MATS Preview 2011
Spitballin' with Cowpoke
What if there had been a MATS my first year of trucking?

By Bob "Cowpoke" Martin, columnist

The Mid-America Trucking Show – is there anything like it? It’s paradise for truckers, a mix of pure entertainment and higher education.

You can scope out a truck that will run from daylight to dark in four and a half hours – that’s fast. Or you can search a truck that fits your business plan. No matter if that plan is to load ’em like boxcars or drive ’em like race cars – someone will help you spec one out.

I hear that more than 70,000 trucking professionals went to MATS in 2010. They came from all 50 states and 59 other countries.   

After the show last year – where I saw TVs in sleepers that were larger than the sleepers I started out with – I thought it might be fun to try to picture what MATS might have been like my first year trucking in 1963.

Of course, you have to realize

that the first MATS took place in 1972. Even that first year, there were 83 exhibitors and 4,000 visitors in attendance.

If there had been a MATS nine years earlier in ’63, it would have been different to say the least. The trucks on display would have included plenty of cabovers and short-wheelbase conventionals.

The engine folks, Cummins, Detroit and Mack, would have their latest models on display, I’m guessing in the 180 to 250 HP range. The way I remember it, Caterpillar wasn’t much into truck engines then, but were getting ready to do so big time, so they might have been there with their bulldozer motors.

The tire guys would have been there pushing the tubeless radial tire, and the steering gear people with their power steering. When I was a rookie, I remember old hands saying, “You ain’t putting radial tires or power steering on my truck. How am I gonna feel the road on ice and snow?”

How about the Cool Cushion? That two layers of straw separated by little coil springs that for most of us geezers used to give a little air space between that vinyl seat and the back of our lap. Then we got A/C, which was pretty much the demise of the Cool Cushion. But in 1963, I’ll bet there would have been stacks of them at the show.

I suspect there would have been vendors there with those little aluminum suit cases? Each measured about 20 inches by 18 inches by 12 inches. A lot of trucks of that era had a cubby hole that these bad boys would fit in. Back then they weren’t called side boxes or tool boxes.

I bet Bostrom Seating would have had a booth with their famous “West Coaster” seat in the spot light. No air ride, no isolator, but they did have two handles to adjust for weight and height. One was egg-shaped, the other a bar. Both were hard to turn. You had to stand on the ground to make an adjustment, then get back in to see if you got it right. It might have taken several tries.

For my friends in the media, I wonder what the pressroom would have been like? I wonder if there even was one. And what they would have furnished besides an ashtray? You could rule out fax machines and computers. I can see a bank of rotary-dial pay phones furnished by Ralph’s phone company. Put a dime in to get the operator, she’ll place your long distance call and ask for coins, reverse the charges or take your telephone credit card. Was there a UPS drop box, Western Union hookup?

I can imagine a couple of my favorite truck writers flying into Louisville on a DC-3, lugging typewriters and maybe even a Speed Graphic camera. Those suitcases with wheels and a handle hadn’t been thought of yet.

What about entertainment? I’m guessing there would have been a country music package show. Maybe Ernest, Lefty, Kitty and Lester and Earl. Maybe even Dave Dudley, who might have been singing “Six Days on the Road,” a song he released in the spring of 1963. All would have paid tribute to Patsy Cline, who died in a plane crash on March 5, 1963.

You know what would be different from today? There would be four tour buses parked back stage, and zero trucks to haul props, lighting, sound equipment and smoke machines. And they would have been setting up in maybe the West Wing, instead of Freedom Hall. In 1963, Freedom Hall was where the NCAA Men’s Division I basketball tournament played the final four games. So the whole thing would have been a wild scene of March b-ball and truck showing madness.

So, I guess if there were a MATS in 1963 and I had been there, after I looked all the purty off the new trucks and accessories, I would have looked around for a pork chop sammich. I wonder if someone would have thought to bring them? LL