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Brutus: A blast from the past shares an important message

NEVADA – Brutus is a 62-year-old International B-160 Harvester Model 56 fire engine who, though since retired from operational service, still has a propensity for supporting the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

While his goal was once to extinguish wildfires, Brutus’ current aim is to promote fire prevention awareness and the USDA Forest Service mission. He most recently made his second appearance at Hot August Nights in Reno, Nevada. Hot August Nights is the largest classic car and nostalgia event in the country, drawing hundreds of thousands of spectators and thousands of classic cars, none of which are sure to have the rich history in the fire service as Brutus.

As an eager young engine in 1957, Brutus was stationed on the Georgetown Ranger District on the Eldorado National Forest in Northern California. Then known as Tanker 321, Brutus saw a lot of action while traveling all over the western United States. After twenty years on the Eldorado, Brutus moved over to Spooner Summit Station joining the fleet of fire trucks on the Toiyabe National Forest’s Carson Ranger District. Sometime later the Forest Service retired the old engine and surplused it to the Nevada Division of Forestry, where it found a temporary home at a Reno fire station.

NDF moved Brutus from Reno to the Kyle Canyon Fire Station, northwest of Las Vegas, where it continued to serve for several years. Brutus was later relocated west of Las Vegas, to the Spring Mountain State Park, to provide fire protection for park structures. He was then moved again to the Valley of Fire State Park, south of Moapa Valley, Nevada, where he was the only fire apparatus within hours of response.

Finally, Brutus was transferred back to the Toiyabe National Forest in May 1991, officially coming to a rest there after a long and illustrious fire career. He spends his retirement attending events, such as strutting his stuff in the Nevada Day Parade in Carson City, Nevada, and, most recently, hot-rodding with the classics at Hot August Nights.

B&W photo of vintage fireturck and its drivers
Mark Blankenstop, who served as Brutus' crewman tank truck operator from 1975-1976, posing with the iconic fire engine. USDA Forest Service photo.
Original truck driver poes next to fire engine he drove
Mark Blankenstop, who staffed Brutus in 1975, posing with the fire engine. USDA Forest Service photo.

Brutus did not attend Hot August Nights alone this year, he had a very special man by his side to take him down memory lane. Mark Blankensop actually staffed Brutus on the Georgetown Ranger District, on the Eldorado National Forest, from 1975-1976. As what was then known as a “crewman tank truck operator,” Mark made some unforgettable memories riding in the cab of the trusty International.

“We could not go very fast down the highway, but the 4-wheel drive in this thing was great,” said Blankensop.

Blankensop notes that the only part on Brutus that isn’t original is the roof. On a fire near Shingle Springs, California, Brutus took a burning oak tree right to the noggin. Crew members, including Blankenstop, had tried to warn the captain that they were in the direct path of the fire-weakened tree, but he was deep in conversation and could not to be bothered. The crew then had to lift the burning tree off of Brutus, and proceeded to drive him around the fire, accordion-roof and all.

Blankensop volunteered to come talk to people about Brutus and relive some of his fondest memories from his Forest Service career. He was an absolute crowd favorite at Hot August Nights. They could not help but get swept up in his stories and love of Brutus, the Forest Service, and fire as a whole.

A proud symbol of fire prevention, Brutus provides the perfect gateway to discussions about the importance of vehicle maintenance for fire prevention, in addition to providing an excellent opportunity for recruitment. Kids and adults alike cannot help but light up when they see the truck, and they all have a story to tell- just like Brutus himself. In this case, remembering the good old days leads to better fire prevention practices in the future, a cause that is well worthwhile.

Brutus the fire engine with FS employees
Fire Prevention Officer Jennifer Diamond and Fire Public Information Officer Withanee Milligan enjoy showcasing Brutus the retired fire engine at Hot August Nights in Reno, Nevada. Courtesy photo by Mary Leon.
Historic B&W photo of Brutus the fire engine
Photo or Brutus in its earlier years of operation. USDA Forest Service photo.
Brutus the fire engine with FS employees
Fire Prevention Technician Dejon Clay and Fire Prevention Officer Jennifer Diamond educate the public on the importance of vehicle maintenance to prevent wildfires with Brutus the fire engine during Hot August Nights in Reno, Nevada. USDA Forest Service photo by Withanee Milligan.