Rare milk truck with ties to former South Sound dairy headed to auction block

A piece of Washington history will be on the auction block Sunday at the annual LeMay Car Show, Auction and Swap Meet in Tacoma.

After 23 years of owning and researching its history, Johnny “Reddog” Pierce is selling a 1941 International K-3 experimental milk truck that once belonged to the privately owned Fort Lewis Dairy Co.,

The truck comes with years of history and memorabilia that Pierce has amassed to tell its story.

“I can’t afford to fix it, so I’d rather pass it on to somebody who could enjoy it as much as I could,” said Pierce, who lives in eastern Pierce County between Roy and Eatonville.

Selling the truck is bittersweet for Pierce, a onetime street rodder who bought it in 1991 from a man who let the truck sit in his yard for 17 years.

Pierce regularly checked with the owner, indicating his interest in the truck, but the man was never ready to sell. Then one day Pierce stopped in and found the owner in the process of selling the truck to someone else.

As the potential buyer described how he planned to chop up the truck for parts, the owner looked at Pierce and asked much money he had. Fortunately for Pierce, he’s just cashed a paycheck.

“I gave him all the money out of my wallet” – $750 – “and he gave me the title,” Pierce said Friday.

The owner of Reddog Upholstery at the time, Pierce planned to buy and restore trucks of that era to create a small fleet.

The trend then was to put advertising on the side of trucks. As Pierce was preparing to repaint the truck he noticed on the side lettering that spelled out “Fort Lewis Dairy Co.”

He started looking into it and soon learned of the Munn family, which settled in Thurston County in the early 1900s and opened the Fort Lewis Dairy Co. Munn Lake, southeast of Tumwater, was named after the family, which owned about 80 acres of farmland around the lake, according to Pierce.

The company delivered milk, ice cream and ice across the South Sound. The family also operated Thurston County Dairy, but later dropped the name, keeping Fort Lewis Dairy Co. instead.

The truck Pierce is selling is one of three sent to the dairy in 1941. The manufacturer discontinued production of the truck after the attack on Pearl Harbor later that year. The truck was in service with the dairy until 1964 when the dairy sold, Pierce said.

In his research, Pierce connected with Allen Munn, son of dairy co-founder Edwin Munn, to learn the dairy’s history.

Pierce also visited antique shops from Olympia to Bremerton, looking for dairy memorabilia, including milk tokens, milk crates and canisters from the early 1940s and 1950s. He also wanted any archival information he could find.

At the library he discovered a photo of one of the company’s milk trucks that went with Fort Lewis soldiers on a mission to Hawaii and photos of an early Fort Lewis that was just one large brick building.

The milk crates, canisters and historical information are for sale with the truck.

Pierce has been interested in collector vehicles and cars most of his life — he had 58 cars in 1971 alone — but the milk truck is the only one that spurred him to look more into the history surrounding it.

“The more I found out the more I was enthusiastic about it,” Pierce said.

He said always hoped to restore the truck, but events prevented him from making the investment. Now 65 and on disability without the income to return the truck to its glory, Pierce is selling the last of his one-time fleet.

The truck has seen better days. It has rust spots, chipping paint, and needs significant interior and exterior work to restore it. But the engine still works, and Pierce plans to drive it across the auction block Sunday.

Not only is the truck the last of Pierce’s one-time fleet, it’s also the last of his vehicle collection.

Since 2010, to help cover his expenses, he has had to sell everything from a 1967 Harley Davidson Shovel Head motorcycle he had for 34 years to a 1951 Ford he owned for 31 years.

The milk truck is listed with no minimum price, which means Pierce might not get much for the truck he’s owned for 23 years.

But he said he hopes someone at the auction will see the significance of the truck’s history to South Sound and buy it to restore it like he always wanted.

“It’s one of my little quirks, one of my little babies,” he said. “It’s the last of my collection.”