Fire Wagons, Bureaucrats, and the Men Who Beat Them Both

September 27, 2013

In the early 1990s the Hames family built a 460-site manufactured housing community in Cedar Rapids, Iowa called Summit View.  The Cedar Rapids building code at the time required a ten foot separation between a home and an adjacent structure.  In the mobile home business, this meant we could put a shed or garage no closer than 10 feet from the home.  This was also an issue for site-built developers, but was especially troublesome for mobile home parks, where space is at a premium.

Curt Hames, founder and president of Hames Mobile Homes, and engineer George Kanz from Shive Hattery asked WHY the arbitrary number of 10 feet between structures?  The other developers shrugged their shoulders saying, “It’s always been this way.” From the Planning and Zoning committee, the response was less subtle, “that’s our rule. You have to live with it.” Finally someone from the City remembered that the 10 foot rule was for fire protection.

Fire protection?  Really?  Curt and George then spoke with the Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Havlacek who was unaware of the 10 foot separation rule.   Upon researching the issue, George found that building code had been in place since 1910 so that the horse-drawn fire wagons could get in between buildings in case of a fire! Before hydrants, most homes had their own wells.  The horses and water wagons needed to get behind the homes to access the water to fight the fire.

The city council was so embarrassed; they changed the code without a fuss. Builders were happy.  Homeowners don’t have as far to walk in bad weather from garage to house. 

Just remember:  Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up.  

And, thank you Curt and George!


Ken Rishel
on 09/27/13
This is a great story! I would like to reprint it in the newsletter

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