Looking back: Carl Eisen – Fire Engines and Automobiles

A Car Wash now stands where Eisen's Garage was once located and across the street, in the background, is the former Seattle Heights Fire Station No. 1.
A Car Wash now stands where Eisen’s Garage was once located and across the street, in the background, is the former Seattle Heights Fire Station No. 1.

By Betty Lou Gaeng/For Lynnwood Today

When Carl Eisen died in January of 1993 at the age of 91, those who knew and remembered him mourned a man whose career as a fire fighter and automotive garage owner/mechanic spanned decades. For those who remember, Eisen’s Corner and Eisen’s Garage at Seattle Heights, his is a very familiar name.

For the information of anyone new in the area, Seattle Heights was once a community along what is now the crossroads of SR99 and 212th Street Southwest.  A portion of the community is now part of Lynnwood.

Fire Chief Carl Eisen (Photo courtesy of Patricia (Eisen) Olson)
Fire Chief Carl Eisen (Courtesy of Patricia (Eisen) Olson)

Carl Eisen’s firefighting career had been influenced when as a young boy living at the Eisen family-owned resort on the east shore of Hall’s Lake, he witnessed the ravages of a major forest fire in 1920. As acres of trees and homes were destroyed by the out-of-control flames, there was nothing to stop that burning. It was the teen-aged Carl Eisen envisioned his future. Encouraged in his dream by his widowed mother, Carl became a major influence in the founding of the fire protection we have today in South Snohomish County.

Carl had been tinkering with engines since he was a teenager, and as early as 1922 he worked as a machinist for Meduna Machine Works in Seattle. He then worked as a mechanic for an Edmonds company. In 1929, following the 1927 opening of Pacific Highway (Highway 99), he established his own garage on the northeast corner of the cross streets at Seattle Heights, about a mile north of the Snohomish-King County line.

Eisen’s Garage became one of the pioneering service stations along the southern stretch of the new highway connecting Seattle and Everett. Conveniently, he made his home next to the garage, and that is where Carl and his wife Adele lived with their three children, Gary, Kenneth and Patricia.

In the 1930s, with the backing of the Seattle Heights Improvement Club and the assistance of Clarence Crary, another local man who saw the need for fire protection, Carl Eisen’s vision became a reality — Seattle Heights Community Fire Department was born. Operating out of Eisen’s Garage it was a beginning, even though far from adequate for the fire protection needed in the communities of Seattle Heights and Cedar Valley.

Carl Eisen holding a class on fire safety (Courtey of Patricia (Eisen) Olson)
Carl Eisen holding a class on fire safety (Courtey of Patricia (Eisen) Olson

Not having the money to buy an actual fire engine, the first fire fighting vehicles were pick-up trucks carrying barrels of water.  Using buckets of water to fight fires, volunteers did their best, but the primitive equipment was far from effective. In 1935 when Blakewood Inn, a popular roadhouse directly south across the street from Eisen’s caught fire, the conflagration was more than the volunteer bucket-brigade could handle and the building burned to the ground.  It became very clear to the Seattle Heights and Cedar Valley communities that better equipment was an immediate concern.

Upon learning that Edmonds was interested in selling its fire engine for $300, the communities of Seattle Heights and Cedar Valley immediately went into action. In October of 1938, a dance was held at the Hall’s Lake Resort pavilion with all funds collected to go to the fire protection equipment fund, and pledges of money from the residents of the district reached 100 per cent. By November of 1938, the district owned a fire truck.

According to the anniversary publication of “Edmonds Fire Department, Established in 1904, Celebrating 100 Years,” the fire engine acquired by the fledgling Seattle Heights Fire Department was a 1925 Reo Speedwagon with a 6-cylinder engine, and built on a one and a half ton chassis. The fire engine was kept at Eisen’s Garage and when a fire was reported someone would crank a siren to alert the volunteers.

In the early 1940s, Carl Eisen and Clarence Crary and their band of volunteer fire fighters began forming a fire protection district. However, before they could proceed any further, they needed a fire hydrant. An article in The Everett Herald of February 3, 1993, stated that in 1943 the first fire hydrant in the district had been installed at Eisen’s Corner.

Eisen's Garage and fire crew (Photo courtesy of Patricia (Eisen Olson))
Eisen’s Garage and fire crew (Photo courtesy of Patricia (Eisen) Olson)

As reported in a January 1945 issue of the Edmonds Tribune-Review, at their meeting on January 7, 1945, the Fire Commissioners of newly established Snohomish County Fire Protection District No. 1 appointed Clarence Crary as its first fire chief and Carl Eisen as assistant chief. At the meeting, William Browder, Carl Eisen, Clarence Crary and William Carter, represented the trustees of the Seattle Heights and Cedar Valley community volunteer fire department. They presented a resolution setting forth that the trustees were willing to transfer title of ownership in all of the community’s fire equipment in its present condition. It was stated that upon completion of the transaction, the Seattle Heights and Cedar Valley Community Fire Department would formally disband. The Fire Commissioners accepted the proposal as it was offered, only requesting an itemized statement and appraisal of all properties before final action.

By 1953, Snohomish County Fire Protection District No. 1 encompassed four stations.  Seattle Heights became Station 1.  Station 2 was Alderwood Manor; Station 3, Lake Serene; and Station 4, Mountlake Terrace. All stations were staffed by volunteers.

Chief Crary retired in 1956 and Carl Eisen was appointed as fire chief. He then became its first paid chief. This was the position he held until his retirement in 1969. After his retirement, Carl Eisen, still a gifted mechanic, continued to work on the fire equipment and act as an adviser. Firefighters attired in full uniform, along with one of the department’s fire engines, attended Carl Eisen’s 1993 funeral at Holyrood Cemetery in Shoreline. Tom Foster, fire marshal for Fire District 1, told an Everett Herald writer, that Carl Eisen was a visionary who had developed fire protection for the whole community.      

No matter whether it was with the fire department or his garage business, Carl Eisen remained a supporter of his home area.  He never forgot his roots in Seattle Heights and Cedar Valley, and he made it a special point to hire local people to work for him at his garage.  For many of the young men in the neighborhood, their first employment was under the tutelage of Carl Eisen.

My brother, 88-year-old Bob Deebach, now a resident of Mountlake Terrace, has very fond memories of working for Carl at Eisen’s Garage. In the latter part of 1945, twenty-one years old and fresh out of the Navy following World War II, Bob was employed at the garage. One day while taking a break from his duties and talking with a neighbor, Bob looked on as the North Coast Transportation Company’s Seattle-Everett bus made its regular highway stop at the garage. He watched as the bus door opened and out stepped a pretty young lady carrying a suitcase. For Bob, it was love at first sight! Having just arrived from Montana and being unfamiliar with the area, the young lady asked if they knew the directions to her aunt’s home. Never being a person to let an opportunity pass him by, Bob saw his chance. He not only knew the directions, he offered to drive her to her aunt’s house in his recently purchased Ford convertible. She accepted.  That encounter led to their marriage, three children and a union that lasted until Lois’ early death at the age of 45.

Because eight years of my young life were spent living just across the highway from the action at Eisen’s Corner and the evolving young fire department, I cannot fail to relate my own memories.

As children growing up with a father who was a deputy sheriff, as well as a volunteer fireman, our sleep was often interrupted during the night. It was either the phone ringing reporting some emergency or the raucous noise from the fire siren as the call went out for the firemen to report for action. One good thing that came from Dad’s work, we had one of the few one-party phone lines in those early days — phone number: 1534.

However, a phone was not necessary when there was a need for Dad to report for fire duty. If the fire happened during the night, the blast of noise from the hand-cranked siren was so loud and piercing, sleep was not just interrupted, the noise was enough to cause us kids to jump out of our warm beds with our hair standing on end. Dad would hastily don clothes that were always at hand, and at a run he was out the door headed across the highway to jump into the Reo fire engine. For me, it was not easy to get back to sleep after all the commotion. However, interrupted sleep or not, this was a lot more exciting than the uneventful life we had on the isolated and primitive chicken farm at the northern out-skirts of Alderwood Manor.

Now, over 75 years later and living near Station 15 of the Lynnwood Fire Department, I cannot help but remember those days from my childhood as I marvel at the improvement in our fire and emergency protection. What a difference!  The stations of both the Lynnwood Fire Department and Snohomish County Fire District No. 1 are staffed full-time, and we not only have professional fireman, as well as fire-women, there are also emergency medical technicians. Much has changed for the better since the days when a few local men volunteered as firefighters on that first bucket-brigade.

Today at Eisen’s Corner, the old garage is gone; replaced by a car wash business.  Across 212th Street, the former Seattle Heights Fire Station No. 1 building still stands as a reminder of earlier days.

Karl Stadler with a 1925 Reo Speedwagon.
Karl Stadler with a 1925 Reo Speedwagon.

The historic 1925 Reo Speedwagon has been restored and is sometimes used in parades or other events. Pictured here, it was on display at the 2007 annual picnic of Alderwood Manor Heritage Association at Lynnwood’s Heritage Park. Standing beside the Reo is Karl Stadler, a member of a pioneer family of Alderwood Manor/Lynnwood.  Karl served 38 years with Snohomish County Fire District No. 1; first as a volunteer and retiring as a paid captain. The photo is from the personal collection of Karl Stadler’s daughter, Cheri (Stadler) Ryan, president of Alderwood Manor Heritage Association.

A long-time resident of Lynnwood, Betty Lou Gaeng is a genealogist, historian, researcher and writer who is active in volunteer work for Lynnwood’s Heritage Park Partners Advisory Committee and the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association at Heritage Park. She is also a member of the League of Snohomish County Heritage Organizations (LOSCHO) and the South County Historical Society and Museum.  Gaeng is the author of two books: “Etched in Stone,” which is the history of the Edmonds Museum memorial monument, and “Chirouse” about a Catholic missionary priest who came from France to Washington Territory in 1847 and became a father figure and friend to the Puget Sound area’s Native people.

  1. I was happy to see this article. My Great Grandmother Helen Eisen Farr, was Carl’s brother. My grandmother Ruth Farr married Carl Gohm, who also was a firefighter with Carl Eisen. It is a very rich histoy. I too am a firefigher.
    Thank you

  2. My name is Bob Olsen and I bought the Seattle Heights garage from Carl Eisen, likely in 1956 When he retired. My partner was Fred Mahoney who was one of the volunteer fire fighters who was killed in the line of duty, leaving and wife and twin boys. If anyone has additional photos of the Seattle Heights Richfield garage I would be very grateful to get a copy. After Fred’s death, I joined up in business with Bernt “Andy” Andersen, who just this year passed away.

    1. Robert, I have 2 pictures you might like to have. My grandfather, Carl Gohm, was on that rig when the accident happened. My grandmother, Ruth Farr Gohm, knew something terrible had happened. She told me that it was a day she would never forget. And I believe she told his wife. It was a horrific accident.
      Please email me. Ksleroy@comcast.net

  3. Robert, I have 2 pictures you might like to have. My grandfather, Carl Gohm, was on that rig when the accident happened. My grandmother, Ruth Farr Gohm, knew something terrible had happened. She told me that it was a day she would never forget. And I believe she was told his wife. It was a horrific accident.
    Please email me. Ksleroy@comcast.net

  4. Small world Carl Eisen was my great uncle I was just discussing the fire with my uncle Glen the other day and I ran across this article .Jill Eisen Dewey

  5. I just read this article forwarded to me by my sister, Karen Riedel, who is residing in Monroe, WA. with her husband Keith. My father & mother, Avid & Betty Lambe, were close friends of the Eisens. As kids, my sisters, Nancy, Janet, Mary and Karen always looked forward to spending the 4th of July with the Eisen’s as there was plenty of fireworks and tons of good food. I really miss those get togethers with good people and simpler times.

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