By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s been bought, sold, fixed up, set on fire and fixed up again. There’s a resilient fire truck that just won’t stay down, and that’s added to the pride of South St. Paul.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us how a couple fell in love with a 51-year-old fire truck, and why they’re not alone.

Everyone has a story about the one that got away. It could be about missing out on a trophy walleye or losing a game at the buzzer. But in South St. Paul the one that got away was a 1968 Pirsch Fire Truck.

“We have a retired chief in town whose first call was on this truck,” said Jeff MacDonald.

Like pumper trucks have a tendency to do, it got a work out in South St. Paul through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s before retiring. Then it was sold again and again, going from history buffs to collectors — until three years ago when Jeff MacDonald learned it was sitting in a field in Maple Grove.

“What inspired you to buy an old fire truck and bring it back here?” John Lauritsen asked. “Preserving history of South St. Paul. I love preserving history. Especially South St. Paul. This truck is a prime example of that. I fell in love with it. It’s very unique,” answered MacDonald.

“I have to admit the first thing that went through my head was what? I was surprised,” said Natalka Kramarczuk, Jeff’s girlfriend.

For Natalka, the alarms went off- but only for a minute. Soon, she was helping Jeff convert it into something the entire city could enjoy.

“I learned a lot about the mechanics of a truck. I’ve helped with the shifter cable. I’ve helped with lights and sirens and air horns. I learned more about this truck than my own vehicle,” said Natalka

It was blood, sweat and tears, but the town took notice. With the truck back home that meant it was back in parades for the first time in decades. And its fans came out, including a man who was battling stage 4 cancer.

“We put him on this truck and he lit up. He was in agonizing pain and he lit up like a little kid. He used to tell stories of watching this fire truck from his window and chasing it down the street as a young kid. That’s what it’s about,” said MacDonald.

Things were rolling along. History was heating up, until Jeff got a call while on vacation last summer that someone had vandalized the truck and lit it on fire.

“Devastated,” said MacDonald. “For somebody to do that to the fire truck and to us it really hit us hard.”

It’s not every day a fire department has to put out a fire in a fire truck.

The damage was extensive, especially since they don’t make parts like this anymore. But once again Jeff and Natalka went to work — nights, weekends whatever it took. And finally they helped the truck rise from the ashes. Now, they go wherever the roads take them. And the people of South St. Paul wouldn’t have it any other way.

“You can hear people cheering when we bring it back on the streets because they thought we were going to be down and we aren’t down,” said Kramarczuk.

“We tell the kids and the parents to play on the truck. Use it as a jungle gym. Have fun with it. Enjoy it. That’s what it’s there for . We want to share this,” said MacDonald.

Jeff and Natalka’s truck is now nicknamed “Ashes” and it’s been used for birthday parties and weddings.

If you’d like more information on the truck or would like to learn more about its history, click here.

John Lauritsen

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