The Fire Alarms

Within a year of Madeline and I marrying we had lived in a big mobile home, then moved next door to a little trailer house (rented from an old couple that meddled) and in an old motel in Burnet (because there was nowhere else to rent). Actually that all happened in the first 10 month of our marriage.

Then we rented a mobile home in a Mobile Home Park in Oak Hill, in the western edge of Austin on Texas 71.

A knock on the door one evening found a fellow there that had good news for us. He was there to save our lives. We invited him in. He had a display case that he carried with him.

This man explained that we were living in much more danger than we could ever imagine. He had pictures and charts to prove it. Yes he had statistics.

Living in a mobile home we were 374% more likely to die in a house fire than if we lived in a regular dwelling. He gave stats like, if we live in a mobile home for 20 years there is a 1 in 242 chance that we will perish in a horrible fire. Yes, we were living in a death trap and most likely die.

Like he said, it would be catastrophic to loose our worldly possessions, but a young couple like us, how could we ever make it through life if one of us got out of the fire but the other one didn’t? The key to us living a long life together would be to buy his fire alarms.

No matter that this was a rental we were living in, we would take these devices with us to home after home for the rest of our lives. Once we had his newly developed alarms, we could sleep good without laying in bed every night worrying about flames leaping up around us. His sales pitch was so good, I hated for him to leave and not give us the alarms out of his display case. What if the house burned up before they mailed us our alarms.

The greatest thing was, they would finance them and it would only cost penny’s a day. These alarms were a domed shaped metal bell that had a button in the middle, that when there was a fire, the heat would rise and melt the button off (at 160 degrees), releasing a spring loaded hammer that would ring the bell. No batteries. No maintenance. These things would last a lifetime.

It would only require 3 of these units to cover every area of our domicile. If we were prepared to buy that night, he could offer us a free gift of a newly developed smoke sniffer. That way we would have double protection. Even better, when we did have a fire, they would give us all new units.

After about 45 minutes there was no way that guy was leaving without us signing on the dotted line. We had just paid slightly under a thousand dollars for the security of living a long life together without worries of losing each other in a horrible fire. But it was only going to cost us around $40 per month.

That was probably one of the best lessons we ever could have received at our young age’s. After reflecting on our purchase and the installation of same, we knew we had been had.

When we saw what we got, 3 little metal bells, that each fit in the palm of our hand, and another plastic box about the size of a cigarette pack, that $1000 seemed high.

When we looked in the driveway, the new car, a 1972 Dodge Demon loaded out cost us $3636.36 new. That included the interest and finance charge. The payments for that car was $101.01 per month. (By pure coincidence the amount came out to that amount, but it always let me remember the cost of the Dodge Demon)

Comparing the 2 purchases put it into perspective for us. How could a something you could hold in one hand cost a third of what a brand new car cost?

This became a metaphor that we’ve used for almost 50 year now. “Are we buying a set of fire alarms?, something we’ve said at just about every major purchase we’ve made since.