In 1901, when the tiny bulb was first screwed into place inside a so-called hose cart house, it cast its light on a simpler era.
Back then, horse-pulled carts carried water to fires. The bulb burned day and night, hanging at eye level from a 20-foot cord. Its job: to break the darkness so firefighters responding to calls wouldn't have to fumble to light the wicks of their kerosene lanterns. Manufactured by the Shelby Electric Co. of Shelby, Ohio, the bulb soon 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 -- the Vietnam veterans and the younger kids -- used it as a target for Nerf basketball practice.
Then, in 1972, a local reporter checked records and interviewed old-timers to trace its history. Firefighters suddenly realized they had a treasure.
"The good-luck slaps and target practice stopped," Bramell recalls. "We figured, 'Wow, maybe we should take care of this bulb.' "
(Image: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times)
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.