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Pedro and the Firebird
Quiet enforcer

For the past three years, a purple Pontiac Firebird 400 has been parked at the western entrance of Winthrop. Inside, volunteer Officer Pedro sticks mercilessly to his task: to control speeding vehicles from wrecking the town’s peace.

photo of purple police car with dummy insideOfficer Pedro patiently guards the western entrance to Winthrop from speeding motorists. The dummy and the purple car, which now are considered a tourist attraction, were first parked there three years ago.

Rumors abound about the origin of this trustee officer and his colorful, vintage car. Some say they are the remnants from the 70s cult movie “Smokey and the Bandit,” the car being the same make, model and year as the featured one. If that’s the case, Burt Reynolds must have driven that beast for almost 2,600 miles all the way from Georgia. Could that be possible? One thing is certain: Pedro’s role in the movie is unclear.

photoWinthrop Marshall Dave Dahlstrom had the idea of parking the purple police car at the entrance to Winthrop on Highway 20. Photo by Solveig Torvik

Some people say the car was impounded from a massive drug bust somewhere in Washington. Others think it was an improvised strategy since the town didn’t have funds to invest on a more sophisticated speed device. As told by a prominent restaurant owner in the area, the car would be Winthrop Mayor Dave Acheson’s escape vehicle in case things go badly wrong (coincidentally, he works across from the place where the car is parked). Sadly, however fantastic these rumors are, none of them are true. It’s time to set the record straight.

The 1977 vehicle was brought to town eight years ago by former Winthrop Marshall Chris Matson as a loan from the Tonasket Police Department. The car was donated by Tonasket citizens and completely restored by local businesses. For ten years, it was used by the D.A.R.E. Program for outreach events related to positive law enforcement at local schools. The car was also displayed in diverse local events, where it was praised and awarded several ribbons over the years.

After Marshall Matson received the vehicle, the Winthrop Police Department displayed it in parades, car shows and events. When not being exhibited, it sat at the police station’s parking lot. In 2010, the city decided to formally purchase the vehicle at the reasonable amount of $1,000.

photoDrivers who come through the western entrance of Winthrop face two speed controls: The electronic speed device and Officer Pedro in his souped-up, purple Pontiac.

It was current Marshall Dave Dahlstrom’s idea to park it at the entrance of Winthrop three years ago—only during non-winter months. Its main purpose is to support the law enforcement service provided by real police patrols and the electronic speed device placed across from it. No doubt about it: Many newcomers who drive into town think that a real patrol is waiting to catch motorists who go over the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. Drivers can be seen braking from the 60-mile-per-hour highway speed when they see the purple car with the light bar on top. One cannot help but feel nervous, confused or amused by the ludicrous image of Officer Pedro emerging from the front seat, and cannot help wondering if it’s all real or not.

Of course, Officer Pedro is not a real person. No one, not even the most devoted police officer, could manage to wear such warm clothes plus a western hat in a car with the windows constantly rolled up through the summer. Plus those eyes cannot be real, or we’d be living in zombie land. The whimsical dummy was made by artist Nikki Radwick, who suggested placing big-eyed Pedro in the car in order to have a greater impact. And it worked.

In fact, marshalls Dahlstrom and Matson once had to take the souped-up car for a short but intense ride. A few years ago, while taking the purple beauty to a local old-automobile parade, the officers had to chase and stop a speeding car in a parking lot and issue a ticket. One cannot help but wonder if the driver regretted the consequences of his actions, or if he was amused by the campy look of the vehicle that had just intensely pursued him.

photoOfficer Pedro waits patiently.

Nowadays, the purple police car and Officer Pedro are one of Winthrop’s many tourist attractions. Visitors not only from Washington but from across this country and even international ones can’t help but stop to take pictures of the magnificent Pontiac. As Julie Muyllaert, co-owner of Winthrop’s Methow Cycle & Sport, pointed out, it would be interesting to place a webcam near the vehicle to see people’s actions and reactions to what could now be considered one of the most interesting and striking landmarks in the area.

Unfortunately, not everything is seen through a rose-colored windshield and apparently not everyone likes dependable Officer Pedro. The car has been vandalized a few times. On one occasion, someone scratched its top with a knife pretty badly. But not only civilian non-sense is there to blame. Serious effects caused by time and weather are responsible as well.

Within the next six months to a year, Marshall Dahlstrom will set up a fund for citizens to make donations in order to restore the vehicle. “Feel free to provide us with donations; we will keep a reserve fund to get it completely restored,” stated Marshall Dahlstrom, who stressed the importance of maintaining a presence that satisfies both a law enforcement need and an important tourist attraction.

No matter what people believe about the origins, necessity and function of having the vehicle parked there, it has surely become an integral part of the community.

Perhaps another worry town authorities may have is Officer Pedro’s health: He should definitely lay off the doughnuts. Or now that Burt Reynolds’ career has curtailed so significantly, maybe he could replace Officer Pedro for a day and give him some free time for a jog.


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I have to admit that the purple Pontiac brought me back to reality and caused me to slow down after each of my many trips across the Cascade Pass. May it and it's driver enjoy many more seasons of traffic enforcement.