Early in my career, I had the opportunity to complete my education at Oklahoma State University. For years before I attended there, it was known as the “West Point of the Fire Service”. Professor R.J. Douglas was the head of the School of Fire Protection and the founder of the School. In 1959 when I enrolled. It was one of the few educational institutions in the country that offered a formal degree in fire protection. After my fire protection degree was completed, I stayed and received a bachelors and masters degree in industrial education.
This long-winded description of my education is necessary to set the stage for the story I am about to tell. After I went to work at the University of Missouri, my Mother was continually after me to work on a doctorate in education, since I worked for a major educational institution. My excuse to her was always the same reply. “Mom, the two titles don’t match up, you can not use the term ‘doctor’ with the title of ‘chief.’ How would you do that, chief doctor or doctor chief?”
Well, as usual the individual who is the subject of this article proved me wrong. Doctor/Chief James C. Coleberd is that person. Jim was a unique person and as his life’s adventure played out, he proved you can be anything you want to be and do anything you want to do. All you have to do is have a strong desire to do it.
Doctor James C. Coleberd, D.O. died on Monday, December 15, 2008 at Boone Hospital in Columbia. His memory lives on with me each time I think of one of his many accomplishments or see an antique fire truck that I think he would like. We shared the love of anything “fire” and I cherish the times I was in his company.
Jim and I go way back before he held the title, doctor and even before he could use the title of chief. Evidence of that is included in the letter I received from him in 1966. (Pictured above.) The letter, I believe, also speaks volumes about him. He definitely illustrates the passion he has for the fire service but more importantly; it shows his compassion for people in general and their well being! That is what made him an epic emergency room doctor and a fire chief.
We never did get around to working on that book together but if we had, I am sure it would have been a best seller.
LIBERTY AND CLINTON, MISSOURI
Jim graduated from Liberty High School in 1955 and also attended William Jewell College. Over the years he retained a close association with the Liberty Fire Department and had many fire service associates in the Jackson County area. In 1961 he graduated from the University of Kansas.
On February 24, 1964 the Clinton Missouri Newspaper announced that the new “Clinton professional Fire Chief” would assume his duties on Monday March 2, 1964. The article identifies the new Fire Chief as James Coleberd. The action by the city council stated that the applicant had an extensive background in all phases of fire protection and the training of personnel. Jim was 26 years old at the time he was appointed. I was 24 and had been with the MU Firemanship Training program as a field instructor for a year or two and I was also the chief of the Boone County Fire Department. I am sure we were both the most “know it all” young bucks that ever hit the Missouri fire service!
Shortly after he was appointed I was traveling in the Clinton area on fire training business and went by Clinton to congratulate the new fire chief. He insisted that we cruse the town in his new Plymouth fire chief’s station wagon so he could demonstrate the huge red light and siren combination that was mounted on the left front fender. There is a photo of that rig in this article, not a very good one since it is a newspaper copy, but you can see the siren in the picture. The newspaper account of the time said the new station wagon was purchased for the great figure of $2,245.12. I am quite sure that did not include the price of the siren! I was taken back by the action of the council because based on the published bid information; they could have had a Rambler station wagon for $1,995.00.
There were lots of improvements in the Clinton Fire Department in the following year, including the addition of the new pumper being unloaded out of a railcar in the other photo. The engine was a 1,000 G.P.M. American LaFrance that cost the city $24,795.00
There is a lot more to this story but after 13 months of huge changes, positive improvements and a slight misunderstand with the city fathers, Jim moved on to another chapter of his life.
A MEDICAL CAREER AND THE CAVE
Chief Coleberd continued his fascination with the fire service for the remainder of his life but a career path modification led him to graduation from the University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kansas City in 1970. He served his internship at Capital Regional Medical Center in Jefferson City. He continued his quest to serve his fellow man by practicing medicine in Clinton, Missouri for over thirty years as an ER doctor. He also served as professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine and the charter President of the Missouri Chapter, American College of Emergency Physicians.
Jim’s wife, Linda, best tells the cave story. In an article posted January 31 of this year by the Hannibal Courier Post, she explains “Coming to Hannibal was not in the cards when I married my second husband, Dr. James Coleberd in 1994, but by 2000, we were here. Jim and his maternal family have owned Mark Twain Cave and Cameron Cave since 1923. As each family member passed away, the next one comes along to manage the business…. and Jim was the next in line”.
Jim continued to be active in the fire profession and Hannibal was no different. He very soon forged a relationship with the local fire service and continued to collect a number of different antique fire apparatus. He even acquired an Associate Degree in Fire Science from John Woods Community College in 2007. I know that the Doctor/Chief is proud of the job that Linda has done being in charge of the cave operation since his untimely passing in 2008. She told me recently that his favorite thing to do in retirement was to load a bunch of kids on his 37 Ford/Central pumper, which he acquired from Chief Joe Jackson and drive off to Dairy Queen for ice cream. That is picture I choose to remember!
OUR LAST ADVENTURE
When I was still living in Stillwater, Oklahoma I visited Hastings book store one fall afternoon and picked up a Hemming’s Motor News to check to see if any fire trucks were listed. As it happened, that issue featured an article about a private collection of antique trucks in Northern Iowa. The collector had no real interest in fire trucks until he figured out if he purchased old fire apparatus they were usually in good condition: had been kept inside and were normally low mileage.
I called and talked to the owner and he was not sure but thought he had twenty or so fire trucks, along with an assortment of old farm trucks. That information was all I needed to start the ball rolling for a road trip.
I called Jim and my other dear friends Phil Sayer and Chief Steve Paulsell to plan the adventure.
As it turned out, Chief Paulsell could not get away so it ended up being three old guys in Phil’s wife Bert’s van traveling to North Iowa in November in search of the holy grail of fire trucks. By now Phil was suffering quite a lot with his terminal cancer and Doc was popping nitro pills for his heart condition. I did most of the driving for the overnight get away but got lots of advise on where to turn and how to drive from both my companions. We finally found the farm and this guy did have quite a collection of stuff, mostly in somewhat of a “lets store this in the barn” condition. We had an awesome time together talking about old and new times. We also found a fire truck manufacturing facility in a little town and the hometown of Andy Williams in another. I have done lots of road trips in my life. This one was priceless!