Fire trucks come and go as technology improves, but the Cottage Grove (Minnesota) Fire Department still has an old relic it hopes it never has to sell. These days, that relic has appeal well beyond the brick walls of the fire station making it even more extraordinary that it’s still a part of the fleet.
“There’s been talk of selling it, but everyone loves it for parades,” said Fire Chief Richard Redenius. “Everyone wants to drive it, but then they see it’s a stick. Not everyone knows how to drive a stick anymore.”
The truck that everyone fights over driving is a 1969 Chevrolet Custom K/10 built to fight brush fires. It was bought new by the East Cottage Grove Fire Department, a country hamlet known as “Old Town” just outside more suburban Cottage Grove.
Given its agricultural surroundings, a brush truck was a vital part of a rural fire department. To fight fires, the truck was originally fitted with a rack on the bed that firemen held onto en route to a blaze.
“They used to ride in the bed to grass and brush fires,” Chief Redenius said. “Five men at a time held onto two leather straps with a third strap around their bodies. It had a pump and tank in the bed and held shovels and brooms on the rack.”
The four-wheel-drive K/10 was originally outfitted with a two-barrel 307-cid V-8, a 4-speed manual transmission with a granny gear, a heater, power steering and backup lamps. Fire department records show the fire department paid about $2296 for the stepside shortbox pickup.
Fire departments are famous for taking care of their vehicles, and Cottage Grove’s 1969 Chevy truck was no different. Chief Redenius said many of the department’s firemen at the time were farmers, so they knew a thing or two about vehicle maintenance and did most or all of it themselves. As a result, the ’69 Chevy brush truck has always been in great condition. Since brush fires are a summertime occurrence, the truck was additionally spared from salt exposure except on rare occasions when it served double duty as a utility truck.
The 1969 Chevy was little East Cottage Grove Fire Department’s sole brush fire-fighting vehicle until the early 1990s when a new GMC truck was added to the fleet, Chief Redenius said. That’s about the time that the East Cottage Grove Fire Department was absorbed into the bigger Cottage Grove Fire Department. That period also marked the point in which the truck was retired from active service.
By 1993, the low-mileage K/10 had its share of scratches and nicks from firemen jumping in and out of the bed. Despite its age and state of semi-retirement, it was endeared enough by the city that it had the truck repainted and relettered by Coach Masters, a St. Paul restoration shop. At that time, the truck’s original tailgate, which had been removed for duty, was lifted out of the rafters and reinstalled. Today, the paint job is a little redder than original and for extra wow factor, the truck now sports chrome-plated “smoothie” wheels in place of its original steel wheels. Other than that, the ‘69 Chevy is original down to the drivetrain and untouched interior which both reflect the truck’s measly 13,500 miles.
In parades, the congenial cherry red truck often gets spectators shouting “How much?” to the truck’s driver, but there’s no plans to put it into civilian hands.
“As long as I am fire chief, it ain’t ever going to be sold,” Chief Redenius says.
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