By Bob "Cowpoke" Martin, Columnist
Of the millions of people in Japan, I have one Japanese trucking friend there. I met him years ago at MATS, and naturally I’ve been concerned about his well-being. He sent me an email about 30 hours after the earthquake and tsunami hit the island of Japan on March 11, killing about 24,000 people. He let me know that he and his family were OK.
His message, after going through an email translator, was typical for him. He actually apologized for causing me great anxiety. Can you believe it? It must have seemed the world was caving in around him, and he had concerns about my feelings.
I looked up his town in Japan, which was no easy task as his address looks like one of those computer links that stretch across a whole page. Anyway, I felt he was out of harm’s way living in southern Japan. From what I could tell watching this disaster unfold on TV, nearly from the start the worst of the damage was far to the north. One thing I come away with is the Japanese people’s calmness, an acceptance of what’s happening to them. I haven’t seen any panic, craziness or looting. Ain’t that a new twist?
I met Mr. Takashi Kato at the 1995 Mid-America Trucking Show. As most people know, MATS is an event that prides itself in attracting visitors from many foreign countries. My wife, Geri, and I were showing our truck for the first time at MATS.
It seemed like Mr. Kato along with his interpreter spent most of the three days going back and forth between our truck and a truck belonging to another OOIDA life member, Ron Baird. Ron’s truck was a best-of-show category truck; ours was more like a field filler. What our trucks did have in common that had Mr. Kato’s interest was they were both Peterbilts (Kato has a Peterbilt in Japan), and they both had western theme murals (good-looking Indians and ugly cowboys).
This led to an exchange of addresses, and we started to stay in touch – at first by faxes and then the Internet. When we made the Shell SuperRigs calendar for 1997, I sent him a copy. He replied immediately that he had to have 15 more. That really started it.
From then on he was always asking where he could get parts and pieces for his American show truck and his business, BigRigCustom.com. I hooked him up with several chrome shops, suppliers, even my own Peterbilt dealer. He showed me a fax once, and it said “Send me fifth wheel for my 378 Peterbilt, thank you very much,” simply signed “Kato.”
One time when he inquired about aluminum polish and waxes, I sent him Roger Fayman’s business card, the owner of California Custom Products. That simple act led to an ongoing business relationship that continues today.
Kato and I have met at MATS several times. He and a friend and translator were with us for three days last summer when they were on a 10-day trip here, taking in truck shows and visiting vendors and suppliers of custom truck stuff.
We hooked up at Las Vegas shows twice. At the time he and California Custom Products were so excited about their business plans they were talking about flying me and Geri to Japan. About then the Japanese economy hiccupped.
Kato also does business with Bryan Martin, 4 State Trucks in Joplin, MO – home of the Chrome Shop Mafia. Do you suppose Kato and Boss Man Martin could have ever imagined they would have more in common that just a love of trucks and a passion for chrome?
Mr. Kato does not care much for American food, and when we meet it’s always a Japanese steak house. I wonder if we had gone over there would he have been offended if I wanted to get a Whopper or some Colonel Sanders?
Now we are several months from Japan’s disaster. Mr. Kato’s interpreter, Mitsumasa Nakayama, has been great about keeping us up to speed on how Japan is recovering. Our hearts along with the rest of the world go out to these people. LL