What are the odds of loading next to two beautiful, still-working, classic Kenworths in the same week? Well, it recently happened to me. On Monday morning I was unloading next to a W900 Extended Hood, and then on Sunday night of that same week, I was loading next to a great old W900A. You don’t see these old rigs out here very often anymore, so it was pretty rare to sit next to two of them in the same week. I wish they would have had that big Powerball Jackpot the week this happened to me!
This article is sort of a kickoff to a series that I want to do about old trucks that are still out there hauling freight and getting the job done. This month I am featuring Kenworths simply because of how it happened that I got to see two in one week. Over time, I want to feature each manufacturer and some of their old trucks, that are still out there working, doing what they were built to do.
Here is a little bit of history about the W900A Kenworth. It was introduced in 1972, retaining many of the features of its predecessors. It has double round headlights and a long, flat, fiberglass hood. Did you know that the “W” in KW stands for Worthington? And the stripes on the KW emblem are supposed to resemble tire tracks? The legendary manufacturing company was named by combining the last names of its two principle stockholders, Harry Kent and Edgar Worthington, in 1923.
The W900A was built from 1967 to 1982, and then the W900B came out. The W900B featured double rectangular headlights, instead of the double rounds that were on the W900A. In 1976, Kenworth produced a limited amount of special edition W900 Bicentennial VIT (Very Important Trucker) rigs, which were very popular. In 1989, the W900L was first introduced as an available option for a special edition James Bond 007 truck, commemorating the W900’s role in the “License to Kill” movie. The L model went on to become one of Kenworth’s biggest sellers with owner operators. In 1999, there was a special Silver Anniversary edition W900.
And who could forget a couple other very famous W900’s – the “Movin’ On” Kenworth and Snowman’s dark brown and gold KW in the “Smokey and the Bandit” film. Sonny Pruitt and Will Chandler were drivers in the “Movin’ On” television series, which ran from 1974 to 1976. Both Claude Akins and Frank Converse got their chauffeurs license prior to making the pilot. The line from Merle Haggard’s theme song for the show still applies today – “The white line is the life line to a nation.” The first truck used was a dark green 1973 W925, which was later changed to a 1974, to finish out the series.
“Breaker breaker Snowman, you got a copy?” “East bound and down, loaded up and truckin, we gonna do what they say can’t be done…” Who didn’t love the “Smokey and the Bandit” film, which was the second highest grossing movie of 1977 (behind Star Wars). That coffee brown Kenworth with gold stripes and reefer trailer with an old west mural on the side, which Snowman (Jerry Reed) drove in that film, will forever be a part of Kenworth history. Even though you know how it goes and the way it will end, it’s one of those movies that you love to watch from time to time, and, if you are old enough, you can remember the fun you had watching it when it was first released.
There were three Kenworths used to film the famous movie: one was a 1973 (you can tell that from the gold KW emblem which signified Kenworth’s 50th anniversary), and the other two were 74’s (they had silver emblems). If you are picky, there are things that don’t match and may not be perfect, but who cares – the film was fun and it is a trucking classic! Our friends over at DB Kustom Trucks in Antioch, IL recently built a great tribute to the “Smokey and the Bandit” KW (see photo).
Well, enough about the famous old Kenworth’s – let’s talk about some old hard-workin’ KWs and make them famous: Mike Connors from Suwannee, Florida and his 1980 W900 Extended Hood, and Glenn Lone from Augusta, Wisconsin and his 1974 W900A. Like my dear friend Bette always said, “I can’t make you rich, but I can make you famous.” Such is the case, here, too!
On a Monday morning, not long ago, while waiting for a dock assignment, I admired a beautiful old W900 parked next to me. I was extremely happy when he backed into the dock next to mine. Of course, I had to say “hello” and then introduce myself, and tell Mike how great I thought his truck was. To my surprise, he told me, “I know who you are” – he reads 10-4 Magazine! Extra points for that, for sure.
We had the opportunity to talk about old trucks, and I told him how much I appreciate the “old iron” and how happy it makes me to see a truck like his out there going up and down the road working. This was one time they got us unloaded too fast. But, lucky for me, he was headed the same way I was, so we got to run together for a few miles.
When I asked if his KW had a set of sticks in her, he opened the door to reveal that indeed, she did. A “Texas Ten Speed” he called it with pride, which is a 6 x 4. Her frame has been stretched to 305 inches and a 500-hp 3406E Cat replaced the original Cummins power under her extended hood, while 3.55 rear ends completed the rig’s current drive train package. She pulls a 2008 Utility 48-foot spread-axle trailer. There are approximately 2.5 million miles on this old girl. The original owner ran up and down the east coast.
Back in 1978, when Mike was hauling cows, he parked at the Petro in El Paso, Texas. Standing up to look over the fence at a row of W900A Extended Hoods, he fell in love. Today, he drives his dream truck named “Blackie” – she was black when he bought her.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon of that same week when I was passed on the Ohio Turnpike by a W900A with “Old School” on the back. Chatting on the CB, we realized that we were both going to the same place, and later that night I got to park next to this old truck, too. There is a 10-4 connection with Glenn Lone, the owner of this KW, as well. He got out his phone to show me that his truck was featured in “The Spirit of the American Trucker” in January of 2014. The color has since changed on this old truck, as the two-tone green was updated to red and black.
Glenn’s Kenworth has 1.15 million original miles on her. A 3406B Cat replaced her original Cummins power. The transmission is currently just a 13-speed, but Glenn is planning to install an auxiliary transmission. The rear-ends are 3.55’s, and she pulls a 2005 Great Dane spread-axle trailer. Glenn took what used to be a daycab and added the bunk, and now runs the east coast. This is the truck he dreamed of owning one day, too. I was very proud to have my Peterbilt parked next to both of these iconic old trucks out there, proving that they still got what it takes!
Speaking of iconic rigs, Kenworth is still offering the ICON 900. After driving our own W900s for so many years, my friend Heather Hogeland and I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of these ICONs up close and personal at the Mid-America Trucking Show last year. Recognizing the W900L’s proud heritage, the limited edition ICON 900 can be ordered in any color and comes standard with many chrome and stainless steel accessories, which makes this truck stand out on the open road.
Walking through parking lots these days, I get why everyone is on the aero bandwagon, but I don’t think I’m alone in still enjoying seeing a row of big square hoods. I looked over the hood of my own W900 for eleven years, and now I have a 379 Peterbilt – and, either way, there is nothing quite like that big square hood out in front of you. These big ‘ol hoods are usually an owner operator’s choice or a reward for an outstanding company driver, but I also think “it’s a pride thing” – and I hope that it never totally goes away, as I fear it might. I hope it never comes to a time where the only place these great old trucks will be is in museums or in the memories of the drivers who drove and loved them.
Hopefully, the current retro rage will continue for a long time. It’s nice to see how many drivers are painting their new trucks with timeless classic paint schemes, and adding details to make their new trucks resemble the “oldies” as much as possible. And, to the older drivers who actually got to drive the real thing, write down your stories some place or pass them on so they can continue to be told. Because what anyone could make up these days (and I’m sure they do), will never come close to the stories of the things that actually happened on the road back in those wild, good-old days!