May 9, 2008

We'll leave the light on

A low wattage light bulb has been burning at fire station no. 6 for 107 years. The bulb in Livermore, California is a world record holder according to Guinness and Ripleys. It was only dimmed for 22 minutes when it was moved to the new fire station in 1976.

In 1901, when the bulb was screwed into place inside a so-called hose-cart house, it cast its light on a simpler era, when horse-pulled carts carried water to fires.

The bulb burned day and night, hanging at eye level from a 20-foot cord. Its job: break the darkness so firefighters responding to calls wouldn't have to fumble to light the wicks of their kerosene lanterns. Manufactured by Shelby Electric of Shelby, Ohio, the bulb outlived its maker, which closed in 1914.

Later, in the main firehouse, it illuminated more modern rigs as horses were replaced by gas-fed engines.

It didn't always receive kid-glove treatment.

Climbing atop their engines, firefighters returning from World War II and Korea often would give the bulb a playful swat for good luck. The next generation used it as a target for Nerf basketball practice.

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