hand fire engine from Pacific Engine Co. 14

Hand Engines

Restoring the gold leaf decoration
on early American fire engines...

These simple machines were decorated like fine furniture. There were often oil paintings on the sides of the water tub. The wheels and ironwork were pin-striped on every surface. Hand tubs are my favorite type of fire apparatus to restore. A wide variety of complex color combinations and decorative motifs were used in this era. The craftsmanship is often incredible.

Three restored hand fire engines in a row at Firefly Restoration. street scene in foront of city hall in NYC with hand engines passing.

    Before 1800, fires were fought by throwing water from buckets. The invention of the piston pump with a condenser chamber made it possible to get more water quickly onto the fire. "Hand tubs" consisted of a basin to hold water and a pump to spray the water. The pumps were powered by volunteers rocking long arms up and down, on both sides of the machine. If a water source was close by, a siphon hose could be used to draw water. If no source was close, a bucket brigade was formed to refill the tub as the pistons emptied it. It took many people to operate a hand pumper.    

1857 Button & Blake hand fire engine restored by Firefly Restoration. 1857 Button & Blake hand fire engine in Fire Gold shop front end of 1857 Button & Blake hand fire enginefront axel stripes by Peter Achorn on a 1857 Button & Blake hand fire enginecloseup of ornament on Protection hand engine. 1852 hand engine Empirestripes and lines on front end assembly of 1857 Button & Blake hand fire enginewater tub showing inlaid stars and gold leaf decorationGold leaf lettering on rocker arm of 1857 Button & Blake hand fire engine1857 American flag hand painted with gold leaf scroll and lettering.Wheel pin-stripes on 1857 Button & Blake hand fire engineFifth wheel and front axle of 1857 Button & Blake hand fire engine1955 photo of Denver hand engine with original gold scroll work.

    Engines could be any color. In old black and white photos we usually imagine that the vehicle is red, but this did not become the norm for many years. Each color of paint was priced by the cost of the pigment needed. Dark carmine red was a very expensive color. It became a point of pride to paint engines carmine.

brass plate on 1860 Cowing hand engine in Sellersville PA. 1860 Cowing hand engine pin-striped by Peter Achorn of Fire Gold.Fire Gold workshop with 1860 Cowing wheels and 1920s American LaFrance bodyGold leaf lettering on 1860 Cowing hand engine restoration. Crane neck assembly on 1860 Cowing hand engineRocker arm assembly pinstriped by Peter AchornFifth Wheel with wrought iron spiral ends to frame.Pivot assenbly of rocker arms on 1860 Cowing hand engineSellersville PA hand engine painted stripes restored by Peter AchornVermilion lines on 1860 Cowing hand engineWheel stripes and lines on 1860 Cowing hand engine in Sellersville PA
Americus Engine Co. in New York City with two hand tubs
Rockland Maine hand engine Red Jacket Badge for Jerome F.D. engine Pronto Before restoration photo of Button & Blake hand fire engine Completed restoration of 1860 Cowing hand engine 1860 Cowing hand engine restored for WallKill NY at Firefly Restoration Gold leaf scrolls and lettering on Wallkill NY 1860 Cowing hand engine by Peter Achorn Front end of 1860 Cowing hand engine restoration Fifth wheel stripes by Peter Achorn on 1860 Cowing hand engine Hook and ladder company
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