Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

One couple’s affection for a vintage ambulance July 26, 2012

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED about the types of individuals who own vintage ambulances and hearses. Why? Why would you want a vehicle associated with medical emergencies and/or death?

Craig and Kathy Schuster arrive in their 1969 Cadillac ambulance on Faribault’s Central Avenue.

Craig Schuster of Faribault partially answered that question after he and wife Kathy pulled onto Central Avenue in their 1969 Cadillac ambulance during the recent Faribault Car Cruise Night. I practically pounced to get answers from the couple who are members of The Professional Car Society, Northland Chapter, and have also owned a hearse.

Looking for a parking spot during Faribault Car Cruise Night, held on the third Friday of every month, May – September.

For Craig, the interest in ambulances stretches back to his youth. Growing up in Waseca during the 1950s and 1960s, he admired the ambulances driving through town on their way to Rochester.

“They just tripped my trigger,” says Craig. “I always said, ‘I’m going to work in, drive and own one.’”

And he did—all three. Craig is a casual EMT, plus a barber, although his wife laughs and admits that’s hard to believe given her husband’s long silver pony tail.

Yes, the lights and siren still work. Craig obliged my request to turn on the lights.

The couple’s attachment to ambulances, specifically the 1969 Cadillac, is assuredly one of devotion. They sold the Cadillac in 2006 after four years of ownership, then bought it back this spring. Why? Says Kathy: “We like it.”

Part of Craig’s affection for this particular ambulance likely comes from his belief (or perhaps more accurately, wishful thinking) that this could be the very same ambulance used in the 1977-1983 television drama CHiPS. His ambulance, he claims, is identical to the one seen in the show which features the adventures of two motorcycle-riding California highway patrolmen. I really remember only the handsome and macho Erik Estrada in his role as Frank “Ponch” Poncherello. The ambulance? What ambulance?

As Craig tells it, his 1969 Cadillac ambulance came from southern California and was on the verge of being crushed in a salvage yard when it was rescued and brought to Minnesota.

“I wish this thing could talk,” Craig says. “Maybe it would say, ‘Yes, I’m the one (from the ChiPS show).’”

A peek at the drug overdose patient inside the vintage ambulance.

Though Craig doesn’t know the detailed history of his ambulance, he can tell you about the patient he’s transporting. The man overdosed on bad acid at Woodstock, the 1969 music festival in New York which attracted more than half a million attendees and went down in music history.

My husband, Randy, helps Craig Schuster, left, unload the patient.

Or if you prefer the truthful version, the mannequin comes from a Northfield barbershop and is placed in the front window during that community’s annual Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration in early September.

So there you go—one man’s fun with his vintage ambulance and the reason he owns it.

This could have been a scene straight out of the 70s, minus the modern car on the right.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling