Since the first one was held in Bath, Maine, on July 4, 1849, the fire muster is considered to be this nation’s oldest team sport, and after its acquisition in 1880, Hand Pumper Number 2 (whose motto is “We Will Try”) has played many a starring role on behalf of the hometown team. With Essex competing against other North Shore communities (many a muster has been held at Shepard Memorial Park), the goal is to see which team can shoot the longest stream of water from a similarly classed hand-pumped apparatus, also known as a handtub.
It all begins at the sound of a bell and each team’s “pumpers” frantically begin to pump their handtub’s pivoting “brakes” at the hopeful rate of one stroke per second. This serves to operate a set of pistons that suck water from the handtub’s tank and force it into the chamber, which continues to build up pressure. Meanwhile the “pipe crew” readies a hose attached to the handtub’s pressure chamber.
Above it all, the “foreman” stands atop the apparatus to spur the team on and gauge the wind, in hopes of optimizing his pumpers’ exuberant efforts. At his signal the hose’s nozzle is aimed at a 300-foot strip of resin paper and the pipe crew lets ‘er rip! Each competition lasts 15 minutes (the winning stream at a recent competition reached 216 feet, 11 ¾ inches) and in addition to its much sought-after bragging rights, the triumphant team receives the time-honored responsibility of pulling the foreman from his perch and dunking him in the handtub’s water tank.