Finding Gold on a Fire Truck

Posted by Michael H. Smith, on July 31, 2020

Who stole my bucket?

In the early days of fire brigades, firefighters brought their personal bucket to be used in the rotating chain to carry water.  At the end of the response, there would be a massive pile of buckets, and as persons left, they just picked up one and headed home.  The problem, not all buckets are created equal, and those who had invested funds for the best often ended up walking home with something less.

Enter the decorated bucket.

Mike Norris of Gold Leaf Lettering explains it like this:

“After the fire, there’d be a pile of buckets,” he said. “Maybe you had a really nice looking bucket, but another guy didn’t, so he’d grab yours. So, naturally, you’d put your name on it. That’s how it started.”

The competition begins and continues.

What started as a claiming of your bucket by adding your name evolved through the friendly journey of competition to more elaborate designs. “Things started to get more and more elaborate,” Norris said. “These guys were constantly trying to outdo each other..."

Then came 'gold leaf.'

The process of adding gold leaf to any object is an art and starts with the hammering of gold into thin sheets. Gold leaf is available in a various karats and the most commonly used gold is 22-karat yellow gold.

As the fire service transitioned from buckets to fire wagons to fire trucks, the art of gold leaf lettering followed. Today, adding gold leaf to a fire apparatus is still practiced however, on a smaller percentage of trucks. One of the significant contributors to its demise is the lack of trained craftsmen to carry out the art.


Information for this post was gathered from:

Tradition of Hand-Applied Gold Leaf Fades Into History

Gold-Leaf History

Know the Facts

Gold Leaf

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