A hydrant presented by the Nelson fire department to actor Steve Martin as a parting gift following filming of Roxanne in 1986 is now a North Shore lawn ornament — after being rescued from a campground where it was bound for the scrap heap.
The hydrant bears the weathered but legible hand-painted inscription “Presented to Steve Martin by the Nelson Fire Dept 28 Aug ’86.”
Steve Thornton took a photo of the presentation, which ran in the Daily News the following day with the caption: “From fire chief to fire chief: Nelson (BC) fire chief Harry Sommerville presented Nelson (Wash.) fire chief Steve Martin with a heritage-style fire hydrant Thursday as filming for Roxanne drew to a close. Ald. Sharon Heflin, who played an important part in bringing Roxanne to Nelson, looked on. Martin said his dog would enjoy the gift.”
The Nelson fire department has a photocopy of the photo signed by Martin, as well as a second photocopy inscribed “Harry – Thanks a million for your help with Roxanne, Steve Martin” and an original print of an alternate shot. The latter was printed last year in the Star with a story about the fire hall’s centennial and again recently in a series about the movie.
The last time it ran, local resident Perry Hale let us know the hydrant is now in Warren and Christine Moser’s front yard on Crystal Springs Road. How it ended up there is a “quite a story,” Warren says.
He happened upon it many years ago at the Bigfoot campground in Harrison Hot Springs, of all places, nearly lost among some overgrown shrubs. The campground’s longtime owner bought it from a junk dealer for $75 or $100, but how that man acquired it isn’t known. Moser tried unsuccessfully to find him.
When the campground was redeveloped six or seven years ago, the new owner didn’t want it. The hydrant would’ve been lost had Moser not stepped in.
“It was bound for the scrapyard because they were putting in a new roadway and RV path,” he says. “I said ‘I’m from Nelson, I’m one of the contractors, and I’ll gladly take it off your hands.’”
A backhoe removed the hydrant which Moser and his brother then loaded into the back of a truck. He estimates it weighs about 400 lbs.
He brought it home and installed it in his front yard — although it’s purely ornamental and isn’t hooked up to any water system. “The neighbours all wondered what we were doing,” he laughs.
Why the hydrant was described in the newspaper as “heritage-style” is unclear, because it’s nothing of the sort. It’s just a conventional hydrant, manufactured by Terminal City Ironworks of Vancouver.
What’s interesting, though — and not apparent from the black and white newspaper photo — is that it’s green. Current fire chief Simon Grypma says Nelson has never had green hydrants and former chief Harry Sommerville recalls it was red when he presented it to Martin.
Presumably it wouldn’t fit in Martin’s suitcase, so Christine Moser speculates it was packed up with the rest of the movie’s props and trucked to the Lower Mainland before somehow falling into the junk dealer’s hands.
Sommerville was surprised to learn of the hydrant’s current whereabouts, but said he kept two hydrants actually used in the movie, one of which he’s since donated to the fire hall museum.
The Mosers say if they ever move, they’d likely donate their hydrant to the museum as well. Grypma said they’d be happy to have it.