"For forever, it was just whoever wants to jump on or who can go."
That's the way the Hickory Grove Volunteer Fire Department started out, said Anne Gilfillan, daughter of the station's co-founder and first fire chief Leon Miller Bratton, who passed away on Nov. 16 at the age of 85.
Gilfillan grew up working at the service station her father co-owned and managed.
She remembers the department's early days: the men gathering at the station, how when they got word of a fire they would jump on the truck and hang off the back all the way to the scene - her father, known as "Tub," leading the way.
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"At that time we didn't have but one seat, so that's what we had to do: hang on," said Glenn Smarr, Bratton's nephew and a longtime Hickory Grove firefighter.
Bratton, along with Mayor John L. Gaddy, founded the volunteer fire department with a military surplus truck equipped with a 500 gallon tank because they felt the community needed more fire protection.
Bratton served as chief from 1952 to 1969 and was a member for 59 years. During that time the volunteer fire department got a new fire truck and became organized under York County.
Bratton went on to work at Westinghouse Turbine for 19 years before retiring in 1988. He also was a lifetime member of the Watt Blackmon VFW Post 6381.
The Hickory Grove Fire Department made Bratton a lifetime member in 1982 and in 1992 chose Bratton as the grand marshal of the Hickory Grove Christmas Parade, which the fire department founded.
Gilfillan and Smarr said "Tub" always had that name as far as they could tell.
It's unclear how he got it, but Smarr said his mom, Bratton's sister, might have mentioned how Tub played in the mud a lot as a kid and had to stay in the tub to keep clean.
"I don't know for sure though," Smarr said.
Even as a young girl, Gilfillan remembered how whenever there was a fire in town, people knew just where to go.
"Back then there wasn't a whole lot of telephones, and people would have to come tell you there's a fire."
She remembers how in the middle of the night people would raise her sleeping family, including her father, the fire chief, with loud knocks at the door.
Sometimes when the doors would open at the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church during a service, it was someone coming to find her father about a fire, she said.
Hickory Grove firefighter David Rhodes remembers being called out of church for a fire and Bratton, still in a suit and tie, running the truck.
Fighting fires was different "in the early days," Smarr said.
"We didn't have any turnout here then. We had to go with whatever street clothes we were wearing to the fire," Smarr said.
"We had grass fires, we had wood fires, we had barn fires and everything else. Sometimes we saved a chimney, and sometimes we saved a building if we got there in time," Smarr said.
There wasn't any county water either. Instead, firefighters would have to pump water from the creeks or ponds to fill the water tank. When it would empty, someone would have to go back and fill it again.
Since then a lot has changed in Hickory Grove, and the fire department isn't just one of a few in the county.
Bratton, those who knew him said, had a lot to do with how far the town has come.
"He was real good man, had a good heart. He really helped the different individuals if they needed help," Smarr said of his "Uncle Tub."
More than that, Rhodes remembers Bratton as being ticklish, and just about everyone who knew him knew it and "aggravated him in that way." Rhodes, whose father co-owned the station with Bratton, grew up working at the service station with Bratton's daughters, Anne Gilfillan and Beth Bratton Dover.
Bratton also hated deer meat. One year, while the firefighters were renovating the station, someone dropped off some hash to keep them going.
Bratton was about to enjoy his second helping of what he thought was delicious beef hash and was bragging about it, when someone came in and said, "Give me a bowl of that deer hash!"
"He pushed the bowl away and had a fit," Rhodes said.
He was a great fella', he said. "Hard-headed, but a great fella'."
Rhodes was one of the boys eager to climb aboard the fire truck when someone would yell "Fire at so-and-so's!" back in the "good ole' days."
Back then, nobody really called Bratton the chief, "but he was the one in charge."
Rhodes earned his spot next to Bratton in the fire truck by fetching ladders and axes and other tools for firefighters at the blaze.
For his funeral, the Hickory Grove firefighters carried Bratton's coffin in the back of the fire truck to the cemetery. Rhodes drove the truck from the church to Tub's final resting place, a great honor, he said.
"I guess I gave him his last ride."