If it has wheels, you can find it at Wheel Jam! Every year, we attend several truck shows throughout the country, and every year, we try to throw a new one into the mix – this year, we headed out to Huron, South Dakota to check out the 9th annual Wheel Jam show. Held at the South Dakota Fairgrounds on June 1-3, Wheel Jam is a collection of separate events held at the same time and in the same place, but it really just feels like one big event. The big rig portion of the show is organized by Scot Marone and his dedicated team of volunteers at 18-Wheel Truck Promotions. We can’t say enough nice things about these folks – and all of the great people we met in South Dakota.
The city of Huron, which was established way back in 1880, is a neat old town filled with history – and murals! We drove around one morning before heading over to the show and took pictures of the 20 or so interesting murals painted on the sides of several of the old brick buildings around the downtown area. We also checked out the world’s largest pheasant – a 20-foot tall, 40-foot long, 22-ton fiberglass and steel sculpture that celebrates Huron’s pheasant-hunting prowess (while driving around on the outskirts of town we saw several real pheasants, too, and they were beautiful). But enough of the sightseeing, let’s get to the show!
Day one, Friday, was mostly a setup day where vendors put up their displays and drivers got parked and started polishing on their rigs. With the threat of rain showers all day, the sky finally opened up late in the afternoon and let out just enough rain to send everyone scurrying back to their rigs to wipe them down – again! In the evening, there was a chili cook-off and a bean bag toss tournament, followed by a Battle of the Bands party. There was always something going on at Wheel Jam. This event is way more than just a truck show! By the time all of the trucks were parked, the show had set a new record with 150 competing trucks, plus about 20 vendor and display rigs, but it honestly felt like there were 250 trucks because they were parked everywhere.
With warm temperatures and clear skies, Saturday was a very busy day at Wheel Jam. In addition to the trucks on display throughout the grassy fairgrounds, there was also a car show, a motorcycle show, a large truck parade through downtown Huron, the South Dakota BBQ Championships, stock car races (that went late into the night), and the always-exciting engine brake competition. After a flyby featuring four local crop-duster planes kicked the event off, competitors sped down a closed street and then activated their engine brake as they passed under a decibel reader that measured their sound level. With about 35 trucks competing, the winner was Travis Loges of Boyden, Iowa. Travis’ 2003 Peterbilt 379 produced an impressive 142 decibels, while the 2nd place finisher, Andy Zastro of Gann Valley, South Dakota, recorded 129.6 dB.
On Saturday night, at a special dinner for the truckers and vendors, “Show & Shine” trophies were handed out to ten trucks. These ten trucks were chosen by the Wheel Jam staff of volunteers with no regard to categories or classes – it was simply ten trucks that the staff thought deserved to get a special trophy for their efforts. Those ten winners included Brent Greer from Canada, Spike Fuller from Colorado, Randy Stroup from Kentucky, Noel Smith from Minnesota, Josh Ihlenfeld from Minnesota, Dennis Eschen from Minnesota, Tri-State Commodities from Colorado, Jerry Johnson from South Dakota, Charlie Bates from Missouri and Mick Richardson from Minnesota.
One of those Show & Shine winners that stood out for us was Dennis & Diane Eschen’s 1961 Mack H67. This neat old truck has been part of the Eschen fleet since 1968 and features a 225 hp Mack engine and 15-speed Triplex transmission. The family used it to haul grain for several years until retiring it around 1980. Back in the day, this truck, which was originally powered by a 170 hp Mack engine that got up to 7 mpg, was the fuel mileage king – it didn’t have much power, but it got great mileage. Over the last few years, the family started fixing up the old relic, but they still have a long way to go. Today, Eschen Trucking, based out of Boyd, Minnesota, is a four-generation-deep family company that primarily hauls flatbed and reefer loads.
Another standout rig at the show was a beautifully-restored 1983 Peterbilt 359 with a matching painted and polished stainless steel Great Dane reefer in tow. Owned by Duane “Shorty” Koppinger of Dickinson, North Dakota, this cool combination turned heads all weekend at Wheel Jam. Featuring bright red paint and plenty of lights, this truck currently has a 400 hp Cat and a 5+4 transmission, but Shorty has plans to swap out the motor with a 3408 Cat in the near future, which he says will be a great “conversation piece” at the shows. He also has some pretty unique ideas in regards to upgrading the truck’s lighting, so look for this rig to get even better in the coming months. Shorty has been trucking for 30 years and currently owns four trucks, but he is the only driver at his company, which buys and sells bulk seeds from farmers across the country.
Sunday was a little less hectic than the day before, as the event started to wind down. Late in the afternoon, after the early-morning judging, all of the award ceremonies for the cars, bikes and trucks took place. With even hotter temperatures than the day before, folks set up their chairs and parked their golf carts in the shady spots under trees, anxiously awaiting their name to be called in one of the judged categories. At the end of the ceremony, a special lifetime achievement award was given to Stan Kopfmann of Stan’s Inc. in Alpena, South Dakota for his accomplishments and overall contribution to the trucking industry. Starting a feed-grinding business in 1964, Stan later got into trucking. Today, Stan’s Inc. employs some 150 people and has over 60 trucks.
Duane and Cindy Anwiler brought out their brightly-colored (Raspberry Pearl) 2003 Peterbilt 379 from Pingree, North Dakota, and took home the top honors for Best of Show Bobtail. Running as a team leased to Landstar Ranger, their clean rig, which has 1.3 million miles on the odometer, was purchased new by the couple. Featuring a 120-inch sleeper made by ARI, this rolling hotel room includes a bathroom, shower, 2-burner stove, convection oven, refrigerator/freezer, and a 32-inch flat screen TV. Duane and Cindy, who have been married for 32 years, were blown away when their name was called at the awards ceremony. Giving credit where it is due, they thanked their team of family members who helped make the rig look perfect for the show.
Some of the other trucks that were lookin’ good and deserved a notable mention included Josh Ihlenfeld’s white and gray 2005 Kenworth and matching trailer, Spike Fuller’s green Peterbilt, Jade Transport’s five beautiful (but all different) rigs from Canada, First Class Services’ over-the-top “First Gear” show truck, Wesley Wulff’s wood-clad Peterbilt, Shawn “Lead Sled” Cielke’s hard-working Kenworth W900B and polished reefer, Doug Jones’ amazing orange and black 1973 International 4070A cabover, and Gerry Murray’s pristine light blue 1960 White 4400.
After the awards ceremony we headed over to a local sports bar in town with the entire Wheel Jam truck crew and several drivers for a little post-show celebration. What a great time we had! We want to thank everyone, especially Scot Marone and Doug Flowers, for all of their hospitality. Scot wanted to thank his entire crew of orange-shirt-wearing volunteers (and a few that never got their shirts) for all their help making this the best Wheel Jam on record. There was one snag with the awards, but it was quickly rectified the next day – a limited mileage truck got mistakenly put in a working truck class and was awarded 1st place – here is a complete (and correct) final list of all the winners:
BOBTAIL (1990 & OLDER): 1st Mick Richardson of Montevideo, MN; 2nd Charlie Bates of Goodman, MO.
BOBTAIL (1991-1996): 1st Spike Fuller of Broomfield, CO; 2nd Sgt. Donald Zavesky/SD National Guard of Iroquois, SD.
BOBTAIL (1997-2001): 1st Cacey & Doug Perkins of LeCenter, MN; 2nd James Vock of Ipswich, SD.
BOBTAIL (2002-2007): 1st Duane & Cindy Anwiler of Pingree, ND; 2nd Jonathan Dyck/Jade Transport of Winnipeg, MB (Canada).
BOBTAIL (2008 & NEWER): 1st Dennis Durand of MacGregor, MB (Canada); 2nd Rollie Kruse of Toronto, SD.
COMBO (1990 & OLDER): 1st Shorty Koppinger of Dickinson, ND; 2nd Noel Smith of Montevideo, MN.
COMBO (1991-1996): 1st Todd Brueske/Lucas Matke of Huron, SD; 2nd Wes Wulff of Gann Valley, SD.
COMBO (1997-2001): 1st Jeremy Haven of Brentford, SD; 2nd Cory Roth/Albrecht Trucking of DeSmet, SD.
COMBO (2002-2007): 1st Josh Ihlenfeld of Owatonna, MN; 2nd Steve Harrison/Nathan T. Deacon Trucking of Lexington, VA.
COMBO (2008 & NEWER): 1st Dave Van Haitsma/Tom Scholten of Zeeland, MI; 2nd Nathan Tompkins/Jade Transport of Winnipeg, MB (Canada).
COMBO (LIMITED MILES): 1st Randy Stroup/First Class Services of Lewisport, KY.
CABOVER: 1st Doug Jones of Ipswich, SD; 2nd Dennis Eschen of Boyd, MN.
LIGHTS (BOBTAIL): 1st Mitch Broderson of East Peoria, IL; 2nd Spike Fuller of Broomfield, CO.
LIGHTS (COMBO): 1st Shorty Koppinger of Dickinson, ND; 2nd Randy Stroup/First Class Services of Lewisport, KY.
INTERIOR: 1st Randy Stroup/First Class Services of Lewisport, KY; 2nd Josh Ihlenfeld of Owatonna, MN.
SPECIALTY: 1st Sgt. Donald Zavesky/SD National Guard of Iroquois, SD; 2nd Keith Glanzer/Regan of Carpenter, SD.
BEST FLEET: Jade Transport of Winnipeg, MB (Canada).
BEST OF SHOW (BOBTAIL): Duane & Cindy Anwiler of Pingree, ND.
BEST OF SHOW (COMBO): Randy Stroup/First Class Services of Lewisport, KY.