The Saga of the First Barbecue at Redway’s Fire Department
On Memorial Day week-end 1971, forty five years ago, the Redway Volunteer Fire Department had their first Barbeque. Ben Doane, a local sheriff’s deputy, at the time was also a Redway volunteer firefighter. Ben was from Willow Creek where he witnessed them have a successful fund-raising barbeque. He suggested that the Redway Fire Department have a similar barbeque. He gave the firefighters complete specifications.
Ben’s plan was to dig a twelve foot long trench, four feet wide and four feet deep. The walls of the pit were to slope gently outward because the bottom of the pit, and the sides, were lined with six inch rocks to hold the heat, leaving a six inch space at the top for the cross-bars that holds the tin and a six inch layer of silt to smother the fire and bake the meat. He said that first they had to build a large fire with dry madrone, burn it down for hours until it was left with scorching hot rocks and a bed of blue hot coals. They were to first wrap the meat in butcher paper and wet burlap then place the wrapped meat directly on the coals, then quickly cover.
Firefighters being very, very smart as a very, very general rule, had a better idea. Against Ben Doane’s very, very loud objections, they proposed that they build two large steel box-ovens. It was their idea that the meat would be easier to handle, and they just couldn’t warm up to the idea of placing the meat directly on the coals, because it would surely burn, and they just didn’t want to ruin four hundred pounds of meat, so they dug their pits, pretty much as originally designed, but they welded together some very elaborate oven-boxes, complete with hinges and latches. After all, they were going to have to last a very, very long time, the firefighters intended for this to be an annual fund raising Barbeque event!
They placed the roasts onto racks in their elaborate ovens. They lowered the ovens gently into the fire pits, They talked about maybe having the ovens chrome plated to make them look nicer and cleaner. Firefighters all like clean, chrome, shiny, and red. Some of us even have those words embroidered on our pajamas.
As things often, (always?) go, the boxes didn’t get enough heat from the coals, the meat came out very, very rare, and pork is not appreciated in the very, very rare form. In a panic, the firefighters recruited all of the neighborhood ovens to finish cooking the roasts, mine being one of the neighbors ovens. So, I was involved in the very, very first barbeque.
The next year, Ben gave the firefighters a list of the people in Willow Creek, who have done this barbeque before. After calling them all of them on the phone, they were able to convince the firefighters that “yes indeed, just wrap the meat in butcher paper, tie it in wet burlap and place it directly on the coals. Ben Doane said that he would consent to do the barbeque again as long as every single firefighter do every single thing that he told them to do. It was a humbling experience for the otherwise smart firefighters. We sometimes ponder what might have happened to the steel box ovens.
By the second year of the barbeque I was a “probie”. A probie is a term used by firefighters to identify a probationary firefighter, or rookie. I had joined the fire department by then, but you don’t get accepted as a rank-and-file fire department member until you complete your training and get voted in by the regular members. At that time a firefighter gets issued a regular set of fire protective gear, boots, gloves, pants and coat. The other advantage is that you got named on the insurance as a regular firefighter. Before that, the rookies were covered as “John Does”. The fire department covered Five Does.
It was a real “Plum” to become a regular firefighter back then, and, there was a waiting list. We had twenty regular firefighters and five, or so, rookies as they were culled-out or accepted. My badge number is “22”. I became rank-and-file in 1973. But, I have been at, and worked on, every Redway Fire Department Barbeque.
Nowadays, we have improved our fire pits, they are fire-brick lined and they have fitted steel lids, but we put the meat directly on the coals. We now cook about 800 pounds of beef and pork. We now wrap the meat in yards of foil, then in wet burlap. We lost some of the smokey flavor with the foil wrap, but we gained tremendously in juiciness. When we unwrap the roasts, they are surrounded in juice. The meat is tender and well seasoned in our “Top-Secret” dry rubs and sauces.
We start working on the barbeque Wednesday, 5:00 PM at the Redway Fire Department, at 155 Empire Avenue in Redway. (behind Shop Smart) Wednesday we make all the rubs and sauces, gather the sand that we use to cover the pits, and make the hall ready. It a “punch-list” day. The real fun starts on Thursday at 6:00 PM we clear out the hall, set up tables, then we season and wrap the meat for placement into the pit’s the following Friday night. We have Carnitas with spices and sauce. We have “refreshments”, play a little music, and generally have a good time getting things prepared. Local people come and go to participate in the fun. It’s always an open house, except for Friday evening pot luck, which is members only, after that it’s open house again, after all it’s YOUR fire department. Then the meat marinades over-night.
At 5:00- 6:00 PM Friday we kindle the fire pits. We keep the fire going with nothing but ash-free Madrone wood. Do you know that the north coast of California is one of the only places in the world that Madrone grows? We are soooo lucky. Back to the barbeque. We have a pot luck dinner at 7:00 PM. We mostly tend the fire and talk about “The Big Ones” (fires of the past) The kids play music and we have lots of fun tending the fire. It’s like camping, only with a much bigger fire, and we have chairs around the fire pits, indoor plumbing, a T.V…. Okay It’s not like camping but there is a BIG fire and a lot of fun. Folks from other fire departments come and go, and members of the community come and go for the fun of it. The kids go nuts with their games and fun is had by all.
At somewhere between 11:00 PM and 1:00AM, we place the meat in the pits and cover the lids with sand. We all go home, except for a few well placed guards.
At 10:00 AM Saturday, we “crack the pits” by shoveling the sand off a lid and placing a shovel under it, that slows the cooking and readies the meat for serving. At High-Noon Saturday we sound the hall siren and serve food until 7:00 pm.
We serve juicy deep pit barbeque beef and pork, baked beens, salad, garlic bread, and your choice of milk, coffee, or water. We sell beer, regular and premium, or a premium dark beer, or wine. We sell sodas, and we also have a wide variety of desserts for sale.
The band will be Twango Macallan. The head Twango told me that the band will include many of the popular local musicians.
We will have fun, and, have great food. See you there! This is a do-not-miss community event. I could go on, but then I already did…
155 Empire Ave, directly behind Shop Smart, in Redway.
Redway Fire Dept. (retired)
And don’t forget another good reason to go…Your money will help the fire crews fight this: