Trucking history – It’s a family affair

| Friday, May 23, 2008

At first glance, the American Truck Historical Society’s annual show is all about the trucks.

But when you talk to the people who own the trucks, a very different picture emerges. This show is about families.

A significant percentage of the vehicles on display this weekend in Hutchinson, KS, are vehicles driven by the parents and grandparents of the truckers now displaying them.

Ed Rocha is a good example. A longtime member of the society, Rocha has several rigs at the show. And those trucks are directly connected to his family’s history in the business.

Rocha says his family’s company is the oldest livestock hauler in the state of California – a tradition that started with his father and that continues in his family to the current day.

“Well, the company started in 1924 by my father,” Rocha said. “I came aboard in 1952, and I have a son now who came in 1992, 1993, and he’s kind of running the show now.”

One of the rigs Rocha brought to the Kansas State Fairgrounds – the site of the society’s antique truck show and national convention this year – is a cattle-hauling rig his father used in the 1940s.

Rocha has taken a hobby that started as a way to preserve family history, and expanded it into one in which he helps preserve the history of his entire industry.

“I’m also the executive director of the Hays Truck Museum in Woodland, CA,” he said. “We have over a hundred trucks in there of all years and makes.

“Trucking has been my life, it’s been good to me, and that’s why I want to support it.”

Rocha isn’t the only good example of the role family plays in the preservation of the trucks on display in Hutchinson.

George and Lois Wacker came to the show from their home in Manchester, MI, with a replica of the truck George’s father drove. And although it’s a replica, the vehicle is made entirely out of parts from other trucks of the same make, model and era.

“Took me 30 years to find the pieces,” he said. “My dad’s original truck was 29-115 for the tank number that was on the plate. And this one was -168. Considering that he was in Michigan and I found this tank in Minnesota, it’s not too far off.”

Like Rocha, Wacker followed his father into the trucking business. And his children have followed him into trucking as well.

“A year ago July we had our 75th anniversary,” Wacker said. “Between him and me, and now my son, daughter and daughter-in-law, we’ve been in business, July it’ll be 76 years.”

Wacker and his wife, Lois, are clearly proud that their children have followed him into the family business. But it’s not just the trucking part that their children picked up.

“I got a son that’s already accumulated five Macks in various stages of disrepair,” he said, laughing.

It’s not just collecting old trucks – the next generation’s restoration work has already begun as well.

“In 1980, I bought a ’76 Mack Cruiseliner, which was made in California, so it’s a western. So that’s an odd truck,” Wacker said. “And it’s in the shop right now being restored.

“He’s working at it, but at the rate he’s going, it’ll take him 30 years, too.”

The American Truck Historical Society’s National Convention and Antique Truck Show continues at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, KS, through Saturday.

Friday evening, the society had scheduled its awards banquet. However, unlike other truck shows, the awards were not intended for the vehicles.

“The awards are more for our members, or someone that has been active in trucking,” Bill Johnson, executive director of the society, said. “We have an award that it’s getting awfully hard to find recipients of, and it’s called a Founders Award.”

That award is given annually to a trucker who started his career before the advent of the Interstate Commerce Commission in the mid-’30s, “So we’re just about out of anyone that would qualify for that,” Johnson said.

“Beyond that, we have a Golden Achievement Award for someone that has earned their living in trucking for 50 years or more,” he added. “And we also have an award for companies that have been in business with the same family members involved for over 50 years. So those are the members of the industry that we recognize at our awards banquet on Friday night.”

The display of historic trucks continues all day Saturday, followed by a buffet dinner that evening. And Sunday, the society has scheduled the Flint Hills Poker Run, in which truckers will travel to sites across the central part of Kansas, picking up a card at each site and competing for the best hand.

To reach the fairgrounds from Wichita, take Kansas Highway 96 west to the south side of Hutchinson. Take a right turn onto the entrance ramp to north Kansas Highway 61/U.S. 50. Continue north on K-61 to 17th Avenue, and turn left. Turn right at Plum; the fairgrounds are a short distance up the street on the left-hand side.

One turn on the city’s streets presents a small challenge for larger trucks – the turn at 17th and Plum. Johnson said the city of Hutchinson has closed the right-hand turn lane, so trucks can make a wider turn without cars jumping into the turn lane on their right side.

For more information about the show, go to www.aths.org.

– By Mark H. Reddig, host, “Land Line Now”
mark_reddig@landlinemag.com

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