Cover Story
The ultimate road trip
Nearly three dozen vintage big rigs, pickups, and two guys from Australia in a rental car can now claim they convoyed along the most storied highway in American history

A nostalgic idea that cropped up during a breakfast conversation two years ago turned a morning meal into a planning meeting for the ultimate road trip.

Mark Shroyer, regional vice president for the American Truck Historical Society said that’s how the Historic Highway Convoy along Route 66 came to be.

Mark and his brother David Shroyer grew up in trucking. Both are involved in ATHS and were part of the convoy. Mark said when the idea came up of taking trucking’s history on the road, what better road for the first ATHS convoy than Route 66?

Called “The Mother Road” by American novelist John Steinbeck and memorialized in lyrics by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, the U.S. Highway Route Number 66 was decommissioned in 1985, having been replaced by the Interstate Highway System.

“We figured if we had 15 trucks we would be doing well,” Mark Shroyer told Land Line. He was thrilled when they ended up with 33 going all the way from Illinois to California – a distance of 2,400 miles of pure Americana – much of which is designated as a National Scenic Byway.

The adventure begins
The truck drivers  – many of whom are OOIDA members – began their adventure on Sept. 6 in Morris, IL, rolling out on Sept. 7. David Shroyer and Tom Mullen of ATHS drove the lead truck, a 1974 Dodge Bighorn. The convoy rolled through seven states, ending its trek on Sept. 15 in San Bernardino, CA.

A father and son from Melbourne, Australia, flew to the U.S., rented a car, and made the ride just ahead of the convoy, Mullen said. The convoy drivers embraced them as part of the group.

Because of the age and condition of the trucks, the group decided not to actually travel in a convoy, but to depart each morning from the gathering point and, after traveling separately, reassemble at the next scheduled destination. Each afternoon the convoy stopped at a TA or Petro. Travel Centers of America hosted daily “convoy” shows as part of the truck stop chain’s 40th anniversary.

Life Member Barry Chesler of Scottsville, NY, made the trip with his wife, Gigi. “We’ve just gotta do it,” Barry told her after he heard about the trip. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”

The Cheslers made the most of every leg of the trip, stopping off at places like Russell’s Truck Stop in Glen Rio, NM, which has a classic car and memorabilia museum. At a Route 66 museum in Clinton, OK, they soaked up more history of the route. Later they checked out Harley and Annabelle Russell’s Sandhills Curio Shop in the “little bitty town” of Erick, OK. In side trips, they visited London Bridge in Lake Havasu City as well as Arizona’s Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.

Upon their return back home, Barry estimates they will have traveled 5,500 miles and said he would “absolutely” do it again. The biggest kick on Route 66 for the pair was counting all the people who were taking photos of the Cheslers’ ride, “HalfPete” – a 1983 Peterbilt cab on a 1987 GMC chassis.

Member Jim Skrinar, of Purcell, OK, joined the convoy in Joplin and cruised to Oklahoma City. He drove Route 66 about 10 years ago in a car. This time, in his truck, he took the opportunity to snap a photo of his 1979 K100 cabover Kenworth in front of an old Phillips station with the old sign out front. “I don’t work the KW,” he said, “I might as well use it.”

Florence Good, wife of Member Willard Good, of Denver, PA, said the Route 66 convoy was simply “something her husband had always wanted to do.” Willard’s ride was a blue and white 1954 Mack that he bought in pieces and rebuilt. He started refurbishing the truck in 1996, and it has been on the road since the end of 2003. He said it may look old, but it has air conditioning and “power everything,” plus satellite radio.

“I love the old stuff … and the ‘old garage’ smell,” said Willard. On the first travel day of the convoy, he stopped at an old shop full of vintage tools. “It really took your senses back … it must be a truck driver thing.”

Life Member Ron Williams, of East Berlin, PA, road-tripped in a truck he calls his toy – a 1976 Kenworth with a distinctive oversized bunk. Ron’s been driving more than 42 years. He works in a

2000 International leased to Trailer Transit, but his pride and joy is his KW W900A with a 475 Cummins and an Eaton-Fuller 15-speed.

“It looks out of proportion because I cut it out and made a single axle out of it,” said Ron, who put 2 million miles on the truck before he retired it to the garage 12 years ago. The convoy hit rain all day on Sept. 7, and Ron said the rain poured into the sleeper like it was “coming from a garden hose.” But that didn’t dampen the fun.

“It’s just an old man’s dream. It’s kind of fun to go for pleasure once,” said Ron, who made the trip with his brother, Dick Williams. Among their favorite stops were Russell’s Truck Stop in Clinton, OK, and the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, OK.

“We have no agenda. If we see something, we stop,” said Ron.

Life Member Allan Rowe drove his 1947 Peterbilt with a 48-foot trailer. Three weeks before the convoy rolled out of Illinois, he says the truck – rebuilt of scrapped aluminum – was in the yard in pieces. The windshield wipers are air pressure-operated, but they work. The truck has no air conditioning or radio for that matter, but it was OK. Allan likes listening to the hum of the motor.

While traveling through Needles, CA, the convoy received a welcoming reception from the community, who asked for a “parade.”

“Getting a reception like that from the community, that’s the highlight of the trip for me,” said Allan. “That, and the camaraderie. This is an absolutely great group.”

Allan spoke for most of the other drivers when he said keeping the old trucks on the road wasn’t easy, citing plugged fuel filters and many quarts of oil.

The ATHS lead truck blew a tire Sept. 13 near Gallup, NM, but Mullen shrugged it off with “that’s truckin’.”

Between Albuquerque and Gallup, Allan’s ’47 Pete ran out of fuel. Along came what Allan referred to as a “half a million dollar wrecker,” complete with a fold-out stainless steel picnic table. The driver, Lonny Brown of B&B Truck Parts in Farmington, NM, drove Allan 120 miles to a fuel pump in Gallup and refused to take a dime.

“The journey has been unbelievable,” said Mark Shroyer.

The convoy members have the photos to prove it, too.

“One guy shot over 1,000 photos and another went through eight throwaway cameras in one day,” said Mullen.

A finish to remember
The southern California chapter of ATHS met the convoy at the TA in Barstow nine days after it rolled out of Morris, IL. The entire group of about 75 trucks left Barstow together. According to Bill Johnson, executive director for ATHS, that was the first time all the vehicles traveled together on the road. The head-turning convoy arrived Sept. 15 in San Bernardino for the 23rd annual Route 66 Rendezvous. LL