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Monticello's 1929 fire truck runs like new after rehabilitation

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Monticello 1929 Fire truck

When the Monticello Fire Department was looking a year ago to refurbish its original 1929 fire truck, it turned to a trusted source - a retired firefighter with years of repairing fire trucks and other vehicles under his belt.

Jerry Klein of Lester Prairie, a former firefighter with the Cologne Fire Department, was called upon, not only because of his knowledge of vintage fire trucks and vehicle repairs, but because his son Dan Klein is the fire marshal and fire inspector for the City of Monticello. Jeremy Armstrong of Diamond Star Auto Spa in Waconia also helped bring the truck back to life.

The 1929 Chevrolet fire truck has a long history in Monticello. It is the first truck ever purchased by the department in 1929. 

The Chevrolet Triple combination Type AA truck was shipped to Monticello from the manufacturer on March 28, 1929 and held 300 gallons of water. It came with an 80 gallon booster chemical tank.

It was because of this truck that Monticello built its first fire station, according to the history of the department compiled in 1997 for the department’s centennial.

“Upon the purchase of a fire truck in 1929, a station was needed. The first fire station was located downtown in the 200 block on Main Street. The building was used in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, until replaced by a station at 213 Cedar Street.

The red fire truck with a lantern hanging on its right side, responded to its first major fire on November 20, 1929 when the Monticello Preserving Company’s canning factory burned in a fire caused by an overheated stove. The building was a total loss, according to the Nov. 21, 1929 edition of the Monticello Times. Losses were estimated at over $100,000 in 1929 dollars.

In recent times, the fire truck rested peacefully in a City storage garage, making annual appearances in Monticello’s Riverfest Parade.

But truth be told, the truck had fallen into a state of disrepair and its road worthiness was in question.

With the opening of the Monticello Fire Department’s new fire station on Chelsea Road right around the corner, there was sentiment to give the truck an honor fitting of a city’s first fire truck that has given 90 years of service to its community. A decision was made to prominently feature the truck with a display at the new station. The department also wanted the truck to be able to continue being featured in the parade and to be used, if needed, during future funerals for those who served the community as members of the fire department.

That’s where Jerry Klein came in.

Jerry Klein made a trip to Monticello where he took a look at the truck in a city maintenance shop. The truck was put up on a hoist, where the former firefighter and vehicle enthusiast who assisted in the restoration of Cologne’s 1923 LaFrance fire truck in 1980, could get a close-up look at what was before him.

“My first thought was that it could be done,” Klein said of bring the fire truck back to safe operating order.

But to do so, Klein would have to reach deep inside the knowledge gained from his years of managing a service station, time spent working on a repair truck, and lessons learned from his father about engine overhauls while growing up on a dairy farm.

“I thought that ‘29 Chevy needed a lot of work - and eventually it did,” he added.

His initial reaction to taking on the project, was understandable.

“I really didn’t want to do it,”Klein recalled when hearing about the mechanical state of the ‘29 Chevy.

“But I was pretty familiar with fire trucks so I figured if anyone was going to do it, it might as well be me,” Klein said.

Klein originally thought he would be making a few mechanical repairs.

“I was asked to make it road worthy so it could be used in a parade once a year and for funerals,” Klein recalled.

“But one thing led to another and the next thing we knew, we were looking at a full restoration,” Klein said.

The 1929 Chevy hadn’t had an oil change in 30 years. Oil was leaking, the fuel pump was bad and the truck was in need of a complete tune-up. In addition, the head gasket leaked. The front wheel bearings also needed work.

The only original lights were the headlights - and the lights that were on the truck were all in need of new wiring kits, from the turn signals to the brake lights, tail lights, and parking lights. That led to the replacement of the entire electrical system.

Jerry Klein rewired the siren, and added new switches, a “push-pull” switch for the truck’s lights, and a heavy-duty starter button. A master gas shut-off was added to make the truck more safe.

He also installed new running boards along the sides of the truck and added original Chevy step plates.

“We also had to redo all the wood in the back, that included sanding, re-staining, and varnishing,” he said.

There were no mirrors on the truck, so Klein added those. He also added grab handles to assist in getting into the cab.

“It needed lots of work,” Klein said.

And with a lot of work, came a need for a lot of help. Klein estimates about 180 hours of labor went into the truck.

The restoration of the fire truck became a family affair. Jerry Klein called upon his son Damon for help, who, with his father, had experience restoring tractors and had done some work in the past. Jerry’s wife, Gloria, also played an important role in the truck’s restoration and did much of the sanding, varnishing, and staining of new wood on the truck and handled much of the upholstery work. Jerry Klein says one also can’t discount the role his computer played in the restoration of the truck. Klein says he spent countless hours on the Internet searching websites of parts dealers and collectors for fire truck parts.

Some of those items included a manual hose reel for the truck’s fire hose, and 12 brass balls on the hose wheel. Leather strips that hold fire hoses were replaced because most of the strips were rotten, Klein said. 

One of the great finds now featured on the truck didn’t come from far at all. Klein’s neighbor had two nozzle trumpets that fit the truck. Klein made brackets and mounted the trumpets. Klein also made a battery box to secure the truck’s battery.

With the repairs complete, and vintage parts replaced, the truck still seemed to be missing something, Jerry Klein said.

What was missing was luster. The truck just didn’t have the “shine” of a candy-apple red fire truck.

That’s where Jeremy Armstrong at Diamond Star Auto Spa came in.

When the ol’ 29 came into Armstrong’s Waconia shop, it was full of a lot of little scratches and had an overall haze to its paint job.

The truck had a 1980s lacquer to it and gold striping and lettering that had been added around 1985.

“We had to be very delicate because of the striping,” Armstrong said.

When done, Armstrong says he was able to bring back the truck’s color, and remove 50 to 60 percent of the truck’s scratches.

“We gave it a nice, new look,” he said.

But it was a lengthy process.

“It took us a full week, from early Monday morning to Friday,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong says he started with a 5-inch pad and worked his way down, switching to a 3-inch polisher and later a 1-inch polisher.

“It was a fun project and I’m honored to be able to work on a timepiece that’s 90 years old,” Armstrong said.

When finished and returned to Monticello, the 1929 Chevy looked pretty darn good- and was now DOT (department of transportation) legal, to boot.

“When it was done, I thought it looked pretty good,” Jerry Klein said.

“I hate to brag, but I told my wife Gloria that I even impress myself once in a while,” he said.

Bragging aside, Klein is humbled that he was involved in restoring a truck that will be on display at the new Monticello fire station.

“It’s kind of an honor to know I had something to do with that,” Klein said.

“Hopefully it will be good for another 90 years,” he said.

Reach Jeff Hage at jeff.hage@ecm-inc.com

 

Editor

Jeff Hage is the managing editor of the Monticello Times. He majored in journalism at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire.

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