Homemade ambulance was town’s first
Costing $800, this built-in-Berlin vehicle was ready to get rolling for emergencies
Next time a paramedic vehicle roars by, sirens screaming, engine roaring and lights flashing, think back to 1901.
That’s when the Berlin and Waterloo Hospital’s brand-new ambulance went into service. It featured two low-wattage gas lamps, no sirens, and a powerful eight-legged, two-horsepower engine.
Eight hundred dollars had been raised by the B & WH Ladies’ Auxiliary to equip the hospital with its first ambulance. In 1978, when ambulance operations ended, K-W Hospital was proud that it had become the longest-running service in the province.
Constructed in Louis Timm’s King Street East blacksmith and carriage shop, this first ambulance was a Berlin-built vehicle and remained in service until 1920.
Louis Timm was one of those thousands of Germanic immigrants who arrived in Berlin, Canada in mid-19th century, escaping from life under the absolute rule of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg. Christened Ludwig, like his father, he eventually dropped that name in favour of Louis. He was just four years old in 1869 when he, three brothers and a sister boarded Prinz Albert, one of those appallingly-packed immigrant ships at Hamburg.
Parents Ludwig Johann and Sophie (Graf ) Timm must have had a handful during six weeks at sea with five youngsters under 14 (including a newborn). However, they eventually landed in New York and travelled to Waterloo Township.
By age 15, Louis was a farm hand and over the next few years, as the Timms settled into life in the flourishing town nicknamed Busy Berlin for its industrial growth, he picked up enough experience to be listed as a blacksmith in the 1891 census.
George Huck hired Louis in the early 1890s to work in his King East blacksmith shop. Following Huck’s January 1894 death, Louis bought the business. Huck had also been Berlin’s fire chief since 1889 and helped his young protegé become one of the volunteer firefighters. After Huck’s passing, Timm took over as fire chief — which was a part-time, as-needed position.
Kitchener Fire Department historian Tim Forsyth described in the 2015 Waterloo Historical Society’s annual publication how Timm’s public service career came to an end after a controversial fire at Daniel Hibner’s furniture factory in November 1896. He was hounded out of office and from then on, stuck to blacksmithing. The single-storey shop offered custom metal work in addition to shoeing horses. It was also one of Berlin’s several vehicle manufactories turning out wagons, buggies, sleighs and at least one ambulance.
Away from the shop, Louis and wife Sophia (Sass) had three children: Alton, Marie and John C. (also known as Jack). Louis died in 1905 at the young age of 39 and Sophia outlived him by 44 years.
John Christian Timm was born in 1893 and, for much of his career, was a mechanic. He worked for Kleinschmidt Motors before landing a job with the City of Kitchener. On a pleasant winter’s day in 1946 or 1947, John Timm (left) stood with two other municipal employees as they took possession of a brandnew Dodge truck for the city’s Sanitary Department. Stanley Shupe (middle) was the City of Kitchener’s engineer and John Rutherford was eager to begin driving his new work truck around town, flushing sewers and streets. Proudfoot Motors was operated by Douglas Proudfoot at 10 Water St. N. from about 1944 to 1952 selling Dodge and DeSoto cars and Dodge trucks. The still-standing Bell Telephone building sits at right.
John C. Timm and wife Nellie Bissett had a daughter named Margaret and it is through Marg and her husband Jack Eaton that these Louis Timm photos are available. Longtime Waterloo Historical Society members, they had indicated their wish that the photos go to WHS. Marg and Jack passed away in 2012 within months of one another, some 14 decades after her fouryear-old grandfather, Louis, began his Atlantic crossing.
I was happy to know the couple over the last decade or so of their lives. Jack, a generation older than me, grew up in the same part of the city as I did and told many wonderful South Ward stories from the ’30s and ’40s. He worked most of his life at nearby Canadian Blower and Forge.