Over 2,000 Miles Hauling the Memory of the Mother Road
The Historic Highway Convoy 2012, consisting of 30 vintage trucks of modest and mighty proportions, had spent eight days and 2,000 miles on the road, tracing the remnants of Old Route 66, before rumbling into the Inland Empire on Saturday morning.
Their timing was impeccable, as the trucks were on hand to participate in the car show held in conjunction with the annual Route 66 Rendezvous. In its 23rd year, the three-day Rendezvous barely survived this city’s bankruptcy, with funds for police protection and other services having been scraped together at a late hour.
The trucks belong to members of the American Truck Historical Society, a group of 21,000 active and retired professional drivers, trucking company owners, enthusiasts and collectors. The convoy was a maiden effort for the organization, located in Kansas City, Mo.
Not counting side trips to drive the rare existing stretches of the original Route 66, as well as to visit other attractions along the convoy’s route, the group traveled from Morris, Ill., through seven states. Although Route 66 originated in Chicago, the town of Morris, to the southwest of Joliet, Ill., was the most feasible starting point for the convoy on Sept. 7.
Superhighways like Interstate 44 in Missouri; the Oklahoma Turnpike; Interstate 40 in the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico and Arizona; and Interstate 15 in Barstow, Calif., correspond to the historic route. From Barstow, the road descends through Cajon Pass into San Bernardino.
Route 66 was selected for the inaugural convoy in part because it was “an old-time, regulated-carrier route,” Bill Johnson, the executive director of the American Truck Historical Society, said in an interview. Like masters of rally racing, Mr. Johnson had predriven the course. He then compiled a guide for the participants, using the Historic Route 66 Web site as a resource. Owing in part to this diligence, no one strayed, and the convoy made its crossing with only a handful of minor issues — an oil leak from a Mack, a Peterbilt running out of fuel.
Weather conditions included rain in New Mexico’s highlands, a chilly Friday morning in the Mojave Desert and the 103-degree Saturday afternoon in San Bernardino, where trucks sat shimmering at the 3rd Street entrance to Meadowbrook Park.
With sponsorship from Travel Centers of America, members of the convoy spent the night at the company’s truck stops. Each resting point spawned an impromptu show-and-shine. On occasion, a commercial driver would share memories of a truck, like John Vannatta’s 1977 Ford WT9000 cab-over.
Jerry Howard slept all but two times in the impressive sleeper compartment of his truck. Mr. Howard owns a 1949 Peterbilt 350, a classically pugnacious model from that manufacturer. (A 1947 Peterbilt was the convoy’s oldest.) Known as El Turbo, the hard-nosed ’49 truck, so-called for the exposed radiator, was equipped with an 855-cubic-inch 6-cylinder Cummins turbodiesel engine.
El Turbo developed something of a legend on the West Coast before being restored and settling with Mr. Howard in Fairborn, Ohio. Trucking rules on the West Coast mandated trucks with different configurations from those operated elsewhere, and with its modified 310-inch wheelbase, El Turbo reflected this. Despite being one of the historical society’s most active members, Mr. Howard found novelty in the journey.
“I’ve been in trucking all my life, but this is the first time I’ve been in a convoy,” he said.
Others were making their first cross-country trip. Mr. Johnson mentioned a married couple from Maine who marveled at round barns in Illinois, pickups towing livestock trailers across Missouri and unit trains hauling new cars in Arizona.
Within scant hours of their arrival in San Bernardino, some in the convoy turned around for home. But Mr. Johnson said other trucks would be stored at a lot owned by a member of the historical society in nearby Fontana, Calif., where the trucks would be staged for West Coast winter shows and the next national convention of the society, set for May 30, 2013, in Yakima, Wash.
The inaugural convoy set a high bar. “Everyone is asking where we’re going next year,” Mr. Johnson said.