Monday, March 23, 2009
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.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
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.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
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.
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."
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.
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 truckerbuddy.org 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.
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
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
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.