Thin red line: Wisconsin trucker, firefighter pursues dual passions

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thin red line Mack Anthem
When Dan Ravenhorst of Eau Claire, Wis., purchased a new truck, he decided to honor fallen firefighters with a “Thin Red Line” theme. As a volunteer firefighter, Ravenhorst knows how close he has come to losing his life while fighting a fire, which is what inspired the theme for his truck. (Courtesy: Dan Ravenhorst)

It’s not uncommon for someone to have to choose between making a living and pursuing something they are passionate about. Dan Ravenhorst of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, has found a way to do both, driving his 2019 Mack Anthem 64T and volunteering at the city’s Township Fire and Rescue Station 1.

“I bought (the truck) in March 2020, so I’ve had it a year now,” Ravenhorst said in an interview with The Trucker. “It’s my first brand-new truck.”

Like his previous truck, a red 1994 Freightliner Classic XL, the black Mack is customized with tributes to firefighters.

“I decided to go with the ‘Thin Red Line’ theme,” he said. “Black is the color of mourning, and that thin red line (in an American flag motif) represents fallen firefighters.”

The logos of fire departments around the world — including the fire department that Ravenhorst is a part of — incorporate the Maltese cross emblem. For his truck, Ravenhorst combined the Maltese cross with a caricature of a bulldog holding a fire hose, complete with the word “Mack” on the dog tags. The design features the words “Last Alarm,” the term used for the traditional firefighter’s funeral.

The truck’s number, 927, has a significant meaning for Ravenhorst. On September 27, 2019, he suffered a heart attack while fighting a fire.

“I exited the building, pulled off my mask and fell on my face,” he explained. “The other firefighters were on me right away.

Ravenhorst’s wife, Amanda, suggested using the number as a remembrance of the event.

“That’s the date I almost became part of the thin red line myself,” he said.

Leased to McCormick and McCormick Trucking out of Kennan, Wisconsin, Ravenhorst hauls cheese and other refrigerated products, as well as paper products, in Wisconsin and neighboring states.

“I usually don’t leave the state; maybe (I make a run) into Minnesota once in a while,” he explained. “With my firefighting and family life, I drive three to five days a week.”

When he’s not driving, Ravenhorst is training instructor for the Eau Claire Township Fire and Rescue Station 1. The department has 145 volunteers and operates five stations with 22 trucks in addition to pumps, boats and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The department covers more than 230 square miles of Eau Claire County, and handles about 1,000 calls per year.

last alarm emblem
Dan Ravenhorst combined the Maltese cross with a caricature of a bulldog holding a fire hose, complete with the word “Mack” on the dog tags. The design features the words “Last Alarm,” the term used for the traditional firefighter’s funeral. (Courtesy: Dan Ravenhorst)

“I participate in probably 60 to 80 calls a year,” Ravenhorst said. “I’m usually on call all weekend, and sometimes Monday, too.”

In addition to responding to calls, he handles training for his assigned station and often assists other stations with their training needs.

Ravenhorst’s Mack is equipped with a 13-liter MP8 engine coupled with a 13-speed MDrive automated manual transmission.

“I didn’t think I’d like the transmission,” Ravenhorst said, “but it really makes it comfortable to drive.”

His says the decision to buy Mack was an easy one.

“I like to be different,” he said. “I don’t want to be like everyone else. I like Mack because it’s an American icon. I even like the model, the ‘Anthem,’ because it denotes patriotism.”

Ravenhorst grew up in Lake City, Minnesota, the home of Bud Meyer Trucking

“I knew Bud, and I grew up with (his son) Dusty,” he said. “When I was 15, I started working on the yard, washing trucks and moving trailers around, non-CDL stuff.”

Once Ravenhorst was old enough to get his CDL and make it official, he hit the road.

“I’ve been on the road since 2009, driving all over the Midwest. I’ve been to every state except Montana, Oregon and Washington. I had my own authority with my dad for a while.”

Ravenhorst said his father, who is now 76, was a big influence in his life and career.

“Dad was a concrete contractor in the summer and drove trucks in the winter,” he said, adding that although his father no longer drives, he still likes to ride along on occasion.

“I never know when he’ll climb up in the cab for a ride-along,” Ravenhorst said. “He’s still doing cement work in the summer.”

Ravenhorst’s firefighting career is as lengthy as his tenure in trucking. He’s been a firefighter or EMT for the past 21 years, beginning in Lake City, Minnesota. He never forgets those he has worked with and wants to bring them all the recognition he can.

“PTSD is a big problem for firefighters, EMTs, police and the military. What’s that saying, ‘What has been seen cannot be unseen?’ I still remember scenes from calls I was on when I was 19,” he shared.

Ravenhorst enjoys being with his wife and their five children during his free time, and attending truck shows as a family is a popular pastime. When the kids were younger, Ravenhorst said, they loved riding along in the rig, “but now that they’re older they think it’s boring,” he laughed.

The couple’s 15-year-old son Marshal is showing interest in following in his dad’s firefighting footsteps.

“He’s a member of the Altoona Explorers, and he’s starting some college-level fire training,” Ravenhorst said, adding that the group is a venture between the Altoona, Wisconsin, Fire Department and a local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America.

When he’s not on the road or responding to fire alarms, Ravenhorst likes to fish for the northern pike and walleye that are abundant in Wisconsin waterways. Another hobby, not surprisingly, involves a different sort of vehicle.

“I like anything with wheels,” he said. “I’m big into Jeeps; I’m always tinkering with the one I own.”

Ravenhorst’s previous truck was featured on a Cat Scale Super Trucks trading card, and he plans the same for the Mack he drives now

“I want to do a few more things to it yet,” he explained. “I need to add more chrome.”

Whether his role is that of a truck driver, a firefighter or a husband and father, Ravenhorst remains down-to-earth.

“I think of myself as an ordinary person,” he said. “I’m not big on attention for myself, but I try to get recognition for those who put themselves in harm’s way for the rest of us.”

Few people would pick Ravenhorst out of the crowd at the scene of a local emergency, but many will notice his distinctive black Mack driving along the highways of Wisconsin.

For over 30 years, the objective of The Trucker editorial team has been to produce content focused on truck drivers that is relevant, objective and engaging. After reading this article, feel free to leave a comment about this article or the topics covered in this article for the author or the other readers to enjoy. Let them know what you think! We always enjoy hearing from our readers.

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