‘We played with that thing until the wheels fell off’

Donation for Denton Fire Relief Auction has personal meaning for LaFountain
Katherine Sears
Managing Editor
Tuesday, January 4, 2022
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Chuck LaFountain reminisces on many hours of his childhood spent playing with a vintage Gearbox Pedal Car Company fire truck at Shobe Auction and Realty on Monday. LaFountain has donated a mint condition version of the fire truck to the Denton Fire Relief Auction, which will be held Jan. 21-22. Photo by Katherine Sears

For Chuck LaFountain of Lewistown, there’s a particular childhood toy that makes his face light up, and memories flow into stories for his listener as he recalls hours and hours spent playing with a small, red vintage pedal fire engine, fit with a bell, fire hose, and ladders. 

“It was used when we got it, but it was just scraps by the time we were done playing with it,” LaFountain recalled. 

A Gearbox Pedal Car Company volunteer fire department truck was once the center of entertainment for Chuck and his brother, Richard, who were born and raised in Lewistown. 

“We played with that thing until the wheels fell off, then used nails to fix it,” LaFountain remembered. 

One day while Chuck was away, his brother played with it so hard, it became damaged beyond repair. 

“My brother felt so bad all this time, he got me a new one a few years ago,” said LaFountain. “It brought back a lot of memories.” 

While the toy engine holds many fond memories for LaFountain, he’s decided to donate the mint condition item to the Denton Fire Relief live and silent auction to be held Jan. 21-22 in Lewistown. The auction is a collaborative effort by several locals to raise funds for those affected by the West Wind Fire that burned through Denton. 

“My wife and I had it in the basement and decided it wasn’t doing any good there,” LaFountain explained. “I hope it will do well in the auction.” 

Expected to fetch a good sum of money, LaFountain said he felt compelled to donate the vintage pedal car after experiencing the devastation of fire himself. 

“In the late 70s, our house got broken into, then they set it on fire,” said LaFountain. “Having gone through a little bit of that myself, I know how difficult it can be.” 

Wanting to help, LaFountain said this is a good way to give back to a Central Montana community so affected by fire. 

“There’s so much that goes on after a fire, that years later, you think ‘Oh, I have that,’ but no you don’t, it’s gone,” said LaFountain. “Some things that do make it don’t last long.” 

The irony of the situation is not lost on LaFountain. 

“The toys were really popular in the late 1940s and early 50s,” said LaFountain. “They had all kinds – police cars, fire trucks – this one just happened to be a fire truck.”

He’s hopeful the item will find a good home.  

“I’d just like to see it go to someone who will appreciate it as much as we did when we were kids.” 


About the auction

LaFountain’s vintage toy fire engine will be on auction during the Denton Fire Relief Fund Benefit Weekend, which will be held at the Trade Center in Lewistown Jan. 21-22. 

The event grew out of an online auction, which Amy Thompson started to aid in the West Wind Fire recovery efforts. 

“People wanted to donate things and a lot of stuff didn’t work to sell on the Facebook auction,” Beau Carter explained.

Carter and several other Central Montanans are spearheading the live auction, which will be conducted by Kyle Shobe. 

“A handful of people from Central Montana got together and figured out what we needed to do,” said Carter. “We had just done the Cheers to Volunteers event, so it was pretty easy to keep the ball rolling.” 

The weekend will kick off with a social, silent auction, and live music the evening of Friday, Jan. 21. Musical acts include Colt Gill, Tris Munsick, Kaci and Blake Hauptman, and SunsAh406. 

Carter said the group is still accepting consignments and donations for the auction, but stresses the importance of donating quality items. 

“We are trying to find some really unique, big items or packages to auction,” said Carter. 

Several of the big items already donated include coyote hunts by helicopter, a variety of different Mexico vacations, ski and fishing packages, and beef and pork donations. 

“We really appreciate all the support so far,” said Carter. “People have been amazing.” 

Items will be accepted until Jan. 16, and the live auction will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 22. For more information about the auction, or for donations or consignments, contact Kyle Shobe at (406) 366-0472, Chaney Brown at (406) 836-0290, or Amy Thompson at (406) 366-0796.