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Claude Belshe, Fire Hydrant Garden

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Visiting Information

The hydrant installation may be seen from the street beyond the fence, and is well guarded by Belshe’s new dogs (the earlier ones were buried on site, near a special fire hydrant of their own), so entrance to the yard itself is neither permissible nor advised unless the artist is present. If he is available, he is usually happy to discuss his collection by providing a personal tour.

About the Artist/Site

Giving up on the idea of planting a garden on the interior of the fence that borders his yard near downtown Topeka after it kept being trampled by his dogs, Claude Belshe decided to bow to the inevitable and install a series of vintage fire hydrants to keep them “busy and happy.” He began collecting hydrants around 2005 with a yellow Mueller dating from 1965, and within three years had collected about forty examples. Most were donated to him, but he has sometimes, if necessary, paid up to $75 for a special hydrant, usually through online websites, flea markets, or garage sales; he has traveled as far as California, New Jersey, Texas, and Canada to retrieve them, hauling them back to Kansas in a custom-built hydrant transport trailer that he pulls with his Harley motorcycle. He has also been aided in his search by his connections with city officials, resulting from his job selling and delivering commercial-grade lawn mowers: water district employees have often been helpful in leading him to old or no-longer functioning hydrants, many from smaller communities outside of Topeka. His oldest hydrant to date is from 1903, made by the Nelson Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, and his collection includes both “dry barrel” and “wet barrel” hydrants, the former primarily used for colder climates so that the valve is located deeper than the frost line. Belshe estimates that he has now “planted” over a hundred hydrants, which was originally his minimum goal.

All new collection objects are transported by Belshe to his garden, often helped by Belshe’s stepson Jeffrey Ard. Both have complained about the weight of the pieces, some 300-400 pounds each  – particularly because the donations often come with heavy water pipes attached. In these cases Belshe and Ard cut the piping to about a foot, using it to anchor the hydrants in the ground. Then they sandblast them in preparation for Ard’s bright paint job. Belshe’s wife Linda, as well as other neighbors, have suggested or chosen some of the paint colors, and any donor of a hydrant is entitled to choose what color it will be painted. Among the more popular choices are colors referencing the American flag, Kansas sports teams, and those representing local colleges and universities. A few other lawn ornaments are also placed around the site, including a mature tree with a chain saw and a reciprocating saw lodged in its trunk.

The hydrant installation may be seen from the street beyond the fence, and is well guarded by Belshe’s new dogs (the earlier ones were buried on site, near a special fire hydrant of their own), so entrance to the yard itself is neither permissible nor advised unless the artist is present. If he is available, he is usually happy to discuss his collection by providing a personal tour.

~Jo Farb Hernández



Map and site information

720 Southwest 5th Street
Topeka, Kansas, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 39.055867 / -95.682132

Visiting Information

The hydrant installation may be seen from the street beyond the fence, and is well guarded by Belshe’s new dogs (the earlier ones were buried on site, near a special fire hydrant of their own), so entrance to the yard itself is neither permissible nor advised unless the artist is present. If he is available, he is usually happy to discuss his collection by providing a personal tour.

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