Constitution No. 2 in the ballfield behind Town Hall c.1960 (silent movie)

In the video above, the New Boston crew demonstrates to a 4th of July audience how they compete in a muster. The "pipe team" holds the nozzle while the younger "pumpmen" energetically pump the "brakes" up and down. We believe that the foreman who stands atop the fire engine is Harlan Brown. The video was made from one of Lois Hersey's home movies.

19th-century Musters
We know that New Boston firemen competed in musters in the 1890s, at a time when Constitution No. 2 was our town's only fire engine. In 1896, J. R. Whipple invited the fire company to a muster in Boston, Massachusetts. (You can read about Whipple, his New Boston farm, and his Boston hotels at our Farm page.) For the 1896 muster, a special train left New Boston at 6:30AM and arrived in Boston at 10AM. The men joined a parade through the streets of Boston and dined at Whipple's hotel. They competed with 17 other fire companies, mostly from Massachusetts.

20th-century Musters
The New Boston Fire Department acquired its first motorized fire engine in 1924 and Constitution No. 2 was no longer needed for fire-fighting. In 1959 Harlan Brown suggested that New Boston form a handtub association to restore and operate the old Hunneman machine. The association competed for several years with varying degrees of success before winning the New England championship for Class 2 engines in 1963. They continued to compete throughout the 1970s.

Pinball
Pinball handtub and crew — 1890s
Pinball
Pinball in 4th of July parade — 1960

Musters for Boys
Constitution No. 2 was not the only New Boston handtub to compete in musters. After the railroad arrived in New Boston in 1893, two railwaymen, Harry Colby and Joe Fitts, built a working model of a handtub, which they named Pinball. The Argus reported that boys would practice with Pinball near The Tavern to the entertainment of the customers. In an 1899 muster little Pinball threw water 81 feet.

In the 1950s and 60s Pinball and its young crew competed in musters at the Pine Island Park in Manchester, NH. Pinball is now on display in the museum, a few feet from Constitution No. 2.

Musters for Women
An article in the Goffstown News tells us that a Ladies' Muster Team was organized in New Boston in 1985. The "Little Squirts" planned to compete with teams from Mont Vernon, Francestown, and Goffstown on July 4 at the ballfield by the Town Hall. I asked someone about this event and she said, "We rocked!" Someone else remembered that the "Little Squirts" went to only a few musters — by the 1980s there weren't many hundred-year-old handtubs ready for competition.

I do hope to update this page with stories and photos from former members of the Ladies' Muster Team. Remember that your New Boston memories are always welcome at my email address below.

Dan Rothman 2021 townfarm@comcast.net

badge
Handtub foreman's badge which belonged to Harlan Brown