Battle Ground man brightens the holidays through collecting toys with his antique fire engine
BATTLE GROUND — Dressed entirely in his firefighter turnouts and sporting a “Rat Rod Fire Dept.” fire helmet, Arnie Kuchta climbs into his souped-up antique fire engine, adorned with Christmas lights.
The Battle Ground resident has been driving the engine for 12 years now, and has used the eye-catching ride to collect toys and donations for Randall Children’s Hospital for the last five.
“People always ask me when they see me, ‘What’s it take to get you to show up somewhere? How much?’” Kuchta said. “And I say, ‘How much? I don’t want nothing. Just give me some toys!’”
Kuchta works for his local fire department, overseeing the maintenance of the trucks and facilities. Everything he does with his engine, however, is on his dime and his time.
The 1936 Howard Cooper fire engine on a Chevrolet chassis was originally owned by the city of Long Beach. It is most often seen in community parades throughout Clark County and beyond. Kuchta bought the engine and restored many components to make it street legal and safe.
While collecting toys and donations at a small event five years ago, Kuchta connected with the Multnomah Hot Rod Council, (MHRC), which was interested in him and his fire engine. A partnership followed, where Kuchta began gathering donations for MHRC’s Angels on Wheels Toy Run.
The toy run provides toys for children at Randall Children’s Hospital throughout the year, with a large influx around Christmas and New Years.
“A lot of people have this myth that they just give them out at Christmas time,” Kuchta said. “They give the toys out year-round, and it’s not just to the children that are in the hospital, sometimes it’s siblings … sometimes the parents just need to go get a cup of coffee.”
Over the past 2018 season, Kuchta raised approximately $3,000, with $2,000 of that collected just after Thanksgiving through the first half of December. Many times driving the engine to a event or bar and just walking around with an empty firefighters boot garners the most donations, Kuchta said.
All the expenses in running the engine in events, including $800 in Christmas lights, tires, gas, candy, and time, are all supplied by Kuchta himself.
Kuchta and his cousin both own and operate antique fire engines, and often work together to coordinate to bring them to events and parades.
Kuchta explained how every once and awhile, he will have the opportunity to give out a few gifts himself. He seemed to be holding back tears as he shared that.
“I had some stuffed animals that somebody gave me, and I was up in Centralia,” he said. “I just had this little stuffed moose. I just stopped my fire engine in the middle of the parade and I jumped out … and I walk up to this little girl and give her that moose, and she was just glowing from ear to ear.”
MHRC and Kuchta will soon begin prep work for collecting toys and donations for 2019. For next year’s holiday season they plan to bring Mr. and Mrs. Claus along for the ride too.