The Greatest Show On Earth?

ATHS National Convention in Des Moines

Back in 1919, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was formed when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey merged their operations. They began what was billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth” for decades. They were what came to mind to folks all over the world when you thought of a circus. As most of you are probably aware of by now, they closed operations on May 21st due to attendance numbers (and interest) dying. So, who holds the title for “The Greatest Show on Earth” now? That could very well be the American Truck Historical Society (ATHS).

Every year the ATHS moves their national convention to a different part of the U.S. This year, the event was held at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa. The show took place over three days, May 25-27, at the nations Crossroads of America. The Crossroads of America are where Interstate 80 and Interstate 35 cross, right in the heart of Des Moines. This could not have been a better place, geographically, for the national convention. Enthusiasts from all over the country met smack-dab in the middle to share their love of trucks, trucking stories and old iron.

If antique and classic trucks spark your interest at all, this is the place to be! From just-pulled-from-the-weeds, to full frame-up restorations (and every creation between), it was there. Eric Holthaus’ 1985 Peterbilt 359 and Paul Cox’s 1979 Kenworth K-100 “Big Lucy” were two trucks that really stood out. Eric and Paul’s extreme attention to detail on these restorations were really something to take note of – they raised the bar to new heights. Another stand-out was Rod and Jennie Jaeger’s gray and maroon Peterbilt 359, which earned the People’s Choice award.

The weekend was a little bumpy at times, with severe thunderstorms rolling through, but this is Iowa we’re talking about, so the sun (and heat) would be back in minutes. Rain may have put a damper on some plans, but it didn’t stifle the excitement. Unfortunately, the much-anticipated truck pull was canceled due to heavy rain Saturday morning. Rain continued into Saturday afternoon, which forced some folks to leave early, because the fairgrounds were turning into pure mud.

The ATHS makes sure this event is enjoyable for everyone – from the oldest attendee to the youngest. If you need a break from your mind being blown by all the pieces of history, they have you covered. Presentations by spectacular speakers, such as Cam Lavin’s talk on the Pete 359, were available Thursday and Friday. Tours to Iowa’s most unique attractions where available each day for a variety of tastes, such as John Wayne’s birthplace, Living History Farms, and a Vermeer manufacturing plant tour. They even made sure the kiddos would enjoy their time with a staffed interactive kids room, packed full of fun! A crowd favorite was for sure the presence of Hollywood trucking royalty, Greg Evigan, better known as B.J. McKay from the TV series “B.J. and the Bear” back in the 1980s, who was on-hand to sign pictures. An original B.J. McKay Kenworth K-100 was also parked nearby, providing the perfect backdrop.

Before the show even began this year, different folks started talking about the possibility of this being the new record-holding show. The York, PA convention of 2015 was the record holder with 1,250 trucks at one time. But, as Thursday went on, everyone watched in suspense as the chalkboard chicken’s truck numbers grew and grew. The chalkboard chicken is kind of a novelty for people familiar with the ATHS group on Facebook. It is literally a chicken-shaped chalkboard that provided the truck numbers for each day. So, hearing “The chicken says…” was not uncommon this year.

The Iowa State Fairgrounds spans over 435 acres, and it was filled with trucks. Every corner you took, every alley you looked down, there was more trucks that you hadn’t seen before. As trucks left, I found myself mumbling, “Where was that truck? I never saw that one!” So, did they break the record? You bet they did! The trucks surpassed the 1,250 mark by Friday afternoon (the second day)! The unofficial count that was being rumored was 1,280 trucks, but I cannot say for certain that is absolutely accurate. Not only was the record for the most amount of trucks broken, but they also set a new world record for the most trucks starting their engines at one time, when over 1,000 rigs fired up at the same time on Saturday morning!

On Friday night, the ATHS held their annual awards banquet to honor some very important companies and individuals. The 100 Year Company award went to Ford Motor Company. The 75 Year Company awards were handed out to Daimler Trucks North America (Freightliner), Bisom Truck Line, Frank Ring Transfer and K-Line Trucking. The 50 Year Company awards went to Crouse Cartage Company, Crenwelge Oil Company and Sully Transport. The ATHS also awarded the following individuals with a Golden Achievement award: Archie Baines, Robert Brunscheen, Ronald Campbell, Charles Chapman, George Crouse, Larry Krieger, Ernie Lear, Harold Leavens, Ian Lee, John (Max) Pollard, William Ray, Richard Simon, Wayne Stevens and Ronald Thomas. They also awarded Harvey Eckart and Russell Spawn Jr. with the Historian of the Industry award. Congratulations to all the winners for these amazing accomplishments!

Early Sunday morning, a convoy was put together for a countryside trip out to Iowa 80 Truck Stop in Walcott, IA. The weather finally cleared Saturday evening and couldn’t have been any better for Sunday’s trip. The drivers were treated to lunch at Iowa 80 and a private tour inside Iowa 80’s Trucking Museum. Everything came to a close around 4:30 on Sunday afternoon when I-80 became a truck show of its own.

The 2018 National Convention is set to be at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY on May 31st to June 2nd. I’m sure 2018 will be spectacular, so get those trucks ready! Special thanks to Cheryl Kober for all her help and everyone who helped make this show as wonderful as possible. Without all the volunteers, the ATHS would never be where it is today. They truly make this “The Greatest Show on Earth” – and it just gets better every year.

About Ciara “ShortStack” Sleeth