By Bob 'Cowpoke' Martin, columnist
Since 1979, Iowa 80 has featured the Walcott Truckers Jamboree in July, an appreciation event including a truck beauty contest, antique truck display, a pork chop cookout, live entertainment, and fun and games for all.
My first visit to Iowa 80 was in the late ’60s, and I knew from the git-go that this place was special.
From what was once a small cafe, a couple of pumps and one lube bay, the place grew over the years to be the world’s largest truck stop, with a huge restaurant, food court, chrome shop/truckers store, truck wash, lube, tire and repair bays. With 24 showers, movie theater, a barber, dentist and more, the list goes on.
In June 1996, Iowa 80 hosted their first Shell Rotella SuperRigs Truck Show. The SuperRigs competition floats around the country in a different location each year. This got my attention and that of my younger trucker friend Jason Alt, also an OOIDA member.
Our goal was to take a shot at making the SuperRigs calendar.
I’ve known Jason since he was 15 or so. I used to drive for the same company his dad was leased to, and Jason would ride with him in the summers. He got his first “wheel and stick experience” at 14 when he drove 60 miles on I-69. He was hauling grain from farms to elevators at 16. In 1995, he bought a nice 359 Peterbilt that he and his friends turned into a show truck.
My wife, Geri, and I had been showing our truck for a year or so, and we were all pumped about SuperRigs at Iowa 80.
SuperRigs has a different format than the other truck shows. At SuperRigs you can park for the duration, go through the judging line when you’re ready, and park again. Or, as some do, just ride in, get your goodie bag, get judged and ride out. You will still be eligible to win an award.
SuperRigs is a two-part affair. There is the regular truck show where you compete for trophies and prize money. The second part is selecting the 12 trucks for the next year’s calendar. Different folks do the calendar selection, totally separate from the competition side with one exception: The best-of-show winner is guaranteed a spot on the calendar.
The calendar people have advance teams in the area picking out locations. They get permissions, permits and whatever it takes to have everything in place for the photo shoots. During the show, they review pictures of the different sites and pick the truck that will work the best for each location.
Let the mind games begin.
Whenever you are officially chosen for the calendar, they tell you. My buddy Jason was picked early on. Although I was tickled for him, I figured my chances were now slim. Two from the same town? Not gonna happen.
But I didn’t give up and stayed with my truck every minute during the first two days until the calendar people closed their tent. Then I thought I could call it a day.
I was wrong. At 10 p.m. on the second day, I was visiting with a friend in his truck. Did I say it was pouring rain? Anyway, someone found me and said the Shell people were looking for me. I couldn’t believe it. When I caught up with them, they asked if I would like to be on the calendar. It didn’t take long for my final answer.
The photo shoot was the next day in Preston, IA. The shoot was about four hours. During a break, the young lady in charge told me she saw us pull in three days earlier and we were pretty much a lock right then.
Being out on the shoot caused us to miss the awards. When we got back, someone jokingly said, “They were going to give you best of show, but you weren’t here.” Not a problem, I said. I’m on the calendar and wouldn’t trade that for any best of show.
SuperRigs returned to Walcott in 1999, and again we came back for both events. In ’08, some 12 years later, Jason and I both won trophies. I did it with the same truck after winning the Shell Rotella SuperRigs 25th Anniversary $50,000 truck makeover in Joplin, MO. That was back in ’07. But that’s a whole other story.
What makes the calendar special? It’s unlike other truck shows where trophies are awarded, maybe some cash and some ink, and soon forgotten. I have friends who have won loads of trophies, and I couldn’t tell you any whens or wheres. But if they have a calendar truck, that’s different.
These calendars go around the world, hang in truck shops across the country, hanging on future truckers’ walls, in archives at truck museums. I ran my truck another 12 years, and not a week would go by without someone saying they saw us on a Shell calendar. Think how many would recognize the truck but not say anything.
Someday, I look for “American Pickers” to find a complete set in mint condition. “Hey, check out this ’97 calendar. There’s two hay stackers from the same town in Indiana in there.” LL