Motorized Fire Engines

Restoring the gold leaf decoration
on gasoline powered fire engines.

The early motorized engines were decorated beautifully. The large sheet metal surfaces gave the painters plenty of room to show off their skills. The major manufacturers each had their own distinct style of ornaments. As the years passed, the scroll work and pinstripes became simpler, but there were still gold leaf stripes on most gasoline powered fire engines.

Two restorations by Firefly Restorations1922 Brockway before restoration.1922 Brockway restoration at Firefly Restoration being reassembled.
Hood of 1922 Brockway restoration 1922 Brockway wheel decoration
Hose body close-up of 1922 Brockway restorationAsphaltum shading being applied to gold leaf scrolls.Hose basket on 1922 Brockway restoration1922 Brockway decoration on pump, chemical tank, gas tank, hose basket and hose body.

The two restorations below are Maxim Motor Co. fire engines. The bold "knot" corner design was a popular motif on horse drawn commercial vehicles in the 1800's. The fancy thin white lines also refer back to earlier vehicle decoration. This truck was well built and modern in every way mechanically. The decoration was added by painters with aesthetics from an earlier decade.

Frame end ornament on a 1926 Maxim fire engineSeat and seat riser with classic Maxim corner knots.1926 Maxim fire engine wheel stripesPump and hose body of 1926 Maxim fire engineThe chevron on the fender is standard on Maxims.Rear corner of 1926 Maxim fire engineSeats like sculpture from 1926 Maxim fire engine.Hose body corner decoration on a 1926 Maxim fire engine Eleven corner knots on 1926 Maxim fire engine1926 Maxim restored by owner, Dave Brown. Displayed at Owls Head Transportstion Museum

I spoke once with an old painter from the Maxim factory. He grew up in the town where the factory had always been, and learned from the old paint crew. The style he used in the 1950s still had remnants of 19th century coach painting techniques and designs. The engine below is a 1923 Maxim. It has distinctive chevron decorations on the fenders, and a nice use of black stripes throughout.

1923 Maxim fire engine wheel Restored 1923 Maxim fire engine by Firefly Restoration. Chevron cut into the front fender of 1923 Maxim fire engine. Chevron painted on front fender of 1923 Maxim fire engineRear axle decoration on Kearsarge No. 3

Below are photos of a 1917 Garford fire engine. Few Garford engines have survived and researching the decoration turned up only a handful of photos. From these pictures I got some hints of the Garford style.

Mebane name on hose body of 1932 Fore fire engine

This 1932 Ford was originally decorated without using any gold leaf. A standard stripe layout was followed with black paint replacing the gold stripes. The black stripes were outlined with gold paint made from bronze powder. The thin lines that run beside the stripes are silver. It is quite a pleasing effect.

1921 Seagrave fire engine with lettering and scrolls by Ken Soderbeck and stripes by Peter Achorn.

When this 1921 Seagrave engine arrived for restoration, it had many coats of varnish on top of the original paint job. The varnish had darkened over eight decades, and the surface appeared to be a dull tan with gold and brown stripes. When the varnish was removed, we found a light gray body. The brown stripes were actually a lavender-gray color. What a surprise. I gilded and painted the stripes and lines on this vehicle. The fancy ornaments were done by Ken Soderbeck of Hand-In-Hand Restoration.

1921 Seagrave fire engine wheel stripes by Peter Achorn.1921 Seagrave fire engine wheel stripes by Peter Achorn.Warm gray body of 1921 Seagrave fire engineGray body with gold leaf and purple stripes.1921 Seagrave fire engine gold stripes and thin red lines.1921 Seagrave fire engine restored by Firefly fob
1920s parade of fire vehicles. Restored 1922 Brockway engine in Mebane firehouse. 1922 Brockway fire engine hood. Wheel on a 1922 Brockway fire engine. Hose body of 1922 Brockway fire engine restorationRestored pin-stripe detail on 1922 Brockway fire engine.
1922 Brockway chemical engine being reassembled at Firefly Restoration. Gas tank on 1922 Brockway chemical engine.
Detail of hose body line work from 1920s.