One man's obsession with fire trucks

GRANTS PASS — Duane Coatney knows fire engines — and has a model of almost every one ever made.

Coatney, 81, has covered the walls of his den and office with models, toys, puzzles and anything else he can find that is a fire engine, sports a fire engine or is part of a fire engine. His models alone number 2,148 and the collection continues to grow. He hasn't even tried to count the other items that are part of the collection.

"What can I say? I'm a collector," Coatney said with a chuckle. "Every time I go out, I look for fire engines just to make sure I don't miss one that I might not have. I know that I'm going to have to stop some day when I get old enough."

The retired firefighter moved to Grants Pass 24 years ago from the San Jose area. He and his wife, Charmaine, had visited the area to see friends and fell for Southern Oregon's charm.

Coatney got his first taste of firefighting as a 16-year-old working on the Forest Service's wildfire crews during the summers. After a stint in the Navy and a few manufacturing positions, he decided to return to firefighting.

"I didn't like working in those jobs," he said. "I missed firefighting."

He was 25 years old when he got a position with the Santa Clara County Fire Department in Cupertino, Calif. It was during his down hours that he got into model building, and, of course, he chose fire engines to honor his new job.

After he built a few models, Coatney started to notice the models were not as accurate as he wanted them to be. That's when he started modifying the kits to make them more accurate.

"I found kits to build antique fire engines and that is when I really started to get into collecting," he said. "Up until then, I only had about half a dozen or so."

That collection now fills more than half a dozen custom cabinets Coatney built to run along one wall of his den to show off his prizes.

"It helps keep the dust out. This is the first time in a long time I've had out so many," he said while looking over the engines he placed on the pool table top. "I have to look at them from time to time just to remember what I've got."

Among his models are fire engines from around the world, including one from Japan that is used to fight fires triggered by volcanic explosions, a steam engine unit that was converted from a horse drawn cart and the most unusual, the tunnel engine from France that features two motors allowing firefighters to drive into the tunnel using the front steering system and then climb into the back unit to drive out without having to turn the truck around.

"I don't know how much some of these are worth," he said. "I haven't been able to find prices or a way to compare them."

"I'm surprised at how big it got," Coatney added about his collection. "But collecting is easy to do and I have the time. It's a lot easier than going hunting."

Share This Story