In March, a trucker's fancy turns to . pork chops, shiny new trucks and those black-and-yellow "Wide Load" stickers that sprout on people's backs at the annual Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY. People who hate to wait 10 minutes for a shower willingly spend 30 minutes in line just for a chance to snuggle into the seat of the latest models from Freightliner, Paccar, Volvo, International and Mack.
This is the 35th annual MATS, and it will include more than 1,000 exhibitors spread out over more than 1 million square feet. If your idea of a long walk is from the front of the parking line to the drivers' lounge, you are gonna be very tired.
My friend and ace gearjammer "Rufus Sideswipe" has seen lots of Mid-America shows. Here are some of his insider tips:
- Take all your friends and relatives. More people can collect more free stuff. We haven't had to buy pencils, pens, erasers, notepads, yardsticks, coffee mugs or Halloween candy for years. The best pickings are at the recruiter booths over in the West Wing.
- Grab all the plastic bags you can at the booths. Get extras as they fill up quickly and sometimes bust in the middle of the floor.
- Those bright orange yardsticks are just about the most popular freebie and go fast. Be sure to get some for your kids so they can swordfight, and you can yell at them when they smack someone.
- Those seminars about how to run your business are OK, I suppose, but you can have a lot more fun at the booth that has those radio-controlled cars.
- There's usually at least one booth with a miracle sharpening gizmo, so bring all your dull pocketknives and multi-tools.
- When you stop at the Peterbilt booth, be sure to get someone to take your photo with one of those cute girls in evening dresses that hand out the Pete pins. No one else has ever thought of that.
- Always stop and talk in the middle of an aisle.
How to win that truck beauty contest
If just wandering around collecting giveaways is too tame for you, then enter your rig in the Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championship.
Rufus has entered his vintage Cornbinder several times and has some ideas about outdoing the semi-pro competitors who have deep pockets and corporate sponsors.
"One thing that is almost a sure-fire winner is to have an unusual theme. I've won two times with two different themes that hardly cost me anything," Rufus recalls.
"First time, my theme was 'Quiet Riot.' I kept seeing signs where I delivered saying we couldn't use Jake Brakes or airhorns. So, if it was dark and I was waiting for my load, I'd sneak off and snag one of those signs. Pretty soon, I started collecting others, like 'No Talking in Library' and 'Quiet: Hospital Zone.'
"So I entered my truck in the show and hung those signs all over it. Stuffed some cotton into my airhorns and stacks and put stickers on my bunk that said 'Light Sleeper.' I took third place in the Trucking With Attitude category.
"The next time I entered, I was really stuck for a theme. My old rig had taken some dings that winter, and I hadn't had time to do anything else but slap on some duct tape and keep going. My daughter Rufina said it would soon be all silver, and bang! Inspiration hit me.
"By the time Louisville rolled around, every inch of my cab that wasn't glass was covered with silver duct tape. We even got some red, white and blue duct tape and did a flag on both sides. The judges wound up creating a new category on the spot - I took first place in Best Use of Alabama Chrome."
For more information about MATS, visit truckingshow.com.
Be sure to visit OOIDA staffers at Booth 117 in the East Wing and at the Association's rolling home-away-from-headquarters, "The Spirit" truck, parked at the front pavilion.
Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often.
Bill Hudgins may be reached at email@example.com.