Who was a player on the show scene in 1993? There have always been some exceptions to the rule, but when it comes to trucking, most of us are the exception… that’s the rule! Does anyone remember R.A. Johns III, Bob and BJ Montgomery or Vicky Thomas? What about Bob and Nancy Drummond, Bob Guy, Ron Beard or Chuck and Jenna Kemner? Maybe you’ve heard of Hank Good, Gary Hastings, Dave Sweetman or Gary Pons? These were just some of the pioneers of cool back in 1993.
What a great day for the folks at 10-4 Magazine – 25 years and just catching their stride. A quarter century old and running stronger than ever, with more new readers every month. With the fast-paced schedule most of us face today, it may seem difficult to look back to the first issues of this great mag.
What were we doing in 1993? I’m an old cantankerous kind of driver with a short memory, so I went to my family room and truck parts library. Yep, all the same place – right at the end of the hall. I enjoy reading more these days, so what better to indulge my spirit with than to read some real truck history. The men and women who were the players on the show truck scene in 1993.
That was the year I first tried my hand at playing in the big leagues at the Mid-America Trucking Show, held in Louisville, KY. Back then, the truck beauty competition was called the Pride and Polish, and this event, much like today, really set the stage for anyone who hoped to do well on the show circuit.
I remember thinking how I could walk in and steal the show because I had what some people said was the best truck ever built. That was not true – far from it – but I was still hoping to make a splash at my first big show. I am not trying to relive that event all over again, but I would like to draw out some of the people that were there, back then, who were shaping this industry into what it is today (and maybe still are).
I’m not a person in the habit of name-dropping, but I think this is a case that warrants it. In 1993 the most widely-recognized truck in America was the “Streaker” Peterbilt owned by R.A. Johns III. Not only was his truck and trailer fully airbrushed with wild horses and tricked-out with the latest items available, but the driver was just as much an icon as his truck was.
Second only to “Streaker” was Bob and BJ Montgomery with their all-red sloped-hood KW anteater with the Space Shuttle Discovery painted on it, in memorial to those astronauts. These drivers took their passion on the road and improved the then-tarnished reputation of the American trucker. Both these trucks have long been parked and replaced, but the memories live on.
The most dedicated driver I have ever known is Chuck Kemner, who at an age that would stop most folks, is still putting in long hours at NAST (National Association of Show Trucks) events and raising money for charity. Like so many of us who were there in Louisville that cold, wet, and did I mention SNOWY three days, he has set a standard that will be difficult to follow.
Today, like most drivers, I keep my ride in top shape and have most of the babbles that draw attention to it, like chicken lights and chrome. Did you ever wonder when or how all that got started? I can state on good authority that these custom accessories didn’t just appear in chrome shops, because there were very few back then. The injustice of it all – who would have thought you had to make your own trim pieces and figure out how to put them on! This is where you should give some love to those innovations and the people who solved a number of large problems for us.
If I could go back and have any truck of the day, not including my own, I think the all-black Pete of Gary Pons, with his Black Chrome Utility show trailer, would be the winner hands-down. Gary built it to be his design and to make a statement – and it did. It was a simple yet elegant, gracefully-balanced combo. All good blood lines have a starting point, and for those of you who are longtime fans of the trucks built by Valley Chrome each year, now you know. And, if you are a longtime fan of 10-4 Magazine, you might remember that combination graced the cover way back in December 1995 with a great shot near Mt. Hood in Oregon – a shot the 10-4 guys recreated (sort of) in December 2016 when they shot Gary Ross’ bright red Peterbilt 389, owned by Joel Olson Trucking, in the very same exact spot.
Men are most often associated with the show trucks of yesterday – or are they? Whoa up, pilgrims, there were a host of female drivers who worked hard and accomplished great victories, too. Let’s not forget how few driving ladies there were on the road 25 years ago. Today, there are lots of husband and wife teams, but in 1993, not so much – and even fewer women were running solo.
A name that stands at the front of the line is Cathy Sherman, truly a lady trucker in every sense of the word. She always ran top-shelf rides and her level of professionalism is beyond reproach. Kim Grimm was another pioneer, back then, running with her then-husband as a team. Today, she still trucks, and has also been on ongoing contributor to 10-4 Magazine for almost 15 years.
My favorite long-distance lady driver is only half of a dynamite duo known from coast-to-coast as the Digby show truck, or the Blue-Eyed Indian. I’m sure I will get some grief over this because these folks have now retired to a secret hideaway somewhere in the great northwest, however I want to showcase how two company drivers set standards for performance and responsibility that I think are legendary. They didn’t own their dream truck – they made someone else’s truck their own.
Remember, you couldn’t just walk into a chrome shop back then, because there weren’t very many – only a few at the larger stops like I-80 in Walcott, IA or maybe out in California. The thing that really made Don and Karen Bartley was their togetherness and their ability to lend a helping hand when anyone needed it. They are still active on Facebook, and I often see Karen straightening out some young guns when they need it!
I would be remiss not to mention one of the true innovators of show trucks and specialized equipment. Mr. Dave Sweetman has been around this longer than most, and he puts in the extra time writing about it, too. Large sleeper trucks like his have always been appealing to me, but I could never scale the weight and still get my payload. Back when the moving guys started building their big condos, I was amazed at the thought they put into “the house” on the back of their rig. I did buy a used 120-inch “house” once in hopes of making a toy truck out of it, but who knows when that will get done (maybe in 25 more years).
In 1993 I was the new kid on the block – not that I was new to trucking, but new to displaying large, loud and spectacular trucks. There are so many more trucks and the drivers who drove them that I would like to mention but it would take up too much ink if I kept going. So, I will leave a little for some later articles.
I do recall at my victory dinner, after winning People’s Choice at MATS in 1993, the show was over and the press went home and it all felt very rewarding. I made a commitment to myself, one that I still hold true. You see, I am reminded of that Best of Show award every time we visit that little Mexican restaurant down there – the one where I fell sound asleep and dropped my face in the rice bowl. I only mention that because this is the degree of commitment it takes to be a player on the show truck scene. If you are going to commit to an endeavor, give it all it deserves. Rule of thumb: 2nd Place is the first loser.
I hope this trip down memory lane will stir your imagination and give you a more rounded view of 1993 – the year 10-4 Magazine was born, and a new player quietly sat down at the table. Their motto has always been “Whatever it takes” and that is what they have been doing for 25 years to ensure that the magazine shows up in the racks every month, and we truckers are grateful for that. Until next we meet, I’m waving a big hand to ya, 10-4!