I am always on the lookout for fire apparatus with original paint. I want my restorations to show the motifs, techniques and styles of these original pieces. I travel to museums and private collections to document engines in their original state. My library of books on fire service history contain few references to decoration. It is a topic that has not been written about much, thought it was quite important to the engine builders and firefighters of past times.
Large communities began using steam powered fire engines between 1850 and 1910 . A coal fired boiler powered the water pump. This was fighting fire with fire. Fewer firemen were needed with steam power and the pump could work continuously for days. Most of these heavy machines required horses to pull them. The last of the steam pumpers were pulled by gasoline powered tractors
My favorite restorations are the hand powered fire engines. These were built all through the 19th century. In the early years, the painters developed styles and motifs that would continue to be used through the steam and motorized eras. Hand engines were painted yellow, plum, blue, cream, brown, black, olive green and many other colors. Red did not become the standard color for fire apparatus until the steam era.
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. His restorations of fire apparatus are as fine as any I have seen. Most of the fire engine restorations on these pages are projects from his shop.
Ken Soderbeck has been a driving force in the movement to preserve and restore antique fire apparatus. His skills go way beyond gilding and painting. They include mechanical work along with fabrication in wood, metal, glass, leather and much more.
Ken has been a generous teacher to myself, Andy Swift and many other restorers. He and Andy are pictured to the right.