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Chester's 'Grandma' gets 15 more minutes of fame in museum exhibit

Chester firefighter Heath Cabaniss backs the 1921 American LaFrance firetruck into the fire station last week in Chester. The truck, affectionately known as "Grandma," is headed to Columbia to be part of an exhibit about movies filmed in South Carolina. The truck was shown in the 1983 TV miniseries "Chiefs," which filmed in Chester.
Chester firefighter Heath Cabaniss backs the 1921 American LaFrance firetruck into the fire station last week in Chester. The truck, affectionately known as "Grandma," is headed to Columbia to be part of an exhibit about movies filmed in South Carolina. The truck was shown in the 1983 TV miniseries "Chiefs," which filmed in Chester.

CHESTER -- "Grandma" helped bring the movies to Chester, so it's only fitting that the city's oldest fire truck -- dubbed "Grandma" by local firefighters -- be displayed at an S.C. State Museum exhibit about South Carolina in film.

The 1921 American LaFrance fire truck will be taken to Columbia in December where it's expected to be a centerpiece item in "Cinema Carolina," an exhibit scheduled to run from January through October that chronicles filmmaking in the state.

"It'll be good exposure," Chester Fire Chief Paul Caldwell said of the truck's latest assignment. "(The exhibition) gives a lot of people across the state the chance to see it."

Purchased for $17,500, "Grandma," the city's first motorized fire truck, was used in the 1983 CBS miniseries "Chiefs" starring Charlton Heston, Wayne Rogers and Billy Dee Williams.

The old truck was a major reason why "Chiefs" producers chose Chester for the movie, said County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey, who held the same post when the "Chiefs" filmmakers came calling.

"You know what we really need?" they asked Roddey when he showed them downtown Chester. "We need an old fire truck."

"We got one," he replied.

The supervisor then called the fire station and asked someone to drive the fire truck to the moviemakers.

"When he came around that corner ... I thought I was going to have to pick them up off the floor," Roddey said. "Man, they were excited about that thing."

Roddey knows the truck well. His father and uncle were firefighters. He rode on the truck as a child, and his father let him ring the pull-rope bell.

Generations of Chester firefighters also have ridden in and cared for "Grandma," long after she stopped responding to calls.

At one time, the truck fell into disrepair and was placed in storage. But several firefighters restored the vehicle.

Nobody wanted to see "Grandma" completely retire.

The 86-year-old truck continues to run and can even pump water. When school groups tour the firehouse, children love to ring the bell.

Occasionally, a few firefighters will even putter around town in their beloved truck.

"It holds a special place in all Chester firefighters' hearts," Capt. Scott Inman said.

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