old photo of a wrecked Ahrens-Fox fire engine.


The focus of this website is just the painted and gold leaf decoration on American fire apparatus through the past two centuries. In this section you will find many close-up photos of restored engines to show their painted details. These decorations are historically accurate, and unlike modern style pin-striping in a few ways. Whenever possible I reproduce the designs that were on the vehicle when it left the factory. I carefully remove layers of paint to find the original paint job, which I document. I also search through old photos of vehicles for additional details and I visit museums whenever I'm near one.

Two American LaFrance restorations at Fire Gold workshop.

   Most antique engines have been repainted several times. Few owners realize how elaborate their vehicle looked when it was new. These vehicles were the pride of the community. They were more than just a practical machine. They saved lives and protected whole neighborhoods from the awesome destructive power of fire.

Button steam fire engine after restoration.1925 American LaFrance fire engine leaving the Fire Gold shop.Winston NC steam fire engine and hose wagon.American LaFrance Senior 400 with gold leaf applied, 1888 Rumsey hand engine restoration. 1850 Hunneman hand engine restoration. 1904 Amoskeag steam fire engine in Fire Gold shop for decoration. 1926 Maxim fire engine being restored by the owner, with decoration by Peter Achorn. 1936 American LaFrance Senior 400 Fire Gold workshop interior with parts from several restorations.parade belt Excelsior

    In 1972 I began my career in a shop that restored antique cars. The phase of the restoration process that I enjoyed the most was the detail painting, pin-striping, and lettering. This led me into the sign painting profession.
    In the early 1980's I worked for a wagon shop. I found the traditional decoration on horse drawn vehicles more interesting than modern pin-striping motifs. In 1985 I helped on the restoration of a steam fire engine for my local fire department. The following year I move to Maine and began working with Andy Swift of Firefly Restoration. Most of the photos on these pages are of projects from his shop.

American LaFrance gold leaf seat scroll. Tools for applying the asphaltum shading on the gold scroll.Tom Hopkins, Andy Swift and Reggie Montgomery with 4 red trucks.

    The following pages describe restorations I have helped with. They are divided into eras. First is the era of hand powered engines. Next comes steam powered engines, and finally motorized apparatus. Photos of original paint jobs from these eras can be found in the second half of this web site.

Scroll hand gilded and painted by Peter Achorn. Volunteer fire department at a parade.

   These early engines were in use from colonial times till about 1900. It took several firefighters to pull them, and many more to operate the pump. It was strenuous work, but still more efficient than the bucket brigades of earlier years.

Click image to open pages about restorations of hand engines. 1857 Button & Blake hand engine restoration in museum. 1888 Rumsey hand engine restoration. 1860 Cowing hand engine restoration. LAFD 1881 Amoskeag steamer and hose cart.

   Large communities switched to these engines between 1850 and 1910 . A coal fired boiler powered the pump. Fewer firemen were needed and the pump could work continuously for many hours. Most of these heavy machines required horses to pull them. The last of the steam pumpers were pulled by gasoline powered tractors.

Click image to open pages about steam engine restorations. 1910 Nott steam fire engine in the Tucson Rodeo parade.1907 Amoskeag steam fire engine restoration.restored 1904 Amoskeag steam fire engine with an American LaFrance tractor.White Mack fire engines in Springfield Ohio.

   Soon after 1900 many steam engine manufacturers began experimenting with gasoline powered vehicles. Companies such as Ahrens-Fox, American LaFrance, Maxim, Mack and Seagrave each had a unique scheme of decoration for their trucks.

Click image to open pages about motorized engine restorations. 1925 American LaFrance fire engine restoration.1923 Maxim Motor Co. fire engine restoration. 1930 Ahrens-Fox fire engine restoration.old photo of San Francisco water tower. 1898 Gorter water tower restoration.
1921 Seagrave fire engine restoration. 1921 Seagrave fire engine wheel decoration. 1920s pin-stripe restoration Fire Gold paintshop with a 1920s American LaFrance and a 1860 Cowing handtub in back. Painting tools used to add shadows to gold leaf scroll work. Green wheels from 1860 getting stripes. restored American LaFrance scrolls Maxim fenders after striping. Andy Swift and Rob Saucier taking a hand engine away. classic American LaFrance frame scroll on early motorized apparatus. Early motorized engine with hood scroll and gold stripes. Parts from four restorations gettig mixed up. 1860 pin-striping on Cowing hand engine. Fire Gold workshop with Vesuvius decoration being restored.

     Mechanical and historical aspects of these fascinating machines are not dealt with in any detail here. There are other web sites and books that can help you with these interests. The People & Places links page can direct you to some sources of information.

postcard image of steamer with a tractor.Steamer caught in a fire. Wood and rubberparts gone.
All photos, artwork and information are copyrighted by Peter Achorn and Fire Gold.  © 1999-2015 all rights reserved.
Any perceived copyright infringements are unintentional and will be removed upon request.