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Column: Funeral home hearses raced as ambulances
Johnny Vardeman

Back before Hall County had an organized Emergency Medical Services department, funeral home “ambulances” responded to accidents, especially vehicle crashes.

There was great competition among the mortuaries, which included Ward’s Funeral Home, Vickers Funeral Home and Little-Davenport, along with Greenlee and Young’s.

It seemed the rivalry was particularly intense between Ward’s, operated by Sadie Bell Ward and her two sons, Buck and Henry, and Vickers, run by Hubert and Billy Vickers.

Bill Strickland, who now owns a funeral home in Clermont, began working for Ward’s at age 13. There was no emergency ambulance service in those days, so the funeral homes responded. They had no equipped emergency vehicles, just hearses that were used on emergency calls and perhaps for funerals the next day.

Strickland recalls spending all night on an emergency call, then using the same ambulance as a hearse for a funeral at 2 p.m. the next day.

When there was a car accident, each funeral home might get a call, and they would race each other to get there first.

“You might save somebody’s life one night, but then they’d get mad at you for sending them a bill,” Strickland said. “The charge usually was only $5 to $10.”

In those days, mothers with newborn babies would go home from the hospital in an ambulance, which oftentimes was a Packard or Cadillac.

It was naturally disturbing for Strickland when he went on an accident call to find a close friend had been injured or killed.

Besides his years as a teenager working for a funeral home, he also served in the State Patrol. His WR Strickland and Sons Funeral Home has been in business for 50 years.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, or His column publishes weekly.

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