One night recently while at Little Sister’s Truck Wash out west, I had the pleasure of meeting Bobby Harrison from Wake Forest, NC. We had a great time, talking about the days gone by, and the days still to come, in the trucking industry. Running for nearly six decades, this gentleman has seen and done it all… and still lives to talk about it!
It was a picture-perfect Arizona evening, complete with a spectacular sunset, as well as a full Super Moon, that night. My boyfriend John’s acronym for CLASS certainly applied to Bobby’s truck and trailer, as Chrome, Lights And Stainless Steel describe “Kilroy’s Toy” perfectly. This 2014 black Peterbilt has a 600 Cummins, an 18-speed, 3.55 rears and a 300” wheelbase, and she pulls a 2017 Utility 53’ stainless steel reefer trailer with a Thermo King Precedent unit hanging on her stainless front.
“A true Southern Gentleman” is how Ingrid Brown described her friend, Bobby Harrison (who she affectionately calls “Mr. Bobby”), who most out on the road know as Kilroy. Ingrid said, “He’s the most dedicated and passionate driver that I have ever (or probably will ever) meet. Mr. Bobby is a true trucking legend.” He has touched so many lives out here with his gentle ways, and he means so much to so many. He told me that he appreciated all the people who called to check on him, a while back, when he was sick. Once, about 15 years ago, while loading at a produce dock, “Mr. Bobby” asked Ingrid to go and move his truck. With the guys on the dock watching, and Bobby grinning from ear to ear, she felt like the biggest and baddest little thing around!
Another friend of ours, Ron Wilson from Rockford, TN, has not known Bobby for very long, but he remembers seeing one of Bobby’s trucks, with his signature paint scheme, in Mississippi back in the 90s. But, it wasn’t until about six years ago that he actually got to meet the man in person, at Little Sister’s Truck Wash in Eloy, AZ.
While hanging out at the wash, Ron saw a truck with the same paint scheme as the one he had seen years ago. Bobby doesn’t look like a trucker, because he always wears slacks and a nice shirt, so it was hard to pick him out, but he eventually did, and the two became friends. Sometimes, that’s how it goes out here. Friendships are made at the places we stop, and it’s a connection others probably don’t understand.
After serving our country in the Air Force from 1956-60 (thank you for your service), Bobby came home and started messing with trucks, but went to work for ITT Kellogg, in their factory, until 1961, when “messing with trucks” became what he would do for the next 57 years. Bobby got his own authority, bought a Ford COE and a Utility reefer, and has been trucking ever since.
His nickname “Kilroy” came from his Air Force days. Doing some research, I found that the phrase “Kilroy was here” came about back during WWII. Legend has it that it started with James Kilroy, a shipyard inspector. He chalked the words on the bulkhead of ships being built to show that he had been there to inspect the rivets. To the troops in these new ships, it was a complete mystery. All they knew for sure was that he had been there first. As a joke, they began placing the “Kilroy was here” graffiti wherever they (the US forces) landed or went, claiming that they had arrived.
In 1946, the Transit Company of America held a contest offering the prize of a real trolley car to the person who could prove himself to be the real Kilroy. Almost 40 men stepped forward, but James Kilroy proved his authenticity and won the prize. He gave the trolley car to his nine children, as a Christmas present, and set it up in the yard as a playhouse. I remember having a little Kilroy “face” on the bug shield of one of the T600s I drove back in the early 1990s. I’m sure there are a few of you truckers out there that remember these.
During all his years of trucking, Bobby has prided himself in being a professional driver and getting there on time. He has always pulled a reefer, and pretty much ran from North Carolina to the west coast and back. He’s never seen the northeast in any of his trucks – and says he never will.
In March 2006, 10-4 Magazine featured one of the trucks Clint Moore built for Bobby called “Long N’ Low and On the Go” – it was only Clint’s second article ever published in the magazine. Back then, Clint said that Bobby was one of the coolest guys you could ever meet. Clint, that still holds true today!
In 2004, Bobby had quadruple bypass surgery and, while recovering, he decided to sell his beloved 2001 Pete. The next morning, he woke up and asked himself, “Lord what have I done?” That was when he called Clint and told him he wanted to have the “perfect” truck built. Clint delivered a perfect Peterbilt, dressed in the “Kilroy” paint scheme of red, silver and blue (see photo).
Married to Mae, Bobby told me that she is the perfect trucking wife, and I think she has a good answer to Bobby’s motto out here on the road. Bobby always says, “Don’t you come home without a piece of chrome, because I’ve got that stainless-steel sex appeal.” Mae’s answer to that is, “Leave the chrome alone, and bring the money home!” Mae, we should stick together, but from this girl, I have to agree with Bobby on this one. Bobby and Mae have four children, six grandkids and five great grandkids. But, Bobby can only be home for so long, before he must hit the road, and cross the country – again.
Recently, a health scare almost made it time for him to retire. Talking to Bobby in Eloy that night, John and I knew this would be a tough sell, but we thought it might be time for Bobby to hang up his keys, kick back and enjoy being home. Well, Bobby went home and healed, and is now proving that it was not his time to hang up the keys. While at home recovering, he put a team in his “Kilroy’s Toy” Peterbilt. A couple from back home, Britt and Jane are now running that truck, and Bobby is very confident that they will take care of her like he would himself.
Proving to me that you can’t keep a great driver in his Lazy Boy, I could hear the joy in his voice when he told me about the truck he’s driving now. Kary Bryce (the owner of the cover feature truck for March 2018) hired him to drive one of his trucks, and Kary, I hope you know that you have a true legend driving for you. This red 2017 Pete glider has a 550 Cat, an 18-speed, 3.55 rears, and a 285” wheelbase, with a 2017 Utility 53’ dry box behind. In his 57 years of trucking, this is the first time that Bobby has ever pulled anything but a reefer.
The other day I was thinking about this crazy life we live out here, and how there is just something about a big ole’ hood and the highway. Some of you know what I mean, but others may not. The new trucks will nearly kill it one day, the way the hoods did for cabovers, but there are still a few drivers out here like Bobby, and many others (you know who you are), that aren’t going to let it completely die – not yet, at least. That’s right, “Kilroy was here” – and he has left his mark on the trucking industry.