Monday, March 23, 2009

MATS: Fade to Black, It's a Wrap

After my two-year absence from the carpeted halls of the Mid-America Trucking Show and some anticipation, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. With the ever-constant news of the down economy, the terrible trucking conditions of low rates, scarce freight and an overall mood of sour business, what I came away with was far different.

What I saw was a large crowd of people, truckers and families, suppliers and manufacturers with a major spark of enthusiasm. I saw and heard people who are tired of hearing how bad it is, when in fact many are still doing pretty well. What I heard from many was that perhaps we should stop listening to the doomsayers and go out and buy some American products and put Americans back to work.

I heard vendors say that sales are actually pretty good and that it was worth their time, effort and money to be there. I saw customers carting off bumpers and fridges and signing deals for APUs. OEMs made some dramatic presentations, particularly the Rock Star treatment International gave its new Harley Davidson-branded LoneStar. A brilliant piece of marketing.

I met many, many friends, and some of them I never even knew I had. Readers of my columns over the years, folks I have run with or had coffee with. So many came up to say hello or called my name. I am very flattered and humbled to have met so many very kind people. And not one wanted to kick my butt over a disagreement (this time).

I had the great honor of chasing media events with Jami Jones, Paul Abelson, Sandi Soendker, Mark Reddig, Suzanne Stempinski, Reed Black and Bill Hudgins. In addition to stuffing my brain to overload capacity with all of the best of the new technology and products, I had the pleasure of watching the masters of trucking journalism work their craft. In addition, I had several opportunities to hang out at the OOIDA booth and talk to members, both old and new, plus shoot the breeze with Todd Spencer and Jim Johnston.

In addition, I also had a great time out at the Papa Johns Stadium parking area where good friend Ron Mermis was set up with OOIDA’s NASCAR simulator. Plus there was a flatbed-equipped soundstage where performers got up to pick, grin and entertain a great crowd of folks. With the smell of BBQ smoke and the sounds of music and laughter, it was a sign that spring is finally here. And, maybe, just maybe, much of that doom and gloom is behind us.

I didn’t hear of any truckers asking for a stimulus package. I didn’t see anyone with their hand out, except for when the pork chop sammiches were being doled out. I didn’t hear anyone on the down side. Considering how tough it has been for the past year or so, I was quite amazed. But not really. If the rest of the country can be gauged by truckers, I would say we will be OK pretty soon.

Could it have been bigger or better? Maybe. There were some displays and manufacturers who were missing, but the spaces were filled with a really cool selection of vintage and antique trucks. And as Suzanne and I found out with what we called the 20-foot rule, we could not walk 20 feet without running into someone we knew. At times we were down to the 5-foot rule and just enjoyed visiting with so many great folks.

If you missed it, well, all I can say is there are only 359 more days until MATS.

Dave Sweetman

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hugs, gears and tears

I am a lot of things, but one thing I'm not is sappy. Anyone who knows me will vouch for that.

At least I'm not usually very sappy. But the end of the Mid-America Trucking Show every year turns me into the sentimental sort.

I've spent the past four days cramming my head full of information on EGR and SCR along with the grand debate swirling around the two 2010 emission-standard technologies. It's been press conferences full of new technology - some of which blew me away, like Grote's new LightForm strips of LED diodes no wider than 1/10,000th of an inch.

OOIDA members have been quizzing me and the rest of the folks - including our fearless leaders Jim Johnston and Todd Spencer - at the booths (yeah, we had three locations counting The Spirit truck) on every issue under the sun.

We've talked about speed limiters, electronic on-board recorders, diabetes waivers, tolling, cap and trade emission credits, tax breaks on fuel-saving technologies, increased taxes on truckers (remember Mt. Vernon's 2-cent tax on diesel only), longer-heavier trucks, bad broker practices, fuel surcharges ... you name it, I promise OOIDA folks were tested on it.

As usual, those in attendance met some of the coolest people you will ever meet. I am not kidding when I say I saw Aaron Tippin cruise down the hallway of the South Wing with no "handlers" at all. A few folks spotted him, asked for an autograph, and he politely stopped, chatted for several minutes, signed show programs and disappeared into the crowd.

Yeah, he gets truckers.

We heard the awe-inspiring stories of Jorge Orozco Sanchez, the 2008 Goodyear Highway Hero, and Dennis Lott, a dedicated professional driver, veteran and father, who today realized his dream of becoming an owner-operator. Arrow Truck Sales and its industry sponsors announced Lott as the winner of Arrow’s Back On The Road 2009 campaign. Check out the video of Don finding out he was "back on the road" here.

Both these unassuming men made your heart feel good just knowing that people like them do exist.

Then there are always the crazy, crazy things you see. I'm still a bit puzzled by the dude in the white tights and orange tutu. Must have lost a bet.

And, the show's unofficial end would be the announcement of the Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Beauty Competition - or as we have dubbed it, the "trophy dash."

This year's event started a little different. The folks putting on the competition recognized several people near and dear to the show truck community who have passed away recently. They did it with class and style. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

The show then shifted gears, and the hard work and commitment of professional truckers were honored. The applause, slaps on the backs, high fives and more tears - tears of pride this time - were all a part of the fun. The picture above is one of the trucks receiving honors. Suzanne Stempinski will give you a full update later.

After that, for me it's hugs, promises to keep in touch, and watching friends disappear into the sea of show goers, with a part of me counting down the days until I return before I even leave.

Shining Off

The sun has set and the last wisps of barbecue smoke have risen as an offering to the gods of grilling. As Sunday dawns, the reserved parking lots around the Kentucky Expo Center begin to empty as exhibitors and vendors load up their RVs and move out. Over the next couple of days, the Center's halls will echo with the sound of hammers, forklift motors  and backup warning beeps as the exhibits come down and return to their crates. 

For the most part the show was blessed with great weather, good news for the Pride and Polish and NAST competitors who spent days wiping and cleaning and buffing - rinse and repeat - to make a run for prizes and the amazed gapes of onlookers. 

Before I left, I spent some time draining my camera battery to share with you, as well as my friends who don't know much if anything about trucks and certainly not about truck beauty shows. The raw footage is posted in a set on Flickr. com at 

So until next time, be safe, make money and get home soon.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

There Were No Losers Here

Doggone it. I should have posted this before I left the building. But no, after the Awards Ceremony for the Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championship and Mid-America Big Rig Build Off, I had to race back out to the parking lot to take just a few more pix and grab a few more hugs before heading home. Only to find my Internet connection was down. So please accept my apologies. You shouldn't have had to wait.

It was awesome and inspiring. A tribute to missing friends - the passing of industry icon Bette Garber; show truckers and friends to many Jake Eilen, Gina Kemner, John Kimball and others. We memorialized our losses with tears and smiles. They live on in our hearts.

So much recognition delivered. Trophies in a wide range of classes for new trucks and antiques, working trucks and those that have yet to run down the road under a load.

Best of Show Working Combo and the People's Choice Awards went to Marcel Pontbriand and his amazing blue-muraled 1989 Peterbilt 379 pulling a 1992 Stoughton dry van. It is muraled and customized from end to end. He calls it the "Little Train of Happiness." It has been 20 years in the making, all of the details done by himself -- from painting murals depicting his lifelong journey to designing and making stainless and installing lights, teak wood steps and intricate carvings, stone-embedded railroad tracks, pistols for door grips and so much more. This truck is a constantly evolving work of art.

Todd and Beth Roccapriore brought home an armload of awards for their "Chopped 93," a stunning '93 purple & black Pete 379 pulling a Mac dump trailer. He pulls into sanitary landfills, and you'd be hard pressed to find a speck of dirt anywhere on his truck.

Best Limited Mileage Combo went to Paul Stanchio. His car-hauling machine has a distinctive style that's uniquely his.

Limited Mileage Bobtail went to a 1942 Autocar shown for owner Dale Blevins. It first appeared at GATS last year after a total restoration.

And the Big Rig Build Off winner by popular acclaim went to Alex & Nick Gobel's Vigilante - a way-outside-the-box flat black & gray Pete. These guys are reinventing the show truck look. Unique design elements, repeating themes and patterns throughout the interior and exterior ... it's always a treat to spend time with them. They're young, creative and excited about what they're doing. It's contagious.

Homer Schultz's 1993 Caribbean blue tow truck was the Working Truck Bobtail Best of Show winner. Customized inside and out with a stop-you-in-your-tracks style ... you wouldn't mind being on the hook behind this sweet ride.

Dean Bugg didn't bring home a trophy. But the attention he got for his eye-catching pearl white and lime green truck - chopped and lowered and sporting invisible fuel tanks made him a crowd favorite.

I could go on for days about the highlights. Every truck offered something special to delight and intrigue me.

They were all winners.

Papa John’s

There are really two truck shows in Louisville in March. One is the Mid-America Trucking Show, the official production at the Kentucky state fair grounds – where gleaming new trucks and endless booths of vendors are housed inside huge exhibition halls.

It’s flashy, fun and very commercial.

The other is “Papa John’s” – a parking lot at the nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium sports complex where hundreds of truckers park their rigs each year and, for three days, convert an empty expanse of macadam into a town.

“The party in the parking lot” is the way Penny Copenhaver of Independence, MO, describes it. “You meet a lot of wonderful people” she says.

The people get out their lawn chairs and barbeque grills and everywhere there’s music drifting out from radios and CD players.

At night, there’s live music on a flatbed stag – either amateurs or heavy hitters like Leland Martin.

And, like most small towns in America, Papa John’s has a heart.

Last year, the truckers raised more than $8,000 in just one night to help pay the medical expenses of Chance Rogers, the young grandson of trucker, Jim Rogers. Chance, who was suffering from cancer, is now in remission.

This year, the aroma of brats and hamburgers draws truckers to the tent where other truckers are selling tasty food to benefit the Special Olympics and the St. Christopher Fund, a fund that helps truckers who are down on their luck.

“This is what truckers are about,” says Penny’s husband, Gregory Copenhaver.

Did I mention the dogs?

Lots of truckers or significant others bring their dog. Sue Wiese, who heads up Operation Roger (in which truckers transport pets to new homes for free) holds a contest at Papa John’s.

Truckers see if their traveling companion can capture the prize for “Best Trick,” “Most Cutest,” “Most Laziest,” “Most Ugliest,” etc. Winners are determined by the volume of audience applause and/or laughter.

At the end of three days, they all pull out of the parking lot and everyone heads their separate way.

The town of Papa John’s vanishes for a year -- only to reappear the following spring.
It’s an annual event that Penny Copenhaver says is all about “talking, laughing, joking.”

Her husband Gregory has a one word definition of Papa John’s, "camaraderie."

Forced dispatch

One of the best parts of the Mid-America Trucking Show is seeing the families in attendance - families who bring the kids.

It always brings a smile to your face to see some 4- or 5-year-old boy standing next to Dad eyeballing the new trucks. As Dad talks business with the sales reps about the latest offerings for the model of interest, little man puts on his serious face, arms bearing the "Born to Truck" logo crossed across his chest.

Yesterday in the West Wing, where the swag was flowing and crowds were wall-to-wall, I saw one such family.

They had obviously made their pass through the West Wing, bags fully loaded with the good stuff, and were ready to move on.

Well, almost all of them.

Little Man wasn't done. Now I'm not sure if it was a light-up ball, a yard stick, flashy pen or what he apparently had missed, but he wasn't budging an inch.

He stood his ground, trying in vain to explain to his dad why they should not leave the bountiful West Wing. He might as well have been saying, "But you know there aren't any loads back out there. Don't make me go there."

Alas, Dad the now-dispatcher, told Little Man that he didn't have a choice.

Little Man dropped his head and moved out.

Tough times for Trucker Buddy

Yesterday, Trucker Buddy International folks gathered here in Louisville to honor the Trucker Buddies of the Month and talk some business. Like they do every year. It's part of MATS.

This year was different than the past few years. Fewer Trucker Buddies were on hand to be introduced and honored for their efforts. In fact, Paul Abelson, our senior tech editor and a guy with a long time involvement with TBI, said there were only two Trucker Buddies of the Month who made it to MATS this year.

Paul says Trucker Buddy, like many other charitable organizations hard hit when the economy falters, is taking one on the chin. Many of the group's traditional corporate sponsors are having difficulties and "cannot be as generous as in the past."

Trucker Buddy has been around for 17 years. Those guys and gals play such a part in informing kids about the important role of trucking. TBI estimates that Trucker Buddies have shared their knowledge and love for trucking with more than a million kids. In real terms, Paul says 55,000 kids a year, 2,755 classrooms in 2009.

Did you know that every U.S. state and most Canadian provinces has or did have Trucker Buddy classrooms? Wow.

But the group says that if Trucker Buddy is to survive, it needs help. It's asking that truckers and supporters throughout the industry join Trucker Buddy Nation as either an individual member or corporate sponsor.

Its founder Gary King was an OOIDA member and old pal of mine. I recall the struggles of the organization's early years, and I saw the industry rally behind Gary and the Trucker Buddies and the classrooms of students who participated. I know Trucker Buddy can make it through these tough times.

For more info on what you can do, you can contact Doug Driscoll at 253-389-5142, or go to or call 1-800-MY-BUDDY. Doug says if you just want to send a contribution, send it to PO Box 2114, Gig Harbor, WA 98335.

Family Reunion, Part II

I am officially a MATS veteran. And it feels good.

On my first day in Louisville, I ran into old friends. Of course, Diesel Dave Sweetman and Suzanne Stempinski (Red the Happy Hamster for the CB set) joined all of us from OOIDA home office. Both are longtime members, lifelong truckers, and writers for the magazine, but we really don’t see them much.

Suzanne is based out of Illinois, Dave out of Florida. They’re like extra-special phone buddies. So it’s a special treat for all of us to see them at Mid-America.

But it didn’t end there. Paul Abelson, the magazine’s senior technical editor, joined us Wednesday. And then, during the day, early arrivals started to pour in.

Candy, a Life Member of OOIDA and a frequent caller to our program – as well as someone we consider a good friend – stopped by the Spirit to see Barry and me. She was with member Ron Terry and his wife. All three are working the booth for the St. Christopher Fund. We’d have talked all night, but Barry and I had to get back to the hotel to do more work.

While they were talking with us, trucker, country music singer and all-around good guy Leland Martin stopped by. Leland’s a very active supporter of the industry and the folks in it, and he’s also just plain fun to chat with.

And as if that wasn’t enough, suddenly, out of nowhere, Don Turkelson drives up. Don is also a member, a longtime trucker, a former military chaplain (with some great stories and insights from that experience) – and he was the winner last year of Arrow Truck’s Back on the Road Contest.

Don had to leave the profession after he was shot during a truck hijacking. Arrow, Volvo, OOIDA and others put him back on the road. Great story. Great guy.

I was talking with Candy, the Terrys and Leland, while our producer Barry went over to talk with Don.

It really is like a family reunion. These are great people, and it’s a real joy to see them.

That’s why I think I’m officially a MATS veteran now. I come here not only to work, but to renew old acquaintances, to see friends, to meet new friends, to take part in a community I’m proud, I’m honored to be invited into.

And yes, that feels pretty darn good.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Goodyear Highway Heroes

The word “hero” gets bandied about as if it were a feat of magic to play ball or pretend to be the savior of the universe on the silver screen. Mainstream media pushes overpaid athletes to the forefront as though they make a difference in our lives. None of them are what I would call a hero.

Today, I met five real heroes. Quiet, shy and humble men who saw terrible life-threatening situations and, with little regard for their own safety, acted to save the lives of others.

Colorado truck driver Jorge Orozco Sanchez was named Goodyear’s 2008 Highway Hero at a special awards banquet in Louisville, Kentucky, during the Mid-America Trucking Show. That's Jorge, pictured on the left, with his best friend Roberto Castillo who came to be with him for the special event.

On October 28, 2008, Orozco Sanchez was hauling grain north of Greeley, CO, when an SUV crossed the center line and crashed head-on into his tractor trailer. Orozco Sanchez worked with a passer-by with a fire extinguisher to knock back the flames and was able to rescue two young girls in car seats just before the saddle tanks exploded, engulfing the vehicle. The 27-year-old mother died in the crash. Orozco Sanchez suffered burns on his arms and was transported to a nearby hospital.

I had the great privilege of meeting and visiting with Jorge, and I can tell you that he is very humble and shy about the attention he is getting. He told me that he only did what any truck driver would do to help out. Jorge Orozco Sanchez is every bit a hero.

The other Goodyear Highway Hero finalists are :Roy Hackett, a 30-year driver for UPS out of Nashville, TN. Driving near Chattanooga, TN on April 22, 2008, Hackett heard on the CB radio that a car up ahead was on fire. The occupant of the car was wedged between the seat and steering wheel and due to recent hip surgery, was unable to move. Hackett was able to free the man and pull him about 60 yards away from the car and stayed with the driver until emergency personnel arrived

The car driver wrote to UPS, “I believe the Lord put Roy’s brown truck behind me so he could save me.

Willie Wilson, a UPS driver from Santa Clara, CA was traveling on I-80 in Yolo County, California when he noticed a glow in the distance, off the freeway. Stopping his truck, he grabbed his fire extinguisher and ran to a car that had run off the road and rolled over. The car was on fire and the driver was inside. Wilson dragged the driver to safety as the Davis Fire Department arrived to extinguish the fire and treat the injured driver.

Tihomir Tanev of Schiller Park, IL, and Nikolay Zashev, of Franklin Park, IL, are team drivers for FedEx Ground. On January 21, 2008, these team drivers were en-route to Sacramento, California, when a large van spun out of control in the eastbound lane of I-80 in Iowa, crossed the median and struck the FedEx rig. Zashev, driving at the time, was able to keep the trucks and set of doubles upright and avoided contact with all other vehicles. Exiting the truck, Zashev and Tanev pulled the unconscious and bleeding driver to safety as the van became engulfed in flames.

The common thread between these men is that they are truck drivers who reacted quickly when presented with a serious life-threatening situation. Each of these men raced against the clock, fighting back flames, risking their own safety. To come to the aid and rescue of a perfect stranger, each of these men showed a selfless act of courage that defines the word "hero."

I have met greatness and I shook their hands.

Feets Don't Fail Me Now

I've been sprinting from one side of the MATS grounds to the other. Press conferences on one side, vendors & exhibitors in the middle, snazzy show trucks front and back. Forgot my pedometer this time. It's a great cardiac workout, blood pumping, revved up, all cylinders firing.

The mood and tone this year are dramatically different from this time last year. Although every one acknowledges that we're dealing with tough economic conditions, the prevailing sentiment is that we will get through this together. Optimism in the face of adversity.

My favorite place is still with the show trucks. I just love the smell of chrome and diesel in the morning. I parked out behind the shiny rides - starting and ending my tour of duty with them is one of my favorite things to do. Bright and early this morning, participants, long done being "officially" judged, were out wiping their trucks down. The parking lots filled, and on a crisp, cool and clear day drivers and their families milled about - looking for concert tickets to Aaron Tippin, admiring trucks, talking with each other, cameras and phones at the ready.

Jami and I went to the Arrow Trucks Back On The Road 2009 press conference. Dennis Lott, United States Air Force veteran, was honored to win the opportunity to spend a year behind the wheel of a Volvo VNL670 tractor, leased to Heartland Express, insured by OOIDA. A longtime truck driver who, due to circumstances outside of his control, was forced off the road is getting ready to build a better future. I'm on my way to visit with Dennis now and learn more about his story.

I don't want to be late. Gotta run.

Tipping our hats to the Super Scribe

I joined Land Line Magazine in 1987 from mainstream and knew nothing about trucks or the trucking industry. I figured I better get up to speed so I began reading other magazines. I learned pretty quick that some of the best reads came from a truck writer named Tom Berg.
Tom is currently the Senior Equipment Editor for Heavy Duty Trucking. He's former editor of Road King and American Trucker.

I met him at my first MATS show. When I joined the Truck Writers of North America in the early days, Tom Berg the Super Scribe was the president. President for Life, in fact.

The group is more than that now but that's another blog, so suffice it to say that since then I've enjoyed and benefited from my membership.

Tom says TWNA was born out of a "hey wouldn't it be a good idea if we did this" conversation in Winston-Salem at a bar and grill during a media outing. Tom and David Kolman and another guy who I never knew were the co-founders. A truly committed president, every once in a while Tom wrote us a bit of cleverness that we hailed as our official newsletter.

Many of our LL staffers are now members of this group. In fact, our Senior Editor Jami Jones is the new President of TWNA.

During the past month, I watched Jami conspiring with other truck writers like Steve Sturgess, David Kolman and Mike Pennington and others, digging up stuff on Tom for this event.

Last night, it was fun to see Tom honored as this year's recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The presentation included huge pics and illustrations on the big screens for all to see. The cartoon above of Super Scribe is from our Land Line editorial cartoon genius Mo Paul.

Too bad the pics displayed did not include the one infamous pic of Tom in a wet suit, snapped by Rolf Lockwood during a Volvo trip a bunch of trucking-type journalists took to Sweden. It seems that part of the trip included a whitewater raft trip, which demanded that our writers wear helmets and wet suits. When it was time for Tom to suit up, there was only one left and it was HOT PINK.

This Lifetime Achievement Award business is the highest award bestowed by TWNA and if anything in a career full of achievements should be recognized as particularly amazing, it must surely include the moment Tom wore that wet suit.

Game day

The mere mortals who attend the Mid-America Trucking Show are getting ready for the official second day of the show.

Not us.

Having been on the ground since late Tuesday night, lugging briefcases and laptops to press conference after press conference, we're on day three. It's a lot like the second half of a championship game.

A huddle over breakfast -- Sandi assigned the game strategy for the day, and the Land Line Magazine team headed out.

Sandi and Diesel Dave Sweetman are off to Churchill Downs to spend some quality time with the Goodyear Highway Heroes. (Wait until you read their stories later on this. Amazing men, all of them.)

Suzanne "Red the Happy Hampster" Stempinski and I are off to the back lot checking out the killer trucks, later meeting and greeting with the Arrow Truck Sales Back on the Road winner and Aaron Tippin.

Bill Hudgins is trolling the show soaking up MATS in all of its glory to bring you more of his clever blogs.

We will all be hugging and chatting with OOIDA members and friends along the way.

Got the walking shoes on. Red Bull in hand.

Yup. It's game day.

NAST Shoot-out

The National Association of Show Trucks (NAST) held its 11th Truck-Lite Trophy Shootout at Mid-America this week. Four of the six finalists for the award were able to make it to the show. Two others had to make the tremendously difficult and disappointing decision to stay out on the road.

Winning the trophy was Bobby Lindamood Demolition out of Texas, with a 2007 Pete 376. Runner-up for the top spot was Jeremy Haasevoort of Holland, MI, with a 1986 Pete 359. Third place went to Jerry Kissinger of Wisconsin, with a 1991 Mack Superliner, while fourth was taken by MBH Trucking of Michigan, represented by Brian Hitchcock in a 1996 Peterbilt 379. Photos and details about these and other NAST competitors are available at

It was something of a bittersweet event. Truck-Lite had earlier announced that the economic conditions had led it to decide not to renew sponsorship of the Trophy series. The company has been an outstanding supporter of NAST, and we all hope that it resumes a sponsorship role soon.

The award meeting paused to honor the passing of several NAST friends - photojournalist extraordinaire Bette Garber; Laurie Sweetman, the wife of Land Line columnist Dave Sweetman; and Gina Kemner Clarke, one of NAST's founding members who died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm on Feb. 26.

NAST is moving ahead with plans for shows later this year, so check its Web site often for updates.

Breaker, breaker: We have a winner

Thursday night was the 6th annual Truck Writers of North America (TWNA, pronounced "tuna") awards for trucking journalism. I'm proud to tell all OOIDA members - and if you aren't, why not? - that Land Line Magazine took home the top award for magazines for its March-April issue (big cover story asks "When does the truck start driving you?"). The magazine team took home a slew of other awards leading up to the big one. To even be considered for the top category, entries had to score 98 or above out of a 100-scale.

AND not to be outdone, the Land Line Now radio team bagged the top award for radio journalism for the "Run for the Wall" story about the annual Rolling Thunder commemoration of MIAs. The radio team also took home enough wall plaques to ruin the acoustics in the broadcast booth.

I'm sure the official announcement will be up shortly, but if you're just waking up and reading this, you can sit a little taller in your seat and maybe flash your OOIDA badge around.

Since most of my contributions consist of what a friend of mine calls the hunting of the snarky, it was really great to hitch a ride to glory with the folks who do the really heavy hauling at the magazine and radio.

Forces, natural and otherwise

I got a later than desired start for MATS, missing the preshow press day and much of Thursday. Motoring up the familiar and usually boring stretch of I-65 between home and Louisville, I saw stark evidence of the massive ice storm that shut down much of the Bluegrass State earlier this year. The storm left tens of thousands of people without power for days and weeks, prompting the first-ever calling up of the state's National Guard to deal with such a widespread emergency. Naturally, traffic came to a stop for several days until the ice melted, causing further hardship on cold, isolated people.

About halfway to Louisville, the interstate begins to literally cut through forested hills, and the rock walls bracket the roadway. Many - most - of the hardwood trees on both sides are snapped at the top or at least have branches dangling from threads. They haven't leafed out yet, so the damage is clear. The split ends are still new enough that they are the color of toothpicks. Not a few trees were completely uprooted. Evergreens - countless small cedars, many clinging to the thin soil on the slopes - have been felled or permanently bent by the weight of days of ice. I couldn't help but think they were bowing to the inevitable power of Nature.

At the Kentucky Expo Center finally, it was clear that even the mighty MATS was bowing to the pressures of the times. Usually crowded on the first day, the halls were busy, but far from jammed. Exhibits were more ... open is the only word I can think of, and many of the big truck and trailer builders present seemed to have fewer products on display and smaller exhibit areas for them. Large sections of the exhibit halls were empty, screened off by stanchion-mounted curtains.

I had only a couple hours to view parts of two halls, and it was Thursday, so maybe the end of the week - the first day of spring - will produce a bigger crop of attendees.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Walking the North Wing

As press events slow down, I took off this afternoon to walk the show some and trudged off first to the OOIDA booth that's located in the depths of the big North Wing. I could hear the ringing of our bell before I saw the booth. The crew at the booth rings that bell each time one more trucker signs up for life membership. As they say, the joint was jumpin'.

Todd Spencer was engaged in a hot conversation with a couple of members -- when is he NOT engaged in an intense dialogue?

Joe Rajkovacz same. The topic was SCR versus EGR.

Reed Black from our Sirius XM radio show was visiting with a member named Rocky who was a Land Line Now fan. Rocky listens every day, he was telling Reed.

A member named Nelson was making a $100 donation to the PAC fund.

I bumped into a couple of members from St. Peters, MO, with their two cute little blonde daughters. One in a stroller, one being bounced around daddy's shoulders. They were having a blast and enjoying the free goodies.

I talked to two members from Kansas who were intrigued with the new system they heard Mack and Volvo are now offering that engages the brake without any action of the driver. They had heard it was already "mandated." I told them I had been to the press conferences, and it's NOT mandated. But, yeah, it's quite a system. If another driver cuts you off or slow downs in front of you, the truck's braking system will engage. The engine de-throttles and the engine brake is applied and the foundation brake kicks in.

I talked to a member from Ohio who said freight stunk in his home state but that did not keep him from loving to truck. He just found freight elsewhere.

I chatted for a bit with another member from Michigan who said this was his first MATS, and he was jazzed about everything he'd seen. Couldn't wait until Day Two.

Ding Dong Merrily on High … come on, sing along, you know the words

By now, anyone who knows me knows I love Christmas.

Not I like Christmas. Love. And not a little. A bunch.

Last year, by my count, I exceeded 10,000 lights on my house and in my yard. It is my life’s goal to signal airplanes, to have astronauts say “Houston, the shuttle will be able to navigate home, for we have seen a light to guide us,” and to know the light is my house.

I want to see the Christmas star, and I want to signal back right at that shiny ol’ thing.

I had three 20-amp circuits added to the house just for the holiday season. Thanksgiving through Epiphany (the traditional 12th day of Christmas, Jan. 6. Yes, I AM into this big).

So what in the name of Santa’s long underwear does that have to do with trucks? Bear with me.

Jami Jones wrote yesterday about Grote’s new LightForm LEDs. For truckers, this is something that I think will make a real difference in the future. A fraction of the weight and power consumption of current lights, so small they’re thinner than a penny, but bright enough to meet standards.

Long life, less weight, less power. This is one of the more impressive opening rounds I’ve seen at a truck show in terms of real developmental leaps ahead.

They showed us marker lamps, amber and red, long strips that could form a kind of light-up conspicuity tape. LightForm is so flexible it can be used for applications well beyond trucking.

Like a long line of lights in a straight line along a gutter or fascia board, outlining your roof, around your windows, covering your house. Taped on, permanent, tough enough to withstand the elements, tested in conditions the toughest truck endures. Low power consumption, high light output.

Permanently installed, never requiring me to climb up on the roof again, never causing me to confront my continuing and confounding fear of heights.

Yes, I finished my interview, asked my last question about applications for trucks, I turned off the recorder, I looked Dominic Grote in the eye, and I asked, “could you use these things for Christmas lights?”

He smiled and said yes.

Praise Jesus and pass the extension cords! Christmas came early this year, and I have satellites to signal.

The Iceman Cometh to MATS … Again

Sometimes I feel like a newly adopted child at a huge family reunion.

This is my fourth pilgrimage to “Louahvulle” with my Land Line Now family. I guess I shouldn't be surprised when I pick up my step as I recognize a friend from 15 or 20 feet away. These are people, friends and acquaintances that I truly enjoy hanging out with and listening to their stories. What a colorful profession I have discovered. To drive truck, who woulda thunk it?

The best people, the biggest machines, some of the coolest stuff anywhere. I spent the day recording press conferences, learning about the weird and wonderful and building a recording studio in a truck. Again, who woulda thunk it?

I won’t dwell on having met some of the most interesting convention AV staff everrrrrr. I mean how difficult is it to turn up a microphone or ask a presenter with a wireless mic to turn it on? Can you say “add a certain flavor to a presentation?” ’Nuff said ...

In between running from one meeting room to another I learned a few things. Fun things. Like how Bendix drag races city buses to demonstrate their new air-powered whoop ass. If you want to race brother trucker on the salt flats, they’ve got your ticket to ride. And of course, stop, too.

And speaking of stop, Mack wants your truck to stop for you. You guys are gonna love this one: While Bendix throws bus passengers out the back window at green lights, Mack throws you and anybody else in the cab out the front window if its new automated truck system thinks you’re not stopping fast enough. I bet this one goes over great with owner-operators.

I want a set of TruckLite’s new LED headlights for my ’62 Dodge Ramcharger. I'll be the first on my block to have headlights that can take a bullet!

And speaking of bullet ... what audio engineer wouldn’t want to put a bullet in both an earthquake-generating APU and the thundering electrified pork chop generator that seemed to be laughing at the very thought of my building a recording studio out at the OOIDA show truck? I, for one, would be happy to pull the plugs on those gen sets, but then Land Line Now wouldn’t have any power to produce the show either.

After slight panic and much deliberation with Howard Hart, the calmest human being on the planet (why don’t ya stop by and say hi to Howard when you get a chance?), we decided the best place for Mark Reddig to ply his trade was the back 10 feet of our esteemed 53-foot trailer.

So from my 7-foot high perch I get the pleasure of watching happy truckers and their families parade in and out of the South Hall for the next three days. People like Ron Terry, and his wife from Nashville, TN, who I had just talked to the week before as I was recording the Exit 24 Chorus for Howard Salmon’s new album. And not five minutes later here comes Leland Martin with a warm friendly smile and a firm handshake.

As we all stand around talking recording studios and live music at Papa John’s parking lot, we all turned to wave at Arrow Truck's Back on the Road 2008 winner, Don Turkelson. Don stops his rig right there, gets out with another friendly handshake and a proud look on his face as he exclaims to me that he’s had a nearly 100,000-mile year and is looking forward to the 2009 giveaway coming up in a day or two.

These are the ramblings and pleasures of a four-year newbie to the trucking business. Crazy but true, and I think I like the ride.

Barry “The Iceman” Spillman

Back of the bus … I mean, truck

Every year at Mid-America is a new experience. And this year is no different.

But when you’re trying to do a radio show, sometimes, the differences turn into challenges. The challenges turn into tasks. And the tasks turn into … well, sometimes, comedy.

This year, we decided not to record in public view. The idea was simple. What we really enjoy from the show, and what people coming to the OOIDA booth really want, is a conversation. So we decided that at the booth, we would talk with folks. That conversation starts tomorrow (Thursday).

But for folks who aren’t at the big show, we still need to report, record and bring them the events here at Mid-America. What is announced or revealed at this truck show will have a very significant impact on truckers’ lives for the next year, sometimes beyond.

So we figured we’d meet and greet at the OOIDA booth, but set up our producer, Barry, in the Spirit of the American trucker, at Howard and Pam Hart’s little kitchen table in the trailer. Public enough for Barry to say hi, private enough for him to do the real work behind our show.

Well, fate – and pork chops – intervened.

Turns out the Spirit is behind the Pork Chop Sandwich tent outside the South Wing, and the tent has a huge freakin’ generator. I use the term freakin’ here, as I have no other adjective to describe this large, wheeled, green, noise-blasting abomination.

It has holy purpose in that it helps to give us Pork Chops. (Capitalized on purpose, folks. Big sammiches get big letters). However, it is unholy in its radio-recording-inhibiting vibrations and emissions.

Add the Spirit’s tractor APU and trailer generator and – well, challenge becomes task. We could not record over the noise in the public area of the trailer.

However, we did find a spot in the back of the trailer, in the storage area normally reserved for Howard and Pam’s town car.

So there’s Barry, huddled in his steel, plywood and luggage-strewn chamber, doors of the trailer askew, for all the world to see. Pretty public, not terribly comfortable, but usable, and really kind of funny. And hey, Barry has a great view from the back of the trailer, and it’s quite secure.

But then we both had a thought – although we love just talking with folks, could we once again record before a live studio audience, just like All in the Family” or Roseanne”? (Except without the irritating people on those shows?)

The back of the Spirit overlooks an area that could accommodate seating. It’s elevated, allowing everyone a good view. It’s just outside the South Wing, which is a good location. And it doesn’t get in the way of anyone else.

So we thought we’d ask – what do you think? Should we record from the Spirit next year? Let us know. E-mail me at, and tell me what you think … and meanwhile stop by the OOIDA booth and say hi while you’re in Louisville this year. We’re in the North Wing.

Steve, is that really you?

It's sure fun gabbing with old friends. Some of these OOIDA members I have not seen in a while, others I have known for years and NEVER seen face-to-face. Sometimes it's just fun to see their kids and how much they've grown.

Last night I was hanging out on the front sidewalk down here, watching press people gathering to head over to the International event at Freedom Hall -- see Jami's post for video clips.
Dave Sweetman and I bumped into Dennis Mitchell, wife Barb and son Stephen. The Mitchells are from Blissfield, MI. Dennis has been a member of OOIDA since 1997.

It's always good to see the Mitchells, but I was amazed to see their son Stephen. Sweetman and I both gasped the corny old "Oh my God you're all grown up" line before we could think of anything cooler.

Steve is ONE neat young guy. He has his own design and fabrication business, owns three trucks of his own. He's an OOIDA member, too. He whipped out his business card and gave us each one.
One of the most interesting comments from Steve was regarding his favorite new Land Line feature, "Journeys," where OOIDA members share old stories of the road and trucking.

Steve really liked a recent one by Bob "Cowpoke" Martin. I was impressed. I mean, here's a young guy who is really into the culture of trucks -- including the history. He thinks it is VERY important that these stories be "archived" to be handed down to younger generations. And he for one really likes to hear it TOLD, not sterilized, but told in the words of the teller.

Thanks, Steve. We are all ears for comments like yours and those from more of OOIDA's young guns. Wait until you read the May "Journeys" ...

Abelson reports: Cummins in the SCR camp

At this very moment, Senior Technical Editor Paul Abelson is at the Navistar one-on-one press conference, so he asked us if someone was dashing by the press room, would we post this blog with the Cummins report from MATS. I was headed that way. Here's Paul:

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Cummins introduced the ISX. It was to be the engine to take Cummins through the increasingly stringent EPA emissions regulations of the early 21st Century. And it was only a year ago September that Cummins announced they would meet EPA 2010 WITHOUT NEEDING selective catalytic reduction (SCR).

My, how things change.

The 15-liter ISX was originally designed with two overhead camshafts. One worked all the valves, and the other, with massive lobes, was to exert the forces needed to pressurize fuel injectors to around 30,000 psi. The higher the pressure, the finer the atomization and the cleaner the burn.

Two days ago here at Louisville, Cummins presented their strategies for meeting EPA 2010. They WILL use SCR, and will replace the old ISX with two new engines, the ISX15 and its smaller, lighter sibling, the ISX11.9. No longer is a camshaft dedicated to pressurizing the fuel injection system. Using pneumatic and hydraulic pressure in the new XPI common rail Fuel System, injectors are now pressurized to about 33,000 psi. And within each combustion cycle, each injector can pulse up to five times for an extremely precise burn.

The XPI system with Cummins VGT (variable geometry turbocharger), improved electronic controls, and reduced exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) made possible with SCR means fuel economy is improved by up to 5 percent from the current ISX. ISX15 ratings range from 400 hp to 600 hp, with torque from 1450 to a massive 2050 lbs-ft. As installed, the ISX11.9 is a bit less than 400 pounds lighter than the 15-liter, with dimensions within 1/4-in of the current ISM.

The 11.9 gives Cummins an entry in the highly competitive 12-liter class, with 210 to 425 hp and 1,150 to 1,650 lbs-ft. The smaller engine shares the fuel, air, electronic and emissions technologies with the ISX15. Cummins explained how, by having the SCR take over much of the control of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), they are able to cut back the amount of EGR needed to manage NOx, lessening under hood heat and improving combustion.

Mid-range engines will also benefit from the new strategy. They include the ISB6.7 (200 to 325 hp), ISC8.3 (260 to 350 hp) and ISL (345 to 380 hp).

In addition to the national truck stop and dealer networks that will be selling diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), the urea solution used in the reduction process, Cummins Filtration will be distributing DEF to 8,000 customers with more than 20,000 retail locations, helping to assure availability.

Cummins is now securely in the SCR camp, along with every other domestic engine supplier except International. They stand alone promoting the in-cylinder solution that relies heavily on Advanced EGR without SCR.

The arguments go back and forth, but ultimately you, the user, will determine what technology survives or if each will find its own niche.

Hog wild

There is a certain connect between the truckers and motorcycles. And, the gap between the two was closed up even more last night when International unveiled its new Harley Davidson package for the LoneStar.

It was an event that anyone in attendance won't forget soon.

Here, check out the show ...

And here's the truck.

Yeah, it was that cool.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

So far, so good

I was worried about this year’s big truck show. Really, really worried.

Let’s face it. The economy is lousy. You don’t need me to tell you that. So I wondered if, frankly, anyone would show up in Louisville.

I know there are truckers out there who are making a go of it, even as things are. But I worried that they’d be out hauling loads (I know some who would normally be here who are doing just that).

So I look for signs – things that would indicate that the situation is not as bad as it seems to me, that the recovery we’re all hoping for is in our near, or at least not too distant, future. That the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train. That the train is not intermodal and taking freight that could be hauled by a truck. (OK, I’ll drop the metaphors.)

Today, I found one. It may not mean much, but it was a sign.

On Wednesday, members of the trucking press attend a series of press conferences by the folks who make the trucks, the reefers, the lights, the APUs, all the products you use. It’s a chance for those companies to showcase their big new products for the year.

I expected it to be a parade of “we’re working on,” “we hope to have, “we’re trying to cope by,” and so on.

It wasn’t. Quite the opposite. There were new product announcements at every event I attended. Interesting new products and technologies that we will bring you in reports over the next few days and weeks (a lot of announcements, so it might take a while).

I saw hope in the faces of these equipment makers. Real hope, even positive attitude, a real belief that things will be better. It may take a while, but they will get better.

I can’t wait for tomorrow. I hope I see a crowd. Instead of four horsemen of an economic apocalypse, I’d love to see four signs of recovery.

I know a lot of truckers who have been through a lot of pain. And for all of them, no gift could be better.

The calm before the storm

One of the big perks to being media at the Mid-America Trucking Show is the seemingly all-access preview to the show.

Sure, you have to navigate your way around boxes being unloaded into booths. You become a bit noise numb from the dull roar of banging hammers and pallets hitting the floor.

But, it’s all worth it. You see it all come together. You get the lay of the land before the mob hits. You get a peek at the trucks, the lights, the chrome. It’s all there for the eyeballing. You are “in the know” from the get-go.

It’s quiet now with the lone exception of the low hum of a vacuum cleaner off in the distance.

The booths are pristine. The swag is neatly lined up ready for eager MATS goers to grab on the run. Exhibitors are off for the night. They are in pre-game mode – eating dinner, ironing their logo wear or maybe already in the sack.

This is my second favorite part of the show – soaking it all in before anyone else gets the chance.

My favorite part? That’s tomorrow. When everyone is here soaking it all in with me.

Family reunion

Here's Nicole and Amy at the welcome desk in the press room. Who are Nicole and Amy? They are part of the history of this truck show and part of the family that puts on this show.

Mark Reddig was asking me for a quick history of this truck show, as I have been coming here since other LL staffers were in junior high. OK, here it is.

The first MATS show was held in 1972, and I understand there were 80 exhibitors and about 4,000 truckers in attendance. It was the brainchild of Paul K. Young and the private management group, Exhibit Management Associates or EMA, and is still totally a family affair.

For 37 years, this Louisville business has steered the event.

Now pay attention. Paul's son Tim Young became president of EMA when Paul died of cancer 10 or 11 years ago. Tim is still a major resource, and word is this may be his last year working the show. Tim's son Toby is now president at age 32, and I think this is his third year at the top of EMA. I remember Toby as a teenager working the doors, doing a bit of everything.

Four families own the show. The Youngs, of course, and the Ushers are involved in a major way. Bill Usher’s daughter-in-law, Amy, is Director of Media Relations, and we deal with her for our press gang's credentials. Toby’s wife, Nicole, is a pediatric nurse but during the show she takes off and helps in the press room. Oh yeah, Amy is also Director of Housing.

My first show was about 1990. I remember at that point it was packed to the gills. They called in the architects. By 1991, the south wing phase 1 added more room. By 1994, the south wing phase 2 added even more room. By then, MATs had more than 600 exhibitors and 35,000 attendees.

Here’s why it’s the king of the truck shows.

By the end of the '90s, there was more than a million square feet of space. But it did not end there. In 2006, the South Wing phase 3 was done. 1.2 million square feet of space could then accommodate nearly 1,200 exhibitors, and the show was drawing about 80,000 attendees.

It now draws attendees from every state and 43 countries.

OOIDA has been here every year and began exhibiting many years ago with just a table (yeah, we had a tablecloth). It was a membership venture and two reporters covered it. One was me. When our marketing dude Mike Schermoly came on board, he decided we had to have a real booth. Now we have two booths inside, and the Spirit Truck is outside the front doors.

For us, it's one giant family reunion.

It's great to be back

Here's what I love about Looavull ... everything! The drive down I-65 was sunny and beautiful. Spring is in the air. It's about renewal. The cycles of nature, the cyclical natures of business and our industry. From a frostbit winter of frustration and challenges, I'm beginning to see an emergence. The grass is greening, flowers are budding. I believe in recovery.

My car took me on autopilot to the show truck prep lot first. Washing, waxing, polishing. More hardworking trucks and their drivers transforming into gleaming displays of proud beauty. My heart sings with anticipation.

The hugs, the camaraderie, the opportunities. I've spent much of my adult life immersed in trucking. MATS is always the biggest, the grandest, the first. New products, old friends and yet-to-be's.

This morning I'm immersed in press conferences: braking technology, lights and more lighting technology. Hang on to your hats, folks: 7-inch LED head lights from TruckLite. They dazzle.

But wow, wow and more wow. Grote just introduced LightForm - incredibly thin and flexible LED lighting that bends and can be shaped and has so many potential applications my head is spinning. Interior and exterior applications. It will come in a variety of forms with colors red, blue, green, amber, white. Limitless possibilities.

Coming up ... more truck stuff and show trucks and people with great stories to share.

I'm home.

OK, I admit I'm impressed

It's not often that the jaded journalist in me can honestly admit to being impressed at a press conference. Interested, yes. But not knock-your-socks-off impressed.

Grote lights just managed to not only get me to raise an eyebrow in interest, they honestly had me saying "wow."

They unveiled LightForm, their next generation of LED lights. The strips are only slightly thicker than a piece of paper. They are bendable. They come in blue, red, green and amber. White is in development.

They no more showed us this new amazing technology than I was already mentally dressing up the next generation of show trucks with them.


Press Day: Band on the run

We're here in Louisville this morning and the weather is perfect. Trees in blossom everywhere. The first wave of OOIDA folks, including Land Line and Land Line Now crew, drove across Missouri yesterday, through Illinois, Indiana and into Kentucky.

On the way, we passed by Mount Vernon, IL, and cruised by those sprawling truck stops located along I-57 and I-64. There's a Pilot Travel Center, a Travel Center of America and a Hucks Travel Center, all located at Mount Vernon’s Exit 95. You may recall that last summer Land Line reported that Mount Vernon decided to impose an additional 2-cent-per-gallon diesel tax back in July. Diesel. NOT GAS. Huge numbers of our readers promptly crossed off that Illinois oasis as a favorite stopping point.

Well, that ordinance is still in effect. The word is that the City Council plans to use the money gleaned from the pockets of truckers for a new overpass interchange project.

Yesterday, we did our part and boycotted the fuel pumps. Mount Vernon City Council can cop the cash from somebody else. By the way, we noticed the price of diesel at Huck's was $2.02.

MATS officially begins tomorrow, but for many today is a booked-solid day. People are setting up booths, polishing show trucks ... and for the media it's Press Day.

Today, OOIDA's media gang is kind of a band on the run. Senior Editor Jami Jones and I, along with Senior Technical Editor Paul Abelson, our field editor Suzanne Stempinski, and writer/columnist Dave Sweetman have our assignments lined out. We'll be scribbling and blogging as the industry newsmakers brief us, trot out new products, and clue us in on emerging technologies. We'll ferret out what you want to know and bring you the hottest of the hot. Our Land Line Now radio crew is already all over the place. I saw Mark Reddig and Barry Spillman early this a.m., on the run, dragging equipment, grabbing sound bites.

I'm off to see what Mack Truck is up to. We're your eyes and ears. More later.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cruising on in

I have left behind mid-70s Florida weather. I also parked my Kenworth, instead opting to drive my car (although not the midlife crisis Corvette I was thinking about buying). Suffice it to say that a twin-turbo BMW convertable is slightly quicker than the '65 Corvair Monza of my youth. If I hear one person utter the words "Spoiled Brat," I'm coming after you with a Tony Soprano attitude (just kidding by the way).

Several things came to mind on my ride up through Montgomery, Birmingham and Nashville. Fewer trucks. Fewer loaded trucks. More empty flatbeds. Fewer cops and closed scales. Some of which can be faulted to the jilted economy. Some, perhaps, due to budget cutbacks. I personally cannot remember when the nothbound Tennesee Coops on I-65 were locked up. Kentucky too.

Several other things came to mind on the ride up. Truckers have not forgotten courtesy or road manners. Every driver that I flashed over to make a pass, gave the binkie-blinkie back to me, a 4-wheeler. Several waved a thanks when I passed them by after they fell back into the right lane. One actually gave me the lights in appreciation and I returned the favor.

Presently, I am holed up in the Ramada in Bowling Green, Kay Why. Looked like a good place to take a break, grab a cold one and make a Pork Chop Diary entry. It is, although I hit it on one of those karaoke nights at the bar. Bless their lil pea-picking-hearts, as Tennessee Ernie Ford used to say, no one in this little burg can sing a dang lick. I mean, being only an hour north of Nashville, it is hard to believe something is lost in the vocal gene pool only that close to The Opry. And to think that the only thing separating me from stardom and local adulation is two shots of bourbon and remembering the lyrics to Bob Segar's "Turn the Page." Darn. Missed my shot and so close to Nashville.

Up early to make the trek to Mecca. With a clear head, no bad karaoke memories (of my own) and the likelihood of some darn fine weather. Might even put the top down, crank up Dave Nemo on the Sirius/XM and cruise on in. Man ... this is gonna be good.

See y'all in Lou-uh-vull

Dave Sweetman

Goin' to the MATS

For a long while in my life, I was lucky enough to have a day job that included going to truck shows. Heck, they paid me to go - probably because with all the free eats the exhibitors threw at us truckin' scribes, my expenses bill was very low. That was back in the good ol' days of the 90s when $10 and the tube off your old recappable tire would get you into a brand-new diesel dreamboat (and a whole lotta debt). These days, I'm bringing my own key for the Vienna sausages.

My first trip to MATS as a representative of a respectable trucking magazine (is that a contradiction?), I way overpacked. I assumed that there would be time to go back to my motel room, shower, maybe nap and then put on some pressed jeans for the evening's festivities. Wrong. There's no time to even go out to your vehicle to drop off all the accumulated press kits, geegaws and trinkets. Truck shows are serious business, and if you can't run with the big press dogs, you get trampled.

I have to say, technology has lightened the load for us inky wretches. Instead of heavy paper press kits stuffed with slides of digitally enhanced trucks, we get CDs, DVDs or even thumb drives. I like the latter the best, since I can reuse them. Our computers are lighter too - the digital storage makes it a lot easier to download an article, change a few words, slap our bylines on it, and send it to our unsuspecting editor hundreds of miles away.

Some things never change, at MATS. The yardsticks are ubiquitous (that's a fancy word meaning everywhere you turn, one of them will poke your eye out), and my buddy Dave Sweetman has already mentioned the Wide Load stickers. I'm sorry that Peterbilt won't be at the show this year, because I dearly loved collecting pins from the evening gown-attired models who gave their exhibit its legendary class.

Western Star got in on the act last year with some snow-maiden lovelies, possibly signaling a return to the pre-PC days when "booth babes" helped leave a favorable impression of many products. (Perhaps the most suggestive use of booth babes ever at MATS was to promote a tandem sliding product, but I can't mention that here.)

Anyway, I pack much more lightly these days, though I would like to suggest to the yardstick people that they make a telescopic version that's less deadly and easier to pack in a suitcase. I'm also packing a lot of ziploc bags to bring pork chop sandwiches back to the office - I can use all the free lunches I can get.

492.61 miles to Louisville

With Dave Sweetman's first blog, Pork Chop Diaries 2009 have officially begun.

As you read this, it's Monday and the Land Line, Land Line Now and our OOIDA crew is hattin’ up to converge on Louisville, KY, for MATS. The weather looks promising, so most of us – like you – are driving.

I’ve got a couple of e-mails today from members wanting to know how we will be covering MATS and who from Land Line and OOIDA is going to the show. The answer to the first question is THE PORK CHOP DIARIES 2009. It's the perfect way to report on such a spectacle. On our blog, we’ll be reporting what’s really happening down there each day, all day. So tune in often.

Second question, who is going?

In our Grain Valley parking lot, I see Howard and Pam Hart fiddling with the OOIDA tour truck – The Spirit – which is lookin’ spiffy. I also see Ron Mermis and his rig bearing the simulator are in the lot getting ready. I’ve seen this routine conducted too many times on cold blustery and even icy days. It’s pretty neat to see the sunshine. As this blog posts, they’ll likely be leaving out.

Our senior technical editor Professor Paul Abelson is leaving tonight as his first business is a press conference with Cummins on Tuesday afternoon. Our field editor Suzanne Stempinski, also known as "Red the Happy Hamster," is on the way as well. She, like Paul, is driving from Illinois.

Our columnist and longtime OOIDA member Dave Sweetman has left his green Horseless Kenworth parked somewhere in lovely Florida and is now terrorizing toward Louisville in his four-wheeler. Sirius XM rockin’, Bluetooth in place, perhaps a bottle o’ green tea (it is St. Paddy’s) nestled in the cup holder – Diesel Dave is probably rolling toward Kentucky at this very moment.

Senior Editor Jami Jones and I will be driving all day tomorrow, along with OOIDA’s Nikki Johnson (Marketing) and Holly Koncilia (Membership). We are SO NOT looking forward to driving through St. Louis during happy hour on St. Pat’s Day. Our Land Line Now crew – Mark Reddig, Reed Black and Barry Spillman – are now loading up all the broadcasting equipment. They will be driving Tuesday, too. Our ad crew will be driving down Wednesday.

Word is that we will likely see Bill Hudgins, topnotch writer and regular columnist for Land Line. He comes in from Nashville.

Others that you will see in Louisville this year include the super people at our booths plus OOIDA President Jim Johnston, Executive VP Todd Spencer, our General Vice President Woody Chambers. Our regulatory specialist Rockin' Joe Rajkovacz will be there, too.

Some people that you read in Land Line and hear on Land Line Now quite a bit are flying in for the show. OOIDA’s Director of Government Affairs Rod Nofziger, Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce will be on hand, as well as Laura O’Neill, our Government Affairs Counsel – all escaping Washington DC for a few days. Doug Morris, our OOIDA Director of Security Operations, is coming in from DC, too. These are people you will want to chat up. They’ll be around our booths.

And where will that be? Well, Booth 12108 in the North Wing, 65004 in the West Wing and Booth 91425 – that’s the Spirit truck outside.

Jonesin' for som poke chops

Ok, Kids.

Time to get my feet wet. After changing passwords, challenging the mind-set of the online Poke Chop Diary security watchdogs, I am here.

I am here to spread mirth, chortles and chuckles.

Few who know me would have a clue as to how long I have waited to use such a silly and useless phrase grouping. And, to the editors and wordful watchdogs out there in Land Line Land, I promise to be mindful of my postings. And believe me when I say, I shall be on my best behavior, report fairly, cleanly and with the utmost reverence.

I also have some dandy beachfront property in Kingman, AZ.

So much for the brief introduction to those who are garnered with the task of trying to keep me on the straight-and-narrow.

What we really need are trucks. Big trucks, diesel trucks, gas trucks, electric trucks. Show trucks, trucks with duct tape, ugly trucks with a missions, beautiful trucks with no mission.

I am jonesing for trucks. See ... I have missed MATS for two years, for no bigger sins than poor health on my part and poor health on my Mother's part. TWO YEARS!

I have missed out on poke chops and catfish. I have missed out on the polishing lot and all the dirt (pardon the pun) of the show-off trucks and truckers. I have missed out on the trinkets and swag that the vendors and exhibitors give out. I have missed out on seeing the guy stick the "Wide Load" mini stickers on his wife's butt ... only to see him later get a whack when she finds it.

I have missed MATS, and my jonesing is about to end. I need me some trucks. I need me some truck show madness. I need me some truck peeps. And, it's not all about getting, 'cause Dave has some surprises up his sleeve. But, I can't tell you now. You have to wait and see.

Happy Trails and I'll see you in the Derby.

Dave Sweetman