1962-Chevrolet-Biscayne-Fargo-Police-Department-Cruiser

Fargo’s Police Cars From The Past

I was driving through Downtown Fargo on August 2nd, on my way to drop something off for a client, and something shiny caught my eye. When I realized what it was, I hurriedly found place to park so I could go take a picture. This car was parked next to the Fargo Police Department’s offices, on 3rd avenue north:

This is a 1962 Chevrolet Biscayne, in police cruiser mode, decked out in full Fargo Police Department regalia. My first thought was that the car was some sort of promotional fun vehicle, made by the police department for public relations purposes, like Moorhead’s DARE Corvette, or to honor some anniversary. I checked the news to see if there was anything special going on that would require the presence of a vintage police car, but came up empty. So, I went to the source: I called the cops.

Deputy Chief Pat Claus is the man behind the wheel, but the special event this morning was nothing more than the installation of new tires. Claus explained that this patrol car is one of two that belong to the Law Enforcement Museum at Bonanzaville, and he was getting it ready for an appearance at Cruisin’ Broadway that night. He and his wife, Kim, also a police officer, take the car out for special events like Cruisin’ Broadway, West Fargo’s Night to Unite, the Battle of the Badges, and last Christmas they even delivered gifts — they are the “Claus” family, after all — as part of Random Acts of Christmas Cheer.

Both of the classic FPD cruisers are Chevrolet Biscaynes, the 1962 seen above and an also-restored 1967. The Biscayne was the low end of the Chevrolet line, with not quite as many bells-and-whistles as the similar Bel Air or Impala.  They were reliable and oriented towards the fleet market, which resulted in the Biscayne fulfilling the role of police car throughout the U.S. during the 1960s.

Claus’ cars did not belong to the Fargo police department, exactly: they were part of the Fargo Police Reserve, also known as the Fargo Auxiliary Police, a volunteer force trained in law enforcement who supplied their own equipment. The Reserve purchased the patrol cars for their duties, sometimes with a police officer riding along, patrolling the downtown Fargo area. Prior to urban renewal‘s messy reimagining of downtown in the 1970s, teens cruised Broadway in defiance of curfews and fights broke out in the bars along NP Avenue, giving the Reserve plenty to do. The Reserve was created in 1958, with their heydays during the 1960s, but by the 1970s there was some conflict between their duties and the regular police force, and by 1980 the choice was to revamp or eliminate the Reserve. Police Chief Anderson and Mayor Lindgren elected to disband.

The Fargo Police Auxiliary Association later packed up their garage, formerly located near the 7th avenue water tower, and moved it to Bonanzaville. It became the Law Enforcement Museum at Bonanzaville, a ‘museum in a museum’, according to Claus, operating somewhat independently,  with its own board of directors and with support from the Auxiliary Association and the Fraternal Order of Police. This is where the 1962 police cruiser sleeps most nights, in a part of the building that isn’t currently open to the public. The 1967 cruiser lives in underground parking downtown, and is the usual car Claus takes to public events because it’s easier to get to.

Although both cars are still largely in their original form — Claus said that, up until the police department went digital, even the two-way radios were still functional for police business — their age has required a little bit of restoration to stay in top shape. The cost of repairs has been covered through cooperation from the city, the museum, the Claus’ own contributions, and through the support of local businesses. Claus said that, when the 1967 car needed tires, Fargo Tire replaced them for free — and when he brought the 1962 car in today, he didn’t even have to ask; Fargo Tire replaced the tires pro bono. Claus refers to the cars as “ambassadors”, a friendly presence for connecting with the Fargo Police Department and the Law Enforcement Museum. He said that everyone loves seeing the old police car, and people who were around during the 1960s always have a story to tell about them. Claus joked, “but none of them have a story about themselves sitting in the back, of course.”

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Derek

Derek Dahlsad, husband of Deanna, is a collector of many things, with some expertise in coins and postage stamps. He also writes for the Prairie Public program "Dakota Datebook".

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