I do not know anyone who has not been touched by cancer. Be it a family member, friend or yourself, pretty much everyone has been affected by it in one way or another. It’s amazing to see someone fight and win, and devastating to see them fight so hard and lose the battle – I have witnessed both of these scenarios. Robert and Denise Errthum have, too. Wanting to build a rolling memorial dedicated to those who have had cancer in their lives, the couple, among other things, put “No One Fights Alone” on the back of their bunk, along with a blue and silver ribbon (the blue ribbon signifies all the cancers, not just one type). And that powerful yet simple statement is certainly true.
Robert and Denise have been owner operators since 2008, and in 2010 took the plunge of getting their own authority. During a 300-mile conversation, when Robert was out west, they kicked around about 15 names for their new company. They have always liked the western style and they lead a “western” life, so they decided that Open Range Transportation would be a perfect choice.
Seven years ago they decided that one day they wanted to build a show truck. It was when they lost Denise’s “grampy” that it was time to put this truck together as a rolling memorial to those they’d loved and lost. After going to five funerals in four months, where four of those five people had lost their battle with different forms of cancer, they decided to come up with a way to remember all of them in a special, one-of-a-kind way. Starting with a “blank” canvas – a plain black Peterbilt 389 powered by a 500 ISX Cummins and equipped with an 18-speed transmission, 3:25 rears and a 280-inch wheelbase – they went to work and got creative.
Keeping with the western theme of their company, Robert and Denise decided to wrap the truck with a combination of western images and the names of their loved ones using two photos that Robert had taken while out west that they felt accurately depicted the open range – which is the name of their company. On the hood and doors is a mountain scene, taken on Hwy. 550 south of Montrose, Colorado, featuring snow-capped mountains and a barbed wire fence, and on the bunk is a picture of a field and more barbed wire, taken in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Naming the rig Miles of Memories, these words are under the doors on each side. The truck came together pretty quickly, as Robert used a paint program on his computer and, in about a month, the design was finalized. It only took David at JAB Graphics & Design in Tipton, Iowa about 14 hours to put the wrap on the truck – not too bad, considering this is the first semi they had ever wrapped. The words “TO ALL MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS…….” are on the top of the left side of the hood, while the words, “THANKS FOR THE GREAT MEMORIES…….” adorn the top of the hood on the right side. When I first saw this truck, I felt it had a very powerful message, and that it was beautifully put together and displayed.
In addition to the western images and words, all the names of their loved ones have a place on the truck. Denise’s grandpa, Edward “Grampy” Ketelsen is on the left side of the hood, while Robert’s grandma Alvina Brimeyer is on the left side of the sleeper, along with Denise’s uncle Rex Idlewine (who has been battling cancer for nine years and, so far, is still winning), Robert’s seven-year-old cousin Austin Oberbroeckling, and Robert’s aunt Pat Lange. On the right side of the hood is Owen “Cowboy” Bell, the friend who got Robert into trucking over 20 years ago. On the right side of the bunk is Robert’s uncle Donald Errthum, along with Robert’s uncle Clark Lange (husband of aunt Pat), their neighbor for seven years, Pat Boedeker, and Robert’s uncle Nick and aunt Carol Errthum. They did everything together and, sadly, passed away not too far apart.
Robert made a comment that I find fitting for this truck – “Keep chasing your dreams, and one day you will catch them.” I’m sure when they were first thinking of building a show truck, this was not the design they had in mind. But, because of the enormous amount of loss in their family, they were inspired and motivated to finally do it. A show truck is a constant work in progress. If you have something new at a show, enjoy it, because if it’s really cool, you will see it on many other trucks at the next shows down the road. If you lose, don’t be afraid to ask questions about what you did wrong, then go home and make it better for next time.
The Walcott Truckers Jamboree was the first show that they took the truck to, but before they displayed it publicly, they had a private showing for their family and friends to see it first. The couple lives in Olin, Iowa, so Walcott is practically in their backyard. A display made of slabs of wood, featuring the names and pictures of each person who is named on the truck, was set up in front of the rig. When I saw the rig, it was the complete package – the truck looked great, the owners were dressed coordinated to the rig, and an appropriate song was playing in the cab – everything was tied together perfectly. Having a truck of my own that remembers friends who we have lost, I could really relate to what they’d so tastefully done with their now not-so-blank Peterbilt.
They would have been happy to have just been at Walcott and taken home the trophy that every participant gets for being in the show, but this truck stood out, and they ended up taking home a 1st place trophy in the Graphics class, a 1st place trophy in the Working Bobtail (2013-2016) class, along with a nice big trophy for the best Overall Theme. That is some pretty impressive iron to get on your first try out! And every one of those trophies was hard-earned and well-deserved.
Robert and Denise’s adorable little daughters, Lilly and Izzy (Izabelle), were there, as well, and my friend Heather and I had fun taking pictures of them while Izzy was being “grumpy pants” that day. They are too young to understand right now, but as they get older, they will soon understand the meaning and importance of the truck that their parents have put together to honor their loved ones.
I can’t go to Walcott without thinking about all the friends I’ve met there over the years and all of the memories. Robert thanked me for telling their story and for featuring the truck – it made me think of 26 years ago, when I met Bette Garber, and I chased her down to take pictures of my truck at night. I could never have dreamed then that, all these years later, someone would be happy to meet me and have me tell their story, like Bette did for me (and so many others), way back when.
Most of the time, you will see this beautiful working truck out here dragging around a step-deck, but on occasion she will be hooked to a reefer. Look for her out on the road and at the shows, as she runs around, racking up even more “Miles of Memories” while never forgetting those loved ones who have fought cancer. And whether they won or lost, it is important to remember that no one fights alone.