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. Mike discovered there was a light in the main fire station in town that had reportedly been burning there since 1901, and 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.
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 paint dry.
Dunstan had laid the foundation for its history and even gotten the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’'s Believe It or Not to check out its validity and declare it the world’s longest-burning bulb.
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.
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 a hundred 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 as ours.
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.
• • Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. To view the index of 600 local names in his latest book, "“Hybrid Corn & Purebred People, Volume 2,”" go to his website www.dekalbcountylife.com and click on NEW BOOK.