The Day family contributed to the success of the Fairbury community. Thomas Day Jr. was a Civil War veteran and a local farmer. C.B. Day provided two generations of Fairbury residents with innovative plumbing services. C.B. Day was one of Fairbury's best-known early plumbers.
The Day family's story began with the birth of Thomas Day Sr. in 1799 in Colmworth, England, about 60 miles north of London. He married Mary Leaton, who was also from England. Thomas and Mary lived their whole lives in the Colmworth area and were buried there.
One of their sons, Thomas Day Jr., was born in Colmworth in 1837. In 1855, at the age of 18, Thomas Day Jr. emigrated from England to America. The first four years he was in America, Thomas Day worked by the month as a hired hand at farms in Paxton and Cheney's Grove. He also tried his hand at lumbering in Pennsylvania.
Thomas Day returned to McLean County in 1859. He decided to set out for Pike's Peak on foot. By the time he reached St. Louis, his shoes had worn out. He bought a good pair of boots and started west from St. Louis. He then encountered many disgruntled men returning from the west to St. Louis. These men had such disheartening stories that Thomas gave up on continuing to Pike's Peak.
Thomas Day returned to Illinois, and on Aug. 7, 1861, he enlisted in the 3rd Illinois Cavalry Company K. This unit was comprised of mostly Fairbury men, including John Kring and John Virgin. This unit fought in many battles, including the siege of Vicksburg under General Grant. Thomas Day served for three years and one month in the Civil War. He was discharged in September 1864.
After the war, Thomas bought farmland in the Fairbury area. In 1865, he married Miss Ann Chambers. His wife was born in England and came to America when she was five years old. Thomas and Ann had five children. Thomas retired in 1900 and moved into Fairbury. He died in 1906.
One son of Thomas and Ann Day was Charles Benjamin Day, and he was born in Wing in 1886. He was often called C.B. Day. Charles attended local schools until he was 17 years old. In 1903, he entered the employment of Niergarth & Donnelly at Gridley to learn the trade of plumber, tinner, and steamfitter.
After working one year in Gridley, C.B. Day went to work as a plumber for J.K. Schick in Fairbury. In 1905, he went to work doing plumbing work for the Bonbam & Carman hardware store. In 1906, he took a three-month training program at a St. Louis plumbing school.
In 1907, C.B. Day took charge of the plumbing, tinners, and steam-heating department of the Walton Brothers Company. Owners Isaac Walton and John W. Walton were delighted with the work of C.B. Day.
In 1908, Walton's agreed to sell their plumbing business to C.B. Day. In 1909, he bought out the plumbing business of W.A. Kessler. Also, in 1909, C.B. Day married Miss Verna Carter of Fairbury.
C.B. Day developed a reputation for always trying to learn the latest technical information about the plumbing and heating trade. In 1911, C.B. Day was 25 years old and owned his own plumbing business. He studied the latest trends in society and noted that city dwellers were transitioning from outdoor plumbing (privies) to indoor plumbing. C.B. Day also observed that farmers started using small gasoline engines to pump water and perform other farm tasks. He also knew that fellow businessman Joseph Slagel was manufacturing gasoline hit-and-miss engines. They were called hit-and-miss because they only fired when the speed dropped too low.
C.B. Day came up with the brilliant idea of developing a display for the 1911 Fairbury Fair. For the city women, he set up a presentation of the latest indoor plumbing fixtures. The exhibition included toilets, sinks, and bathtubs.
For the many farmers attending the fair, he developed a display using a gasoline Slagel hit-and-miss engine to pump water into a tank. The exhibition was so popular that a national plumbing trade magazine noticed it. The Oct. 6, 1911, issue of Metal Worker Plumber & Steam Fitter magazine ran a unique two-page story on the C.B. Day exhibit at the Fairbury Fair. The article includes photographs of the indoor plumbing display, the furnace display, and the hit-and-miss engine water pumping display.
Another trend in society in that era was the conversion from horse-drawn buggies to automobiles. By 1913, C.B. Day had switched from horse-drawn wagons to a gasoline-powered plumbing truck. One old photo shows his plumbing truck in front of a Fairbury house.
In the 1910s, there were many more farmers in the Fairbury area than there are today. These farmers and their families flocked to the annual Fairbury Fair by the thousands. In 1919, C.B. Day donated a unique round water fountain to the fairgrounds. The Blade reported the fountain was complete in every respect. It had bubbling fountains for the little folks and the grown-ups to get a drink. There were also several places where people could draw water into buckets.
This water fountain is still in use and has given C.B Day Plumbing and Heating free advertising to thousands of fairgoers for 103 years.
In 1920, C.B. Day employed two brothers named Walter and Oscar Nussbaum. These two brothers quit C.B. Day to start their own Nussbaum Bros. plumbing business. They bought the plumbing and tinning equipment previously owned by J.E. Eddy at the northwest corner of Fifth and Locust Streets. Nussbaum's plumbing business was very successful and was in business for 80 years in Fairbury.
C.B. Day died in 1974 at the age of 87. His wife, Verna Day, died in 1977 at the age of 89. They are both buried in Fairbury's Graceland Cemetery.
This article originally appeared on Pontiac Daily Leader: Dale C. Maley column: Early Fairbury plumber C.B. Day