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Truckin' Trees For Christmas

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WALCOTT, IA.---I don't know why I'm excited about trucks all of a sudden.
Tis' the season to get riggy.

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I've always liked the sweaty sensory overload of a big truck stop; a place where you could pick up Merle Haggard CDs (and 8-tracks), Louis L'Amour paperbacks and a case of the cooties. You could throw on Brut from a cologne dispenser in the bathroom and buy a matching green gallon of Mountain Dew.

Earlier this month I visited the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum, about 11 miles west of the Quad Cities and adjacent to the World's Largest (and cleanest) Truck Stop.

The truck stop covers nearly 200 acres with parking for 800 semis. The truck stop includes a 300-seat restaurant, 80-seat movie theater and 24 private showers. As much as I love truck stops, I have never taken a shower in a truck stop.

The museum has more than 100 trucks of all shapes and sizes in this museum. I spent two hours there........


......I got excited about the 1910 Avery Tractor-Gasoline Farm Wagon.
Or maybe I had too much truck stop coffee.
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The tractor has dual seats in the front. I've never seen anything like that.
I imagined Grant Wood's "American Gothic" couple plowing the fields together.
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"You notice you're also driving from the wrong side because it hadn't been standardized yet," museum curator Dave Meier said during a recent tour. He then broke it down into Iowa commonsense speak: "How could anybody tell somebody they were making a truck wrong because not many people had done it at that time. It was just their idea."

Meier said you could plow with the Avery and/or install a pulley on the front starter shaft. "It was meant to be a multi- use vehicle," he said. "You could haul product to town. You could go to town on Saturday night."
The tractor retailed for $2,500 new and was advertised to do the work of "six to eight horses." Solid rubber tires were a $500 option at the time of purchase.
"It was expensive, Meier said. "In 1910 you could probably by a farm for five bucks an acre." Meier said the museum has one of six Avery trucks still known to exist. He bought it from a friend who had a museum in Mason City. Ia.

There is a long and precious connection between trucks and country music.
This came to mind when I saw the museum's mint maroon B-61 Mack Truck from 1963. I thought of all the great 1960s-70s country music trucking records from Bakersfield, Ca.

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And specifically Red Simpson's 1973 hit "Truckin' Trees For Christmas," a tune which even stumped Meier.

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Merry Christmas dear readers.

"This is a very popular truck model for them," Meier said. "It has a little aerodynamics going on with rounded corners (in the front). They made a lot of different models from B-20 to a B-87. The bigger the number, the heavier the weight. You can't have a truck collection without having a B-model Mack in it. Mack is a rare company. They're still here. They've probably had their 100th anniversary (they were founded in 1900 in New York). They made all their own parts and you can still order a truck completely built by Mack. They have most of their bill records and they can send you a bill sheet telling you who originally got the truck."

The B-61 is one of the museum's most recent acquisitions. It re-emerged in 1992 at an American Truck Historical Society chapter show in Greensboro, N.C. where it took home the people's choice and exhibitor's choice trophies.

"Macks have tremendous brand loyalty," Meier said. "I know a guy where you could give him another truck and he wouldn't drive anything but a Mack. It's like how some people will only buy a Ford pick up or a Chevy pick up. But this truck is something you're going to spend 10, 12 hours day in, you're going to sleep in it, and practically live in the thing."


On loan in the museum is a 1978 customized, 25-feet long Kenwood Conventional "Bandag Bandit."
On August 26, 1988 this rig set a record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah by going 150 MPH. The old mark was 144 MPH.
"He passed me up on the way here," I joked.
Meier did not laugh.
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The Kenwood has twin turbo engines and weighs 8 tons. "I don't know if the record still stands or not," Meier aid. "But it would be a pretty big ride." The truck was named the "Bandag Bandit" because it was raced on a set of retreaded Bandag tires. The driver was Martin Carver, CEO of Bandag, Inc.

The Iowa speed limit is 70 MPH for trucks. "Most companies realize that if you get caught going 20 miles over the limit you lose your commercial driver's license (CDL) automatically," said Meier, who is not a regular truck driver but holds a CDL. "Drivers don't want any accidents. They're not out here being big cowboys. Logs and driving time, the driver has nothing to do with that anymore. The truck is keeping track for you, sending it back to the home office via satellite. The paper log books were fudgable. They're not with electronic logs.
"Companies and drivers are graded on their safety records. Shippers won't ship with you if your are an unsafe company."

Then, on the slow moving flip side is the first truck in the collection of late Iowa 80 Truck Stop owner Bill Moon: a 1919 International Harvester F1 Ton with a black hood and fenders, spoked wheels and white wall tires. Meier, who was Moon's son-in-law, said the truck was made only between 1915 and 1920.
This model was the first to climb Pike's Peak.

"You notice the radiator is behind the engine," said Meier, 51. "You still had horses and wagons. The Teamsters didn't like the idea of trucks coming and taking their jobs. They could take a truck like this and say 'Oh, I accidently backed the corner of my wagon into your radiator!"
These are the tales between the wheels you find at the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum.

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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