Industry Spotlight

August 2018
Interview with Kurt Smith of Brushfire Design
Kurt Smith of Brushfire Design paints on a classic Kenworth K100
  • Mark Harter
  • Kurt Smith

Mark: Hello Kurt, thanks for taking some time to talk with me! Would you mind telling our readers about your background and how Brushfire Design got started?

Kurt: It all started in 1981. I was 4 years old when my Dad bought a new delivery truck for our farm. He hired a sign painter to come out to the farm and letter it.

I was always drawing, and loved trucks and this sign painter could turn a vehicle into a piece of art. His shop truck was a slammed Chevy, which was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I watched him from start to finish. He lettered and pinstriped "Spud Wagon II" and from that day on, all I ever wanted to do was learn how to letter and pinstripe. I lettered my first truck for the farm at the age of 13 (it didn't turn out great, but I was proud of it.)

In 1996, at the age of 19, I stopped by the shop of the man I had met when I was a kid, it took six times before I caught him there, but I ended up going to work for him the next day!

Gary Wills, the owner of Pioneer Sign and Custom, in Monroe, Michigan saw something in me that he thought he could work with. Gary was the best in south east Michigan. We became great friends, and in 1999/2000 he moved south and I went off on my own. I then began working under the name "Brushfire" that same year.

Mark: What kind of services does Brushfire Design offer?

Kurt: I offer full truck lettering and signs, from digitally printed vinyl, to cut vinyl to hand painted signage.

About 3 years ago I decided to push the hand lettering and pinstriping more. I figured it was a niche that I was good at, and there are fewer of us around. It has really paid off. I have been doing a lot of antique heavy trucks both "toys" and working rigs. I've had trucks in my shop from two states away.

Western Star Twin-Steer Wrecker with rotating boom
Kenworth W900A
Heavy Haul Kenworth T800

Mark: What do you feel sets Brushfire Design apart from other companies in your line of work?

Kurt: Mostly the hand painted work. It really drives me nuts when I see a truck from the '20s - '70s with vinyl on it. I had a customer who wanted me to letter his truck, which was built in 1975, with vinyl. He told me that he "wanted to be able to remove it if he should decide to sell it", needless to say, we worked together to figure out how to maintain the vehicles age and style! I ended up hand painting the lettering on clear vinyl. Satisfying both him and myself.

It's a priority to me to spend time with the customer figuring out what they want. Their opinion is the only one that matters!

Kenworth W900A

Mark: We love old trucks here on, and you've worked on some impressive old rides, mind telling us about a few of them? Got a favorite of the bunch you've painted on?

Kurt: Honestly my favorite truck is the Cab Over Freightliner that I did for David Sercombe in Jackson, Michigan. I have been working for the Sercombe family since 2010. You won't find a better group of people. Jimmy and his boys, Tommy and his boys, David and his boys...

I did all of the fleet trucks for their company in vinyl. Both Jimmy and David had their "show trucks" built by the time I had met them. Both trucks had been lettered with vinyl. I think it took at least 5 years of my subtle "salesmanship" to finally convince David to remove all of the vinyl lettering, and replace it with hand painted lettering and pinstriping. I went wild and had a ball. David loved it too. Sadley David passed away a little over 2 years ago.

Sercombe Trucking's Freightliner FLB
Sercombe Trucking's Freightliner FLC
Sercombe Trucking's 1975 Dodge Big Horn

David's son Pete now proudly shows his Dad's truck. I have to say that particular Freightliner is probably my favorite truck that I've worked on.

I also really enjoy working on old trucks that still earn a living. Jimmy Lammon's blue "A" Model and Dalton Bontrager has an entire fleet of 30-40 year old trucks. I just think it's cool that these young guys are willing to keep these old trucks alive and running. I consider it a privilege to be a part of the process.

Mark: Do you own any trucks yourself?

Kurt: Yes and no. I would love to have an old COE, but can't afford all the expenses that go with owning a vintage truck. So this past January, I purchased a project for myself, a 1995 Chevrolet cargo van.

I back-dated all of the lights and grill on it. To the untrained eye, it looks like a 1975 era Chevy. It's coming along, but in 4 or 5 years, you won't recognize it!

My Dad has a 1931 Ford Model A pickup that we get to play with as well. It was his first car which he had bought at the age of 15.

Brushfire Design 1995 Chevrolet Cargo Van
1931 Ford Model A Pickup Truck

Mark: If an individual or company is interested in your services, how can they contact you?

Kurt: Please visit my website, call or drop me an email. My website,, is a good place to see what I've done and can do. I can be reached on my mobile phone at: (734) 368-3273. I can also be reached via email: [email protected].

Mark: You mentioned you will be in St. Ignace for the NAST Richard Crane Memorial Truck Show this September, will you have a booth there?

Kurt: Yes, my family and I are planning on being there. I'll have a lot to look at. The cargo van will be there as well as samples of my work.

Mark: You also own the Little Tractor Co. What is this?

Kurt: This one is kind of crazy. It is a business that started by accident. I built a 1/2 scale farm tractor for myself. Then I built a second 1/2 scale tractor for a friend. Never thought anything more about it until an older gentleman asked me to build one to sell to him... he was my first customer So, in the past 8 years, I have built 44 miniature tractors that are all over the US and a couple in Canada. I've even sent parts to Denmark! They really are pretty cool.

My favorite projects are when the customer says "build it like it's yours and let me know what I owe you..." I've had 6 machines like that... I never would have dreamed this would turn into a business, but it has. Check it out at:

International Harvester Farmall Super M with 1/2 scale Little Tractor Co replica
2 Little Tractor Co replicas, a International Harvester F20 and a model 1468 with functioning all-wheel-drive

I currently have plans drawn up for a miniature Kenworth Cabover. I just need someone willing to have me build it!

Mark: Thanks again Kurt. It's been great speaking with you. We wish you and Brushfire Design continued success!

Kurt: Thanks for having me here on your website and the chance to show off my work to your readers!

Kenworth W900A
  • Special thanks to Kurt for taking time to speak with us. If you are looking to make your truck(s) stand out, we suggest contacting him today!

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