La Center (WA) Resident Builds Hot Rod Fire Apparatus

A fire truck hot rod was build by Rod Kirk of La Center.

The hot rod custom started before WWII, when teens chopped down cheap four-cylinder Model Ts to make them faster and raced them in dry lakes and city streets in Southern California. The tradition has evolved through the years, but the essence of a hotrod is still to start with a vintage vehicle, lower it, fit it with some fat tires, and soup up or swap out the engine.

Kirk purchased his fire truck from his cousin, Arnie Kuchta of Battle Ground, who had acquired the Ford along with a 1936 Chevy fire truck from the fire district in White Salmon. The fire truck was running when Kirk purchased it, but the original engine would only travel at a top speed of 40 mph.

Kirk upgraded the engine to a 450 horsepower V8 and added a new front suspension to support it. This meant it needed power disk brakes; the old manual brakes would not have been able to stop a fire truck now travelling up to 100 miles per hour. He added 16-inch wide tires in back, and lowered the truck.

The fire truck no longer sprays water but otherwise the body is original, with the same paint and pinstriping as the day it rolled out of the factory.

At the Battle Ground Halloween Fun Fest last year, Kirk’s truck along with Kuchta’s Chevy, were decked out for the holiday and elicited both smiles and cautious stares from trick-or-treaters. They spent many hours creating their holiday theme, which included a girl doll on a swing singing an eerie song, ghouls, witches, and cobwebs, and a live skeleton fireman handing out candy.

The fire trucks rumble through events and parades throughout the year. At Angels on Wheels, they join hundreds of hot rodders from around the area who cruise from Portland Meadows to Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland bearing toys for hospitalized children.

They appear at the Fire District 6 “Fill the Boot” fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, at the Hazel Dell Parade, and at the Harvest Days Parade. In addition, they hit as many summer cruise ins as they are able.

Christmas time calls for pulling out all the stops, and decorating takes a couple of weeks. The Kirks have a band of elf dolls whose antics on the fire truck change each year. They roast marshmallows over a playhouse chimney, ride a bicycle built for two, and poke their heads out the windows.

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