By Susan Stempinski
The old KW rumbled down the country road. Its paint was faded, the interior aged and worn, but to the folks standing outside watching it come home, it represented more than a trip down memory lane. That 1974 double-bunk cabover Kenworth was the beginning of a family’s trucking business.
K&G Trucking, based in Ogema, WI, began operations in 1976. Gale Edinger started with just one truck – a 1974 Kenworth K100, which his dad, Donald, had spec’d and bought new. Under the hood was a 350 Cummins with a 13-speed transmission. Customizing in those days didn’t consist of much. Taking the top off the original shifter and replacing it with a No. 10 pool ball was about as far as it went.
Gale’s mom, Emily, not only had traveled with her husband as often as she could, but also drove, and kept a spiral bound notebook – a trip journal. She kept detailed notes of where they went, what they loaded, what they spent.
When Gale and his wife, Karen, started their company, it was with that 2-year-old Kenworth. He drove it for nine years, putting on more than 900,000 miles before he traded it off for a newer ride. He hauled a little bit of everything, including butter and cheese, of course. After all, he is from Wisconsin.
He found a friend in fellow truck driver Al Young. They met while leased to the same carrier. Through the years their trucking paths didn’t always follow the same route, but their friendship ran uninterrupted.
Years passed, Gale stayed a one-truck owner-operator, and trucks came and went.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2007. Gale is still trucking, happily married and with four grown children. His daughter Sherri Edinger is a full-time truck driver, and son Todd drives truck part-time.
Gale has just put a new engine in his 1997 KW W900L. With more than 1.5 million original miles, it needed more than an overhaul. He hauls wild rice, cranberries and turkey feathers to Las Vegas on a regular basis (the feathers are for arrows, not for showgirls).
One day, while looking through some ads for used trucks for sale, he came across a truck that looked very familiar. It looked just like that ’74 KW.
Gale called the current owner and discovered that it was indeed the same truck, complete with the original paint job. His dad’s name was still on the factory sticker on the doorpost, and the pool ball shifter knob was still in place.
The old KW had made its way to Florida and spent many years running there before returning to the Midwest. Although they couldn’t be sure, they guesstimated that it had somewhere between 4 million and 5 million miles on it. The original engine had been replaced with a 400 horsepower Cummins.
He wanted that truck. But, having just spent a bundle replacing a motor put that dream out of reach – or so Gale thought.
Karen insisted they weren’t going to spend money on an expensive lawn ornament. Gale told his daughter about it; he told his friend Al about it. Sherri wanted to buy that truck for her dad, but couldn’t afford it. Young knew how much that old truck meant to his friend and was determined to make sure it ended up back at its old home.
Gale’s 60th birthday was fast approaching. A surprise party was planned. Al and Sherri knew just what kind of surprise they wanted. Al called the seller and arranged to buy the truck. Happily, a previous deal on it had fallen through.
Sherri insisted she would find a way to pay Al back. They went to elaborate lengths to keep their secret – even from Karen. Yet another friend picked up the old KW from the seller, loaded it on a drop-deck, took it back to his place, and hid it for a couple of weeks. He also made sure it would run.
The day of the party, more than 100 friends and family gathered to celebrate with Gale. A local hall was decorated fit for a trucker. Gale always had at least 100 lights on every truck he owned, so rubber chickens were strung among the balloons and streamers all over the hall.
The sound of train horns filled the room. Gale heard the noise and assumed it was kids messing around with one of the trucks parked outside. He stepped out the door and watched in stunned silence as his old truck rumbled up to greet him. There was not a dry eye in the house. According to Al, “It was the first time in 30 years of friendship that I ever saw him speechless.”
Emily, now 82, stepped out to look and said very quietly, “I used to drive that truck.” She also received her original trip journal, which had also been preserved over the years.
As promised, Sherri made sure Al was repaid for the cost of the truck. According to Al, even if she hadn’t, he still would have made sure his friend got that truck back.
“Gale is a great friend and one heck of a truck driver. He’s the kind of driver that if I could hire 10 guys just like him, I’d own 10 more trucks,” Al said.
The truck sits proudly in Gale’s front yard. Not long ago he looked out his window to see a couple of guys in a pickup pull up and get out to take a closer look. He walked out the door, “Can I help you?” he asked.
“Sure,” they replied. “That’s a pretty neat old truck. How much do you want for it?”
“It’s not for sale,” he told them.
“It must be,” they responded. “Everything has a price.”
“Not this truck,” declared Gale. “This one’s staying right here.” LL
Suzanne Stempinski can be reached at email@example.com.