Okabena fire truck offered on eBay

OKABENA -- You can call it a fund-raiser, a space maker or a source of entertainment, but one thing is for sure, the Okabena Fire Department is using unconventional means to deal with a piece of excess property.

OKABENA -- You can call it a fund-raiser, a space maker or a source of entertainment, but one thing is for sure, the Okabena Fire Department is using unconventional means to deal with a piece of excess property.

Les Ruthenbeck has been on the local fire department in this small Jackson County community for just two years, but he's even more of a rookie when it comes to the online auction house, eBay.

Still, when it came to finding a buyer for the department's 1949 KB-5 International Harvester fire truck, Ruthenbeck stepped up to the plate and opened the bidding to the wide world of auction enthusiasts.

Hours after the truck was listed on the eBay Motors auction block Wednesday, nearly 500 hits had been recorded, and someone had already cast the starting bid of $5,000. The auction will continue for 10 days, with the winning bidder to cover the cost of shipping the truck.

Okabena Fire Chief Larry Kruger said the town purchased the truck new in 1949, and it has been stored in a heated building ever since. It still features its original paint, will be sold complete with ladders, buckets and fire extinguishers, and has just 3,300 miles on the engine.


The reason for the sale -- the department's new pumper arrived last November, thanks to a major grant from the Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters program.

The arrival of the new pumper meant something had to go, and Kruger said they opted to part with the '49 truck instead of the 1929 soda pumper, which he said has more sentimental value.

"We've still got Old No. 1," said Kruger. "Back in the day, and I'm not old enough to remember this of course, but you know how pop fizzes? That's how they got their pressure back in the day."

As for the 1949 International that's up for sale, Ruthenbeck said it was retired in 1979. Ever since, they've pulled it out for the town's annual Fourth of July parade and various other times during the year just to keep the gears running smoothly.

Ruthenbeck said there are some people in town who hate to see a piece of Okabena's history sold in an on-line auction, but he's tried to ease their concerns by saying the truck will go to a good home.

Before the department listed the truck on eBay, Ruthenbeck said it was showcased on the Ted's Engine House Web site.

"That was just kind of to go fishing -- to see what kind of offers would go in on the thing," said Ruthenbeck. They had between 20 and 30 inquiries, of which about half a dozen were serious.

"Most of them kind of wanted to use it for promotions, businesses that wanted to use it in parades ... most of them promised it a good home. It sounded like they were serious collectors," he said. "One guy wanted to make a hot rod out of the thing."


The department decided on a $5,000 starting bid for the truck, based on a couple of offers they'd received. The best price offered locally was in the $3,000 range.

"EBay, we thought, would be fair for all of them to bid on, and include the local people too," said Ruthenbeck.

The decision to list the truck on eBay created some issues in city government. Typically, excess property is offered to the highest bidder in a surplus sale or sealed bid arrangement.

Ruthenbeck said they're simply out to find the best deal for the city -- and help cover the $27,000 it cost to outfit the department's new pumper with hoses, nozzles, radios, a generator and auxiliary lighting.

"We borrowed some money to equip the truck, and this (sale) will go to pay the loan," he added.

Neither Ruthenbeck nor Kruger know what to expect as to the price the truck will bring.

"Everyone is curious," said Ruthenbeck. "We're just going to see where it ends."

Of those who have shown interest, Ruthenbeck said they hail from all across the U.S. He even had one inquiry from Poland.


"I didn't reply to that one because we just don't feel like shipping it across the pond," he said. "That's just something I don't want to get into."

Whoever the successful bidder is, Ruthenbeck is sure they will have it hauled to them via trailer if they are a considerable distance from Okabena.

"It would be a pretty slow grind down the road," he said. "It only goes about 45 miles per hour, full speed."

People can view the fire truck's listing on eBay Motors by either searching for 1949 International Fire Truck or typing in the item number, 4614615549.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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