Monday, April 2, 2012

A fitting end to a good time …

I don’t do it every year, but for some reason, I don’t really feel like I’ve completed my MATS experience unless I make it out to Papa John’s.

Of course, I’m talking about Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, where the satellite truck parking is for the big show.

The truckers who stay there – as I’m sure most of you are aware – started years ago forming a kind of gypsy camp, with food and music, so they would have something to do when the actual truck show closed for the day.

That’s how it started, something small, something nice. But a couple of years ago, it took off toward something bigger.

For me, the event that seemed to jumpstart the whole thing to a new level was the benefit concert for Chance Rodgers, an OOIDA life member the grandson of Life Member Jim Rodgers. The truckers that year raised thousands to help Chance in his struggle against cancer.

Perhaps that’s why this year held special meaning for me – Leland Martin, our good friend and musician extraordinaire, played a concert in honor of Chance the final Saturday evening after the closing of the 2012 edition of Mid-America.

In the years since that first concert, the single gypsy camp has become many – I counted several, from just a few truckers, to groups of tents, to the two major stages, one where Operation Roger was auctioning off items to benefit the pet rescue charity, and the other nearby, where Leland performed.

Truckers United for Charities, a group mainly made up of OOIDA members, organized that stage, with the JRB Memorial Fund put up the money needed for a generator to run Leland’s equipment.

People were wondering from one area to another, enjoying different parts and meeting and greeting each other as they went.

What was interesting – and probably most symbolic – was when the MATS Parade of Lights took off. The Special Olympics benefit convoy is in its third year at Papa John’s.

The line of trucks left the parking area down the center driveway – that place in the middle where at the parts of that parking lot come together. It really had the feel of a team effort, a community coming together.

And that is what a community is – when people come together.

We often talk about trucking not as strictly an industry or business, but as a community. Trucking is a lifestyle, and all those who engage in it have a fellowship, even if they agree on little else.

At Papa John’s, people have conflicts and disagreement; sometimes, things don’t go perfectly. But what I saw were hundreds of smiling faces, whole families enjoying themselves, an environment where all the arguments didn’t seem to matter so much, and spending some time enjoying each other’s company was what was really important.

I would never want to miss MATS; it’s become a signpost on my personal calendar, and it’s still the biggest and the best, and it’s my one chance each year to see some old friends.

But it will never quite be complete unless I have some time with all our friends at Papa John’s.

Friday, March 30, 2012

MATS reports all-time attendance record

Graphic via
More people attended the 2012 edition of the Mid-America Trucking Show than any other show in its 41-year history, organizers say.

The official tally from Toby Young, president of Exhibit Management Associates, is that 80,972 people attended this year’s affair from all 50 states and 77 countries, eclipsing the previous mark set in 2008 by just over 4,000.

By most accounts, including what we saw and heard for ourselves, the world of trucking is rebounding. Toby acknowledged in his post-show report that many exhibitors said the show exceeded their expectations.

The 2008 show may have had more exhibitors, but 2012 was no slouch with 1,070 companies on the grounds at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center.

A total of 211 registered media correspondents from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and other countries around the globe covered the event for their publications.

And while we don’t know exactly how many pork chop sandwiches were consumed, we’d have to assume that the food vendors had a good show, too.

Planning for MATS is a yearlong event for the organizers and participants, who have already started the countdown to March 21-23, 2013.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kick Start for Coleman

Coleman Doverspike isn't quite tall enough to see over the hood of a full-sized Class 8 truck. He loves trucks, which is no surprise considering his Dad, Donnie, is the driving force behind the students at the Clarion County Career Center and their ongoing efforts to build road-worthy trucks from heaps and dreams.

The Doverspikes are building a scaled down version of a big truck. It's a work in progress that the two of them can learn on together. It's a little bit of this and some of that, but an education in every rivet and turn of the wrench. And it runs!

Young Coleman is both passionate and knowledgeable about every facet of the process. In fact, he so impressed PKY show director, Bud Farquhar, that Farquhar handed over the microphone at the awards ceremony. Coleman was honored with the "Kick Start" Award; recognizing the next generation of up and coming truck drivers and show truck aficionados.

When asked where he came up with the design for his truck, Coleman didn't hesitate. "I got the idea from watching Smokey & The Bandit," he explained. "I liked the paint scheme and wanted it on my truck."

Rock on, young man. We'll look forward to chronicling your trucking adventures for a long time to come.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Confessions of a shwag hag

I’ve admitted in a previous Pork Chop Diary blog that I am a “shwag” junkie. That’s the freebies, giveaways and gifts given out at the Mid-America Trucking Show each year.

That year, I vowed to go cold turkey. I was going to endure four grueling days (media are there a day before the show starts for media day or the press conference marathon as I call it) without picking up even a pen.

I broke my resolution that year when I grabbed a coffee mug courtesy of the Mobil Delvac folks outside the South Wing.

Well, if that was breaking a resolution, this year I fell completely off the wagon.

As the picture shows, the Land Line Magazine crew’s van was packed to the gills with shwag for the ride home. Now, it’s not all mine, but I will admit a lot of it is.

Detroit Diesel had duffel bags I couldn’t resist. Mac Trailers had a cooler – a for real hard-side cooler. Mack offered up hood ornament paper weights with the bulldog. (Mack CEO Denny Slagle said it’s real gold. I’m heading off to get it appraised right after I write this.)

Western Star had the cutest calendars. Daimler and Volvo offered up model trucks. Bendix and their video cameras. T-shirts, pens, yard sticks, notebooks, logbook rulers, coffee mugs, plastic cups, flags (U.S. and checkered) … I think you get the picture. I was shwag punch drunk when I got home.

I felt like the hunter who returned home to the hungry family the way my kids ransacked my bags looking for the good loot.

While it honestly bordered on excess to the extreme, I will say that as I collected each piece I grew more and more impressed.

Things haven’t been so good the past few years. Everyone was scaling back, and marketing budgets are usually the first to go.

So I’ve decided to turn my addiction into a socio-economic indicator. If the giveaways are great – things are economically improving. If we’re stuck with stickers and pens that write once – rough roads are ahead.

Heck, using the shwag at MATS as an economic indicator has got to be as reliable as anything else, right? At least that’s what I’m going to convince myself of by next year.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Brenny scores in message to Women in Trucking

Joyce Brenny with 4 million miler Heather Hogeland
and Linda Caffee with WIT -- all OOIDA members.
Guest speaker at this year's Women in Trucking Salute to Women was WIT member Joyce Brenny. If you haven’t met Joyce, she’s a surprise.  She’s a pretty, confident young woman whose success in what’s long been a man’s world can’t be denied. She started out as a driver and in 1996 opened her own trucking company in Minnesota. Turnover at Brenny Transportation is less than 10 percent, which says a lot about how she runs her business.

Brenny said she first thought "why am I up here speaking?" Then when she thought about it, she realized all she's done in her trucking career, and it made sense. Attendees liked her simple answer: "I'm up here because I have a lot to say."
She promised her speech would not be sophisticated and wouldn't be full of big words. She also promised Ellen she'd try not to drop any "four-letter words."
Brenny stilled the exuberant crowd when she told a story that she rarely tells. She was assaulted early in her trucking career by a man she worked with and trusted. Although traumatized, she turned the awful experience into one that pushed her to refuse to be a victim, but to choose instead to be powerful. She urged the women at the event to do the same and when life becomes negative, turn it into a positive force.
Joyce is the owner of Brenny Transportation, chairman of the Minnesota Trucking Association and OOIDA member. She was recently named Influential Woman of the Year.
This was Women in Trucking’s third year to celebrate professional women truck drivers behind the wheel. It drew more than 200 women to the MATS event to be honored for safe driving awards. 

On Saturday, President and CEO Ellen Voie told the crowd that of the 205 women honored, 81 had logged fewer than a million safe miles, 67 were million milers, 35 had logged 2 million miles, and 15 had trucked 3 million miles. Seven women proudly claimed 4 million safe miles on the road.

It's a bird, it's a plane ... it's a truck??

After four days at MATS (we get here a day early for press conferences) – our senior technical editor Paul Abelson says he normally feels like he’s seen it all
Paul Abelson interviews Bob Sliwa
“By Saturday," says Paul, “we, the collective press corps, have sat through everything from product announcements to full-blown new truck introductions."

But today, going through the show one more time, he saw something really new and different. Maybe not so new, he says, but really different from what we normally see running down the road.

Associate Editor David Tanner heard Paul start to describe the site in the North Wing and decided to tag along.

Paul was talking about the Airflow bullet truck.

The concept truck is a sight to behold with its smooth lines and almost jumbo jet appearance.

Paul and Dave proved to be the perfect pair to get the scoop on the truck parked at the Dynasys booth (the trailer was parked at Papa John’s parking lot) – and on the people who dreamed up the concept and made it reality.

Bob Sliwa talks with Paul Abelson
Back in 1985, a truck driver named Bob Sliwa built an aerodynamic truck. That’s not unusual today, but back before Kenworth introduced the T600 (1986) – trucks were the least aerodynamic vehicles on the road.

Bob ran his truck for a while, then retired to pursue other interests. But he never forgot his dream. In 2008, he began work on his current project, the AirFlow Bullet Truck, the most aerodynamic truck ever pull freight down the highways.

Professor Paul dug into the technical details with Bob while Dave got the scoop on what makes Bob tick and so driven to bring this concept truck into reality.

We won’t spoil the surprise here… but be sure to watch for their reports in the June issue of Land Line Magazine.

Humor and hope, a MATS tradition

While comparing notes and photos from this year’s Mid-America Trucking Show, a co-worker suggested I was somehow like Forrest Gump because no matter where I go, I always seem to be in the middle of the action. I haven't ever really thought of it like that; I simply subscribe to the fact that everyone has a story to tell.

At MATS, the action is everywhere, and so are the stories. Strolling out of the press room on Saturday morning, I didn’t have to look very far to find the first group of people I wanted to know more about. The icebreaker was that this group of two adults and two teens were all sporting OOIDA hats. Some truck talk and a quick photo and I set out to get their names. Looking at the first nametag, I began to write the first name, “Robert” … “Redford.”

MATS hatters, L-R, Michael Nahodyl, Mike Smith, Jennifer Shupe and Daniel Miller
I sensed that they were starting to crack up, and only then I realized I had been had. “Robert” is actually Mike Smith, a company driver and new OOIDA member from West Jefferson, Ohio. The boys, Daniel Miller and Michael Nahodyl, were also playing the nametag game, and they were getting a kick out of it. Rounding out this group of show goers was Jennifer Shupe, who used her real name.

They showed me some photos of their favorite trucks, and I had to ask about the hats.

“I hear a lot of people talking, but somebody’s got to do something about it,” Mike said.

Rolling along, I needed to make a stop to see Marcia Campbell in the West Wing. If you don’t know Marcia or her overnight radio show on WSM 650 AM, she is a friend to all truckers.

OOIDA Member Shawn Compher, WSM's Marcia Campbell and OOIDA Life Member Dale Compher
While at the booth, I met OOIDA Life Member Dale Compher, his wife Pat and their son, OOIDA Member Shawn Compher, who were there to get a photo with “America’s Trucking Sweetheart.”

The Comphers are from Henryville, IN, the site of a devastating EF-4 tornado back on March 2. That particularly nasty tornado killed three people in Henryville and took out countless homes and buildings. They got out their digital camera to show me images of the aftermath.

“There used to be a barn there,” Pat said, showing me a photo of nothing but open field and debris. “That was a brand-new house,” Dale said of a photo that showed more of the same. They said a woman they knew lost both of her legs when her house collapsed and she was trapped under a beam. At the closest point, the Comphers say they were probably 150 to 200 yards from the funnel.

“They tell you that you hear a freight train,” said Shawn, “And you do hear a freight train.”

They said the whole town has rallied and is in the process of rebuilding. It's hard to keep good people down.

Walking the floor at MATS is sort of like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. The people we've met and interacted with at this show have been generous with their stories, their senses of humor and hope, and will always keep us coming back for more.

And The Winners Are...

With 87 registered entries in the Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championship, there was lots of recognition for excellence, creativity, design and detail. While not every truck brought a trophy home, each and every truck entered had a huge crowd of supporters -- and every truck was someone's favorite. Working trucks, limited mileage trucks, antiques and trucks made to inspire awe -- they all reflected their owners' and drivers' commitment to bringing out the best in their equipment.

At the top of the heap with a trailer load of trophies including People's Choice, Best of Show Limited Mileage Combo and Best Peterbilt was Randy Stroup - First Class Services, Lewisport, KY and his incredibly detailed 2005 Peterbilt 379 and 2012 Mac Tanker named "First Gear."

Best of Show Working Combo and five first place trophies for class, engine, interior OEM sleeper, paint and lights was John O'Keefe, driver for Clean Slate in Hebron, CT. This 2007 Peterbilt 379 and 2011 Mac Dump trailer was designed and executed by company owner Todd Roccopriore. Late nights, long days, and unrelenting passion for detail transformed this hazardous waste hauler into a brilliantly faceted gem.

Best Working Bobtail was earned by the "Legend of the Black Pearl," Bob and Shelley Brinker's infamous 2000 black muralled Freightliner Classic XL. Weaving tales of hijinks on the high seas around frame rails, fenders interior and exterior earned the Brinkers five additional trophies for their efforts.

Best Limited Mileage Bobtail was the undisputed domain of longtime show truck participants and supporters Bill and Marie Sandvik from Valley Centre, CA, with their blue, green and white 1988 Peterbilt 379 featuring scrolling tribal flames and a portrait of Bill on the back of the sleeper. "I didn't expect this at all," said Bill at the conclusion of the awards ceremony. "This was a really nice surprise."

Hot off the press is a spectacular First Annual Program Recap, featuring the winners of the 23rd Annual Paul K Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championship Awards, fondly known as "The Trophy Dash." The limited run of 5,000 inaugural copies is sure to become a collectors edition as still-stunned winners reached for the 114 page commemorative book.

This show is history

One of the things you notice about the Mid-America Trucking Show is the sense of history -- in the show itself, in the people who attend, in the exhibitors. History is everywhere.

Navistar has vehicles on display dating back to the early 1900s. Freightliner went with a retro look on some of its trucks. Old school trucks are everywhere you look, from the show truck parking lot to the show floor.

But history is in the people, too. Many people here have been coming to this show for years, some of them probably since it began. Even the people who cover the show are deeply connected with the history of the trucking business.

When Rolf Lockwood, vice president of editorial at Newcom Business Media and founding editor of Today's Trucking, was handed the lifetime achievement award at the Truck Writers of North America banquet, he talked about how his mother would tell stories of him as a 3 year old kissing the fender of a truck. The trucking industry isn't just something he writes about. It's in his blood.

I have been working with Land Line for almost seven years, so you can imagine that, even though I'm 40, I still feel like a little kid next to some of the people here who have been entrenched in this business for their entire lives.

So it was somewhat of a surprise to me, then, to come across a bit of my own history while walking the show floor. It came in the form of Amalie Motor Oil when I stumbled across the booth on the show floor. It may sound strange to hear someone waxing nostalgic about a motor oil, but that particular brand was a significant part of my childhood.

My father worked for Witco, the company that owned Amalie once upon a time, for about 20 years. He sold Amalie Motor Oil for most of that time. As such, that red logo adorned hats, shirts, jackets and who knows how many articles of clothing I wore as a child. I probably even had some Amalie underwear.

I have three siblings and we all share the same memories of Amalie, so I snapped a photo of the booth and sent it off to them. I'm sure they will be flooded with memories, as I was, of our fourth grade teacher, Mr. Hammond, who asked for a new Amalie hat each time one of the Scruton children passed through his class.

So, yeah, I may not have been around as long as some of the people in the trucking industry. Not by a long shot. But it's nice to know I have my own little piece of history right here in Louisville.

Walkin' the walk

Too bad mainstream media didn't punch into an event held at the Mid-America Trucking Show Friday morning. It would have a gone a long way toward destroying the stereotypical image of truckers they continue to perpetuate in every trucking related story they write.

I'm talking about the MATS Health Awareness Walk sponsored by the Trucking Solutions Group. The event celebrated its third year as the first of its kind fitness event for the trucking industry.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer, Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz, Board Member Bill Rode and Director of Public Relations Norita Taylor were among the participants in the walk -- which was loaded with OOIDA members to boot.

Everyone met in the West Wing of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center for some refreshments and then took off at 9 a.m. for their 1.5-mile walk.

The walk was co-sponsored by TA-Petro with special thanks to the Mid-America Trucking Show management.

Old Home Week …

I’ve written just about every year about seeing old friends every time I go to Louisville. And some of those folks I see every single time.

But this year, I’m seeing people who haven’t been in years, some I’ve talked with on the phone and never met, some who are coming the first time.

Jerry Novak is an OOIDA Life Member and an Iraq veteran. I had the privilege of interviewing him about his experiences there. And today, I saw Jerry face to face for the first time. He’s just as cool in person as I thought he would be after talking with him on the phone.

Jerry has a good rig and a good arrangement running under a friend’s authority, but he runs like an independent. And he says business is good.

That seems to be a common theme this year. I’ve waited to hear it for a long time.

It’s always good to see friends, but it’s even better to see them when life is treating them well. And this year more than any time since 2008, it seems like that’s the case.

The Magic Buff

Tutorial on how to go from stained to stainless

Friday, March 23, 2012

Listen Online: DC Report - Big issues at the big show

Mark Reddig with "Land Line Now" talks with Laura O'Neill of OOIDA's Washington, DC, office about the issues truckers are discussing with her at the Mid America Trucking Show -- including a big FMCSA presence at the annual event. To listen to the interview, click below:

Land Line Now Podcast

Deserving family’s second chance in trucking

Billy Basenberg can talk about it a little easier now. But there was a time he was forced to give up a trucking career that he loved and deal with life-changing events and circumstances.

Billy Basenberg and his wife Tammie
"I was at the edge of a cliff and just about to go over," he said.

But despite their setbacks, the Basenberg family – wife Tammie and four sons – have a new outlook on life, on trucking and about the future.

During an emotional celebration on Thursday at the Mid-America Trucking Show, Arrow Truck Sales named Billy as their Back on the Road recipient for 2012.

“We are blessed,” he said as even the strangers in the audience at the Arrow Truck Sales booth were holding back tears. He said that when Dave Nemo of the "Dave Nemo Show" on Sirius XM announced him as the winner, it was a shock to the system.

"I didn't know what to think; I was in shock," he said.

With all of the prizes donated by sponsors, including a one-year lease for a Mack Pinnacle truck, Billy will now be able to get back to being an owner-operator, a dream he gave up years ago to be a company driver, and a dream that all but came to a halt due to circumstances beyond his control.

His wife, Tammie, was in a serious car accident that left her with back problems. Billy's love for his family meant caring for his oldest brother, Rick, who was suffering from diabetes. As Rick’s condition worsened, Billy took more time off the road, eventually giving up his truck. Rick's passing hit Billy pretty hard.

Billy’s son Jason served his country in Iraq, and when he returned, "he was not the same man," Billy said. Jason suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But Billy's love for his family got them through the worst.

“My father gave me the motivation and courage to get through that difficult time,” Jason said.

When hard economic times hit and jobs were scarce, the Basenbergs faced losing their home to foreclosure. They said being the Arrow Back on the Road recipient has literally saved them from that fate.

"He is a really good man," Tammie said.

As the recipient, Billy receives a lot of great prizes. Take time to read the prize list and give thanks to those who made Billy’s second chance possible.

He receives: a one year lease for a 2008 Mack Pinnacle with high-rise sleeper from Mack Trucks; a one-year work agreement with Heartland Express; insurance from OOIDA; XZA3 tires from Michelin; TriPac auxiliary power unit from Thermo King; $500 monthly fuel cards from Pilot Flying J; business consulting tools from ATBS; a three-year warranty from National Truck Protection; one year’s worth of filters from Mack Genuine Parts; one year’s worth of oil changes from Mobil Delvac; accessories and $5,000 in cash from Minimizer Products; a memory foam mattress from SleepDog Mattress; an IntelliRoute TND 710 GPS device from Rand McNally; a Cubby Buddy toolbox from 16 Ton Industries; health assessments, checkups and gym memberships from Rolling Strong/Bob Perry; and custom truck graphics from Image Works.

Cabs, heroes and feds, oh my

Whoever said getting there was half the fun has never sat in the back seat of a cab driver who doesn't seem to know where he's going. Land Line Magazine executive editor Sandi Soendker and I caught a cab early this morning to meet up with the Goodyear Highway Heroes at the Louisville Slugger Museum.

We had the misfortune of getting the only cabbie in Louisville who not only didn't know where the museum was (hint: it's the only building with a giant bat out front; it's kind of hard to miss) but refused to take the highway in getting there. But we survived the trip and Sandi will tell you more about it in another post.

After we made it safely back to the Expo Center, I had time to grab a quick bite to eat before Land Line Magazine Managing Editor Jami Jones and Associate Editor Dave Tanner and I triple-teamed FMCSA administrator Anne Ferro for an interview. She talked candidly about CSA, driver training and a number of other issues. Once I get it put together, we'll get it onto the radio show as soon as possible.

Anne also made an appearance Thursday night at the Truck Writers of North America awards banquet. A lot of people seem puzzled as to why we spend so much time with her. I've heard several cries of "she's the enemy" echoing through the Expo Center today. The thing is, that's not entirely true.

Yes, there are plenty of regulations that come out of the FMCSA that are bad for truck drivers. No one is disputing that. And OOIDA has stood up to fight against every single one that could potentially hurt your business. Make no mistake about that.

But in spite of those regulations, Anne Ferro herself seems to be genuinely interested in how the rules her administration makes affect truck drivers. When she wasn't talking to reporters, she spent her entire day talking to truck drivers. How many government officials do you know who would do that? Did you see Ray LaHood anywhere in Louisville this week? Or President Obama?

Think about it this way: If someone spends all day screaming at you or all day patiently and thoughtfully explaining something to you, which message is more likely to get through? There's an old saying that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. The reason it's an old saying is because it is absolutely true.