after considerable research found the story to be
true. It had been donated to the city by the owner of the local
power company, Dennis Bernal. They first used it in a hose-cart
house, then moved it to the fire station on Second Street, and
moved again to the new main station next to city hall in 1906.
It stayed there as a night light above the fire trucks until
1976, when a new headquarters was built for the fire department,
where it was moved and remains today.
Note to readers: Barry Schraders DeKalb
County Life column will appear every other Tuesday.
The song title above has more meaning to many residents
of Livermore, California, than just the tune made popular by
Debby Boone in the 1970s.
On June 27, my wife Kay and I stood gazing up at a light
bulb in a fire station in that city that has set a record unmatched
anywhere in the world.
Another tune came to mind, "This Little Light
of Mine, I'm Gonna Let It Shine," which would
describe what firefighters in that community have done since
1901. This little bulb has burned almost continually in a fire
station in Livermore for 114 years. Then on this one particular
day in June, they celebrated the light's million hours
of service, which also is the title of a newly-released
book by Livermore's retired Deputy Fire Chief Tom Bramell.
Thinking back 45 years, I knew a reporter named Mike Dustan
and his editor Fred Dickey at the Livermore Herald & News.
Dunstan discovered there was a light in the main fire station
in town that had reportedly been burning there since 1901, and
Looking at a display of lightbulbs, including one
identical to Livermores 114-year-old bulb are columnist
Barry Schrader and California State Assemblywoman Catharine Baker.
Seated is the lightbulb's webmaster and historian Steve
Bunn. formerly of Livermore and now
residing in Gainesville, GA. Second photo shows the historic
bulb hanging from the fire station ceiling.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Jorgensen of the Livermore, California,
During the 35 years I resided in that community I talked
to the fire chiefs about it, and pretty much took it for granted.
In 1990, I was looking for a title for my little book on local
history and decided on Will the Last Person Leaving Livermore
Please Unscrew the Bulb in Fire Station One. That stirred
up some renewed interest in the bulb.
Then in 2001 a group of us decided there should be a celebration
for the bulb's 100th birthday. We had no notion that this would
generate such excitement. People kidded that watching the bulb
glow about 30 feet off the firehouse floor was like watching
Dunstan had laid the foundation for its history and even
gotten the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripleys Believe
It or Not to check out its validity and declare it the worlds
Research has shown it is a 60-watt incandescent bulb manufactured
in Shelby, Ohio, using hand-blown glass and a carbon filament.
But several scientific studies to date have failed to determine
exactly why it has outlasted the average bulb, which will burn
about 1,000 to 2,000 hours. It now glows at about 4 watts after
114 years of use.
We were pleasantly surprised when nearly 900 people showed
up to see it glowing and eat some cake as we all sang "Happy
Birthday" for its centennial. The website, complete
with a webcam focused on it 24 hours a day, had been installed
and can still be seen today at www.centennialbulb.org if you
are interested. The webmaster, Steve Bunn, has fielded more than
1,000 inquiries and added hundreds of pages of stories, photos
and facts. That first party was followed by another on its 110th
birthday, and then this year it was determined the bulb had burned
for a million hours, thus time for another party. So Kay and
I joined several hundred people on a pleasant Saturday in June
to pay homage to this incredible little bulb and once again sing
"Happy Birthday." I imagine some of you
had a more exciting summer vacation highlight, but none as quirky
By the way, I hope to see some of you at the Waterman Lions
Club Summerfest &Tractor Show on Saturday, when I will be
at a table, selling my second volume of favorite columns, plus
offering copies of Acres of Change. Stop by and I
will show you a replica of the Livermore light bulb as well.