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Car of the Week: 1969 Chevrolet K/10

1969 Chevy K/10 still in its fire department’s hands
Car of the Week 2020
The East Cottage Grove Fire Department bought this 1969 Chevrolet K/10 Custom 4x4 new for fighting brush fires. Today, it has just 13,300 miles and is pictured outside the fire department which it still serves. The only fighting it does today, however, is fighting back hopeful buyers.

The East Cottage Grove Fire Department bought this 1969 Chevrolet K/10 Custom 4x4 new for fighting brush fires. Today, it has just 13,300 miles and is pictured outside the fire department which it still serves. The only fighting it does today, however, is fighting back hopeful buyers.

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.”

Still in the Cottage Grove fire department

Still in the Cottage Grove fire department

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.

The K/10 once had a rack in the bed for firemen to hang onto when driving to brush fires, but it was removed in its early-1990s repaint. Besides its paint and chrome wheels, the truck is in original, unrestored condition.

Firemen rode on the tailboard, which was in place of a rear bumper, since there was a tank and pump once located in the bed.

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.

The K/10 is well-outfitted with the chrome front bumper and bright grille.

The K/10 is well-outfitted with the chrome front bumper and bright grille.

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.

The bed has a beautiful wood floor. The tailgate was not used during the truck’s in-service years so it was in great condition when it was reinstalled during the truck’s repaint.

The bed has a beautiful wood floor. The tailgate was not used during the truck’s in-service years so it was in great condition when it was reinstalled during the truck’s repaint.

The 307-cid V-8 has a two-barrel carburetor and even looks it has only traveled 13,300 miles.

The 307-cid V-8 has a two-barrel carburetor and even looks it has only traveled 13,300 miles.

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