Marking the 200th anniversary of when the independence of the United States of America was declared in 1776, Kenworth Manufacturing Company was one of the truck manufacturers to have participated in this milestone by building limited edition trucks. This is the story of one of those trucks, a Bicentennial A Model named Matilda, with over two million miles on her, and the man that owns her and still runs her to this day.
Stavlo Livestock out of Spearman, TX was owned by Paul and John Mark Stavlo. Upon hearing of the Bicentennial tribute trucks, the company purchased one Bicentennial A Model VIT200 and one K100 cabover. With a little over 3 years of experience driving, Stavlo hired a young man named Rodney Farber in October 1976. Rodney began driving the Bicentennial cabover and continued driving it until May of 1978 when Stavlo decided to sell their Bicentennial A Model. That was the date Rodney became an owner operator, and he has been running the A Model full-time ever since.
Rodney grew up on a cattle ranch in New Mexico but knew all along that he would be a truck driver one day. And, on his father’s birthday, August 17, 1973, he did just that. After the purchase of the A Model, Rodney expanded his company and one of his drivers, in 1982, called the truck Matilda. Today, she still sports the name on the side of the hood and has been referenced as such since that one driver gave her the name.
How are the Bicentennial A Models unique and what makes Matilda special? 1976 marked Kenworth’s introduction of the Aerodyne sleeper, and with that came the Bicentennial V.I.T. (Very Important Truck) interior, which included a white headliner. The KW also came with a patriotic paint scheme, commemorative dash plaques featuring the Liberty Bell and the words – This KENWORTH especially constructed in tribute to America’s 200th Birthdate 1976 – along with red, white and blue seats and blue and white indoor/outdoor carpet.
Matilda started out with 4:44 gears, a 350-hp Cummins NTC, an Eaton Fuller 13-speed and torsion bar suspension. The truck weighed in at 16,720 pounds on her completed build date of May 5, 1976, according to the final chassis bill of material directly from Kenworth.
On June 10, 1986, Rodney married his wife Sharon. With many years of experience in the livestock industry, they both have countless miles under their belts. Even though Sharon no longer drives, the understanding of the business and life behind the wheel makes her a solid foundation of love and support, motivating Rodney as he continues to drive some five or six days a week.
In 1988, Rodney opted to install a long hood, giving Matilda a tough yet sleek look, and making her unique to the other Bicentennials on the road. Today, three paint jobs later, she remains the same colors, but internally has gained some changes, including a 425-hp Cat B-Model under the hood, 3:55 rear gears, Kenworth 8-bag air ride and a conversion from the original 13-speed transmission to a 6×4 twin-stick setup. The blue and white indoor/outdoor carpet has since been removed for a more comfortable interior, and other small modifications were made to suit Rodney’s comfort and needs. Matilda remains age-appropriate, including six-inch stacks and a Kenworth factory bumper. The restoration was done by Dan Potter out of Cunningham, KS. As she has done most of her life, you’ll find Matilda hauling livestock with a 1999 Merritt trailer in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico, with Rodney behind the wheel.
I first met Rodney at the Midwest Truckfest in Liberal, KS in August 2017. Intrigued by the truck, I asked what year it was – at that point, I was not familiar with the Bicentennial trucks. He told me it was a Bicentennial 1976 A Model. I thought to myself, the truck looks really great for being that old, then laughed to myself because it is the same age as I am! As we were talking, I knew I had to figure out how to do a photo shoot of this truck and write about the history on her.
I’ve heard stories about some of the older trucks where there are multiple owners and there is difficulty in finding out where the truck originated from, so I felt the rarity of this Kenworth was cause to make an article happen. Though we had to reschedule a couple times, we landed on a date in April for me to head down to Spearman, TX (first time setting foot on Texas soil) and get up close and personal with this truck. Even though the landscape was drab, as spring had not quite hit, we found some great spots to capture the very essence of this truck, including Paul Stavlo’s ranch (Paul was the truck’s original owner) way out on the outskirts of town. The other locations were at the Palo Duro Park and a couple other roadside spots we found.
Some of the old workhorses seem to be making a comeback, but for some, like Matilda, they have been working all along, and continue to work to this day. It is by the constant care, maintenance and dedication that goes into these trucks which keeps them running strong and able to keep up with the big motors out there on the road today.
This iconic rig is easily noticed, so if you run the panhandle, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for it, as this truck, as well as its owner, shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. And with over two million miles and a patriotic paint scheme, this highly-recognizable rig is a rolling documentation of a milestone anniversary of our great nation and Rodney Farber’s dedication to keep it going. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.