Sunday, October 20, 2013

Little victories

I stood waiting with a small group for the “unofficial” kickoff on truck show eve. The setting was the Kansas Speedway infield, where show vendors, OOIDA staffers, board members and families were gathering for some barbecue and blues on the eve of the Association’s big 40th anniversary event.

Cars and shuttles were rolling in, and the handshakes and welcomes were genuine.

Just as dusk began to set in, someone in our group had a great idea.

“Let’s go check out Victory Lane.”

That sounded like fun, so nine of us made the short hundred-yard stroll. We had Randy Schwartzenburg, K.C. Brau, Randy Boswell, Elizabeth Young and Mark Lowthrop, all from Trucker Buddy International, along with Terry Nicholson and Phil Nenadov from Available Trailers and Russ Cramer from Overbye Transport in the group.

From left to right: Randy Schwartzenburg, Elizabeth Young, Mark Lowthorp, Randy Boswell, Terry Nicholson, Phil Nenadov, Russ Cramer, K.C. Brau (Photo by David Tanner)
 We were marveling about the size of the race track from our perspective and about the big truck show weekend ahead.

There was so much more than a photo op waiting for us when we arrived at Victory Lane. There was an epiphany.

Here we were, at a place reserved for winners, whose dreams and hopes and countless hours of hard work are validated.

Nothing could be more fitting on this particular evening and on this particular weekend.

From humble beginnings, what started as a small group of “mad truckers” fighting for the rights of professional truckers was now on the eve of its 40th anniversary celebration.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer introduces
OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston,
crediting Jim with the reason OOIDA
still thrives today. (Photo by Nikohle Ellis)
Little victories. That was the epiphany. This whole thing, all of the people here, all of us associated with OOIDA and the truck show, all of the members, the guests, the families, the staff, the hard-working men and women who move this country and make it great.

The moment was not lost on the group, and we talked about it. I really felt it when we went inside, and OOIDA Vice President Todd Spencer introduced President and CEO Jim Johnston to the enthusiastic crowd.

“This Association is here today because of this man, Jim Johnston,” he said.

All of those years and all of those victories, the one-on-one battles in D.C. and in the courts, standing up for truckers. The fact that OOIDA has more than 150,000 members.

Life Member Gary Carr (Photo by David Tanner)
“Nice to see you, Gary,” I said to one of them the following morning. OOIDA Life Member Gary Carr was among those receiving an OOIDA Safe Driving Award on the truck show’s festival stage.

“It’s nice to see anybody,” Gary responded. He truly meant it. Not too long ago, Gary had a heart attack while walking to his truck. Quick timing and excellent medical care likely saved his life.

And here he was, on stage at the truck show, receiving an award for 19 years of safe driving from OOIDA and from guest presenter Anne Ferro of the FMCSA. That stage was Victory Lane for Gary and the others, and another one for the Association.

“Fifteen years ago we had 40,000 members. Now we have 150,000,” said Life Member Ken Becker, when I asked him about his little victories. “I am proud of that and I’m proud of all the things we have worked for. We are a good team and we tackle problems as they come along. It’s not about the problems you face; it’s how you overcome them.”

Truckers are constantly faced with the odds. They must abide by rules and regulations that people far removed from trucking make for them in D.C.

Delivering a load safely, professionally and on time can be a struggle, and many truckers look at each day and each load seriously. Each load delivered and each safe mile traveled are a victory.

How about all of those truckers who fight causes of their own? Whether it involves health care, pets, charities or locating missing truckers, someone has to fight the fight, and they deserve recognition.

People were deadheading to the truck show, some of them hundreds of miles, just to make sure they got the opportunity to celebrate together, whether in small groups or at the keystone events. Some were just fine hanging out in the parking lot with their show trucks – each one of them a work of art and a product of extra effort.

If getting there is half the battle, we got there. For one great, fulfilling weekend, we got there.

Victory Lane is more than just a physical place. It is a validation. Celebrations there are real.

'Too stubborn to quit'

A surprise gift for OOIDA President Jim Johnston. OOIDA
officers Todd Spencer and Bob Esler on the left.
(Photo by Nikohle Ellis)

OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston got a surprise during the VIP barbecue event on the Kansas Speedway infield Oct. 17. He was presented a portrait by the OOIDA Board of Directors and Association employees.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer set up the surprise.

“There are years in the past where we never thought anything like this would have happened and we are thrilled you are all here to share our 40th anniversary,” Spencer told attendees.

“I’ve been around for a long time, but this guy standing beside me – Jim Johnston – started this thing. … I can say tenacity and things like that, and those words are appropriate. But the truth is, he just a lot like other truck drivers. He’s so damned hardheaded.

“He decided to start something to represent truckers. He stuck with it. … When virtually everyone else was gone, he was there alone and could not admit defeat. He built an organization. People say all the time truckers can’t get together. Hell yes, truckers can get together and they can represent themselves in a business-like manner.

“We may be kind of a strange family at times, but when we stick together, it works better for all of us.”

At that point, Jim was still thinking it was a welcome speech to guests. Truckers cheered as Board Members Gary Green and Robert Esler edged up on the left with the portrait, a token of recognition, appreciation, for the many years Jim has dedicated to truckers.

Jim’s smile said it all, but he did get in the last words.

“Todd had it partway right,” he said. “Actually, I was too dumb to know I couldn’t do it and too stubborn to quit.”

Richard Petty Driving Experience: ‘Flippin’ awesome!’

Margo Elrod -- let's go racin', boys!
That’s how OOIDA Member Margo Elrod of Peru, Ind., described her ride-along Saturday on the big track at the Kansas Speedway.

Margo grew up with racing. Her father was a racer and she’s a big fan. Margo says when she came to the Heart of America Trucking Show at the Speedway, it was foremost in her mind to do the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Strapped down in a Clint Bowyer 600 hp NASCAR race car, Margo and her expert driver peeled off three laps at nearly 160 mph Saturday at the Speedway.

She wasn’t the only OOIDA member to take the opportunity to do something they’ve always wanted. Life Members Mark Elrod – Margo’s husband -- and Kenneth Becker, from Montgomery, Texas, also experienced the thrill of the Richard Petty Experience on the Kansas Speedway’s 1.5-mile tri-oval track.

“It’s not scary. It’s fun, it’s amazing, and I’ve always wanted to do it,” she said afterwards. “I knew when I got here I just had to do it. … It was just flippin’ awesome.”

Speed Demons: Attendees battle each other, the clock for ‘Creeper Pull’ victory

Records were falling left and right on Saturday afternoon at the inaugural Creeper Pull race, held during OOIDA’s Heart of America Truck Show.

You may be saying to yourself, “Just what, pray tell, is a Creeper Pull race?” Probably best to just explain with a photo: 

Joey Cowick, a permits and licensing agent with OOIDA, demonstrates proper form and technique in
the Creeper Pull race on Saturday at the Heart of America Truck Show.
(Photo by Greg Grisolano)

Basically what you have here is a competitor on a mechanic’s creeper, whose only means of forward propulsion is a plunger. Competitors lined up side-by-side and raced about 10 yards to the finish line.

Hunter Briggs, 12 and Austin Briggs, 11, sorted out some
sibling rivalry on the creeper race course. They are the
sons of Randy and Heather Briggs of Macomb, Ill.
(Photo by Jami Jones
OOIDA employees served as time keepers, logging the fastest times of the participants and setting up heats for the top finishers. About 50 people had tried their hands at creeper racing by Saturday afternoon.

One of those speed demons on Saturday was Ryan Davidson, the son of OOIDA member Randall Davidson, of Savannah, Mo.

While some competitors favored a high-mounted style, sitting on their knees and propelling the creeper forward with a kayaking or canoe-paddling motion, Ryan Davidson used a head-first approach. By lying on his belly and driving the plunger directly in front of him, he was able to scorch his competition and finish the race in a little over six seconds.

“I’d never mounted a creeper that direction before,” the younger Davidson said of his head-first approach to the race.

Believe me, it was even more impressive in person.

“I just wanted to go as fast as I could,” the humble Davidson said when asked if he had any thought he might set a record when he started his race. “The hardest part is keeping it straight on those dolly wheels.”

In addition to the creeper pull, OOIDA members were treated to other games of skill, including Lugnut Toss, Conventional Concentration (a close-up photo contest) and Trucking Trivia.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Jim Johnston's speech

It arrived a day later than initially planned due to weather, but OOIDA President Jim Johnston addressed the truck show crowd on Saturday evening.

Introduced by Executive Vice President Todd Spencer on the truck show’s main stage, Jim spoke about the need for truckers to take their concerns to Washington, D.C., all those years ago. There were some real eye-openers for the truckers once they arrived and saw what they were up against.

“We decided the only way to deal with this was to start an organization capable of giving truckers a strong voice,” Jim said. And that’s precisely what they did.

Jim and Todd were joined on stage by OOIDA Chief Operations Officer Rod Nofziger, who led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to OOIDA – 40 years strong.

We captured the speech in a video, and I must make a personal apology for the shaky camera in a few places. I was juggling two cameras and a backpack. But the important stuff is here, which is of course the speech, the thank-yous to members and OOIDA staff.

Rod summed it up for the crowd: “This celebration has been all about you, it’s been all for you.”

Fun and games

You could feel the truck show energy everywhere you looked on Saturday. This was especially true in the games area and in the pet oasis.

Pets, games and fun are the theme of a video captured and edited by truck show volunteer and friend of the LL staff, Glori Berkel.

You’ve got your small dogs, and one very large white poodle. There’s even a cat on a leash.

The kids in the play area had a lot of fun with the beanbag toss and face painting.

Those youngsters racing to the finish line are making that “creeper race” look easy. We tested those things out at headquarters, and we’ve got to say it was tough. Good job, guys.

Now, who’s that piloting the mini-truck and trailer near the end of the video? That must have been a fun way to get around the truck show.

Thanks for the video, Glori.

OOIDA members show off hard-working, eye-catching trucks

Winners of the OOIDA Heart of America Trucking Show Truck Beauty Competition.
What a great 40th Birthday celebration. Forty fabulous show trucks parked, thousands of watts of candle power. And members with numbers so low, many have been part of OOIDA since the beginning (or darn close to it). The power of the passion that you bring to our association was never more evident than it was at Kansas Speedway. Chilly temps and freezing sleet didn’t deter the drivers or the judges from delivering the goods and their decisions.

Senior Member Jerry Mies of Mies and Sons Trucking based
in Colwich, Kan.;won  Best of Show Working Combo 

with his2013 teal and white Peterbilt 389 and 2010 Walker 
tanker called “Lactose Limousine.”
On a hot streak that shows no signs of cooling off, Senior Member Jerry Mies of Colwich, Kan., brought out his Lactose Limousine – a 2013 teal and white Peterbilt 389, pulling a 2010 Walker tanker. Mies and his family racked up six trophies, including Best of Show Working Combo.

“I knew I wanted to be here as soon as I heard about this show,” Mies said. “I’m a member and I know how hard everyone works at the Association. I’ve just started doing truck shows, and this was great. I had the chance to talk with so many people who have similar goals. I hope you do it again next year.”

Member Scott Rud of Byron, Minn., won Best of Show 
Working Bobtail with his 2000 silver and red Peterbilt 379.
OOIDA Member Scott Rud of Byron, Minn., knew he’d be at the party. He hauls the booth display for Minimizer – a company that makes sturdy, lightweight truck fenders, bracket kits and accessories. His truck, a sparkling red and silver 2000 Peterbilt 379, has become a familiar sight at truck and trade shows across the country. Until now, Best of Show had eluded him.

Shawn Helt of Helt’s Turf Farms out of Pleasant Hill, Mo.,
won Best of Show Limited Mileage Bobtail with his 1965
Jade Green Peterbilt 351 named “Helt Up.”
“I was never sure about even entering my truck. To me, it’s a nice truck, but I look around and see trucks that are that nice or better.” Well, this time the judges thought his truck was better than nice. They liked it all the way to a Best of Show Working Bobtail win, along with several class trophies.

Best Limited Mileage Bobtail went to Shawn Helt of Helt’s Turf Farms, Pleasant Hill, Mo. Their 1965 jade green Peterbilt 351 runs like a champ and looks like a dream of days gone by. The needle nose and butterfly hood drew newcomers and old-timers to share stories and appreciate the artistry of this restored beauty.

Best Limited Mileage Combo honors were given to Life Member Leonard Eads of Timberline Trading, Lathrop, Mo. His 1998 burgundy Peterbilt 379X and Savannah logging trailer did
Life Member Leonard Eads of Timberline Trading, Lathrop,
Mo., won Best of Show Limited Mileage Combo with his
1998 burgundy Peterbilt 379X and 2000 Savannah trailer.
much more than turn heads. His trailer unfolds and telescopes to accommodate trees of all sizes. What a great opportunity to learn about another segment of our trucking industry.

Wash ‘N’ Shine is a type of class designed for trucks that look good, but maybe haven’t cleaned up quite as detailed as some others. It’s a strictly hands-off visual examination of the truck, along with a presentation from the driver. Some folks just never quit wiping their trucks down – outside, inside, front to back and underneath – until rags down is called. It’s just how they’re wired.

Peter Burrows of Buhler, Kan., and his sparkling white Kenworth T600 was awarded Best Wash N Shine Bobtail, while Jan Huey of LB Trucking out of Greensburg, Ind., took a happy walk to the stage to receive recognition for her 2010 metallic gray International ProStar pulling a 2004 Utility Reefer. As company truck drivers, Jan and husband Ron are preparing to get into a brand-new International ProStar when they get back home. And I’m sure they’ll make that one a force to be reckoned with.

The trophies just kept getting bigger and better. Provided by Rockwood Products and proudly made in the USA; Carl Carstens and his team delivered the rosewood and acrylic trophies just a couple of hours before they were awarded. This was just-in-time delivery at its finest.

People’s Choice award went to Senior Members Howard and
Cindi Bohn out of Odessa, Mo., and their 2013 Tahitian green
International LoneStar, “Tahitian Treat.”
A true highlight of the show was the recognition for People’s Choice. This award was voted on by the thousands of attendees, and selecting their favorite truck was not an easy job. When the tallying was done, the clear favorite was a 2013 Tahitian green International LoneStar, named Tahitian Treat by OOIDA Senior Members Howard and Cindi Bohn from Odessa, Mo. Sparkling inside and out and decorated in a Tahitian Tiki bar theme, this truck wowed from daylight to dark and earned three class trophies, including one for their lights at night.

One of the hardest choices was the one made by OOIDA President Jim Johnston. Jim visited with the owners and drivers who proudly displayed their trucks and shared stories of life on the road. Senior Member Richard Hanning of Shawnee, Kan., decorated his 1985 blue Peterbilt 359 with his membership certificate from 1992 along with decals reflecting OOIDA’s history.

Life Member Richard Seyfang’s trailer proclaims his feelings on the back doors of his trailer – “If You Don’t Think OOIDA Works For You, You Must Be Wearing Socks and Sandals.” OOIDA Member Al Becker of North Lima, Ohio, spoke about how much he values being part of the OOIDA family.

Life Member Victor Holthaus from Axtell, Kan., impressed 
OOIDA President Jim Johnston with his 1978 white 
and black Peterbilt 359 and 1996 Timpte grain trailer. 
Holthaus has 4 million miles on the truck – 
most of which he put on it himself. That clinched the 
President’s Choice award from Johnston, pictured at right.
The President’s Choice Award was given to Life Member Victor Holthaus of Axtell, Kan., and his 1978 gray, white and black Peterbilt 359 pulling a 1996 Timpte Grain Trailer. With more than 4 million hard-run miles, that truck and its owner are a pretty solid reflection of where we came from to get where we are today. Looking great, overhauled some, but still standing tall getting down the road.

The Heart of America Truck Beauty Contest showcased trucks from all the major manufacturers: Peterbilt, Kenworth, Freightliner, Mack, Western Star and Volvo. From California to New York, Florida to Washington and everywhere in between. From hauling logs to delivering milk, these are some of the best representatives our trucking industry has to offer – yesterday, today and into the future.

Event sponsors included OOIDA, Rockwood Products, Minimizer, Lincoln Chrome and PrePass.