Let’s Talk Clovis: Wayne Riley, Clovis businessman and Volunteer Fire Chief

Wayne Riley seated in a 1936 Ford chasis. Riley transferred the bed and sedan from Clovis 1916 Reo Fire truck. (Contributed by Clovis Museum/Clovis Independent)

Wayne Riley (1917-2007) was the official historian of Clovis infrastructure, building codes, our business community and the development of our fire department.

As a young boy, he worked for his dad at the popular Mission Café located in the 1912 DeWitt building at 453 Pollasky. After graduating in 1936 from Clovis High School, Wayne became a skilled carpenter, an assistant manager for a Safeway grocery store, and a butcher for John Good’s grocery store. He opened Riley’s Grocery Store on northwest corner of 7th and Pollasky in 1942.

Riley’s family arrived in Clovis in 1929 and resided in a large white house at 528 Pollasky, northwest corner of Pollasky and Bullard.  It was located directly west of the fire station. Wayne dreamed of becoming a fireman and Fire Chief Harry Whiton promised Wayne he could join at age 21.

Merchant Harry Whiton, Clovis Volunteer Fire Chief from 1926 until his death in1944, invited the energetic Riley to become a volunteer fireman in 1938. His “fire pants” were kept in the front room for quick response. There was no designated driver for the fire truck. The first volunteer to arrive drove the truck and collected volunteer merchants from downtown on the way to the fire. Wayne’s dog Husky quickly became the official mascot. He was truly a “fire dog”. Husky was the first to respond at the sound of the siren and was a fierce protector of the fire fighting equipment.

Early in our history, fires were a public event. Everyone responded to the 1913 large bell that was on top of a tower approximately 24 feet high. The system was replaced in 1925 by a 220V siren. The bell was retained as an emergency alarm. Riley would help with the street dances that the fire department sponsored. He participated in the “fun” time spraying spectators after containing a controlled fire.

In 1933, Halloween pranksters placed a chic (outhouse) in the middle of Front Street (Clovis Ave) and Fourth Street and proceeded to “fire up” the building. The volunteer firemen responded and ended their project with a giant water fight.

Riley held the position of Assistant Fire Chief for 12 years. He served as volunteer Fire Chief from 1957-1964. He was an innovative leader. He established the first coded alarm system and a coded wheel timing device. He secured a gasoline tanker and converted it into a 500-gallon capacity reserve pump. He introduced off-duty uniforms for volunteers.  In 2003, Fire Chief Mark Aston identified Riley as the most exemplary Fire Chief that went beyond the call of duty. The present fire department retains those age-old values.

Riley remembered maintaining the 1913 steel tank and water tower south of Fifth and Hughes that still serves Clovis and the water pipes that were found at the rear of our early 1895 merchants on Fulton (Clovis Ave).  They were serviced from windmills.

In 1942, a pretty Thelma Brown, arrived in Clovis. Thelma opened a small beauty salon near Riley’s grocery store. They fell in love and married in 1947.

Riley would build a brick building adjacent to his family home, 530 Pollasky that became Thelma’s Beauty Salon for 46 years. Three generations of Riley’s worked in that salon.  Thelma had three professional rules: no gossiping, no dirty stories and no swearing. She closed the salon in 1995.

Thelma and Wayne enjoyed their motorcycles and Thelma raced at Kearney Bowl.  They were the first couple to be honored by the Clovis Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame in 1996. Thelma died in 2005.

They left us a rich heritage.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.