It makes sense that the “The World’s Best” truck maker would host one of the best shows we have ever been to. On June 18, 2022, the Kenworth factory in Chillicothe, OH put on their first ever invite only Kenworth Truck Show and Parade. This truck show was specifically scheduled to coincide with the company’s Family Fun Day. Jack Schmidtt, Assistant Manager at the Chillicothe Kenworth production plant, was in charge of coordinating this event. The planning started in 2019, and the first show was supposed to be in 2020, but like so many events, the pandemic forced it to be postponed – twice!
With the help of longtime friend and retired Kenworth employee Dave Robinson, who contacted his former neighbor Tom Arnold to help get trucks lined up, Jack began planning the event. Many of the trucks they had lined up in the original planning for 2020 stuck with them through the cancellations and rolled into Chillicothe this year, along with many new invitees, totaling about 50 trucks in all.
We’ve been to a lot of truck shows, and for this one being a first, we feel they knocked it out of the park! Staging was set up at the Ross County Fairgrounds just outside of Chillicothe, and what a sweet set up that was. Each truck had electric and water hook ups, and the space between the trucks made it easy to get nice pictures and even wash trucks. With no judging and comradery between everyone there, it reminded me of how shows used to be many years ago.
Our impression of Chillicothe was that it was hidden gem in the Ohio Valley – and everyone we talked to agreed. With a population of 22,000 residents, it has a beautiful and historic downtown area and a strip of town with a nice variety of restaurants and shopping. With banners on the street light poles all over town featuring Kenworth trucks (one featured a beautiful night shot of John’s truck and trailer) advertising the Saturday night truck parade, Kenworth, and the entire town, really rolled out the red carpet for us truckers and made us all feel like true VIPs.
When Tom first started working with the city, he said the people there were so accommodating and wanted to help in any way they could. He wanted to thank Tammy Eallonardo, Michael Throne, and Tiffany Baldwin for all their help. They even set up free tickets to the local outdoor production of the play “Tecumseh!” for any of the drivers who wanted to go on Friday night. The play is celebrating its 50th anniversary and is the pride of the community. Thank you to Melody Young, Executive Director of the Ross-Chillicothe Convention and Visitors Center, for getting us tickets. I think there were about 25 drivers who attended the play, and it was a very fun and memorable experience.
Being that the event was held in June, in the Midwest, it was hot. On Wednesday night, Clyde and Melody Green ran the reefer on their trailer and bought pizza for everyone there. With chairs set up inside the cool trailer, it was a comfortable place to take a break and do what I jokingly say “truckers do best” – talk and share stories. I couldn’t have been happier to finally get to meet the Greens. Melody is such a delightful woman and I love reading her posts on Facebook about her adventures, and Clyde, you are awesome yourself, and smart for having such a great wife.
On Thursday night, John Highley got enough hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, macaroni salad, and potato salad to have a good ole’ trucker style BBQ with everyone welcome. There is a story here I wish I could tell, but I would just like to say there are still good people in this world and here is one of them, walking the walk of true old school. Kenworth also provided four 12-passenger vans for the drivers to use for running errands or going to get food. They were really nice vans, and very much appreciated, since we were a few miles from town.
We made many new friends at this show, but a couple that stand out for me are Dave Robinson, the former Kenworth employee who had a big hand in making this show happen, and Don Preston, from Minatare, Nebraska, who was there with his son Reginald. Don makes the most amazing metal works with the Kenworth logos, in many designs, and he has a lot of old Kenworth ads in a notebook. He was so generous, he gifted everyone a Kenworth key chain that has what I think is a unique and special design.
On Friday, we went in groups to the Kenworth plant, where we were served lunch and got a tour of the facility. Some of the drivers in attendance got to see first-hand where their truck was built, and John was one of those drivers. It was awesome to see all the automation in the plant, and the one thing we kept hearing was how happy the employees were about working there. At the end of our guided tour, we were able to go to the Kenworth store and get a few souvenirs to remember the day.
For dinner that night, Kenworth had a barbecue at the fairgrounds with pork chops, chicken, green beans, and baked potatoes. Good food and good times. After we ate, Tom had equipment set up to play “Smokey and the Bandit” on the side of a trailer after the sun went down. It was a beautiful night with a great old trucking movie and, of course, a Kenworth was the star of the film.
Saturday was finally showtime! This was what we were all here for – so the KW employees could walk around, see the trucks, and talk to the drivers. The setting around the plant for the truck parking was awesome. The combos were in an employee parking lot, some bobtails were parked near the building under the big Kenworth logo, and some bobtails were on the road along a pond near another Kenworth sign, which is on the road. The Kenworth Chillicothe plant, which opened in 1974, is located on a 120-acre site and features a 622,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art, facility.
The interaction with employees was fun, and it was so nice to chat with a few of them. Retired employee Susan Brown was working on the sleeper line, installing upholstery and wiring, and this is where she met her husband, Raymond. Sadly, he recently passed away but she, like all retired employees, are always welcome at the company fun day. We got pictures of her next to John’s truck holding the centerfold from his 10-4 cover. What a sweet little lady she is! Talking to Kelly Hocker, he told us that he moved to Chillicothe specifically so he could work at Kenworth and is so glad he did. He only wished that he had moved there sooner.
When the company event was over at 2:00 pm, we were all able to take a picture of our truck under the Kenworth sign. Our friend Kuenn McClinton put a lot of work into getting each of the trucks set up for their photo. After the pictures, it was time to line up so we could all strut our stuff for everyone along the parade route anticipating our arrival. At one point along the route, an announcer gave some information about each truck (year, make, and model) and who the owner was. We then went around the block and, on the other side, in the VIP area, we were announced again and got a picture taken under the historic Majestic sign that spans the street for the theater of the same name. The name was so appropriate for the trucks stopping there for pictures, and the trucks were the ones making history this weekend.
Jack told us that all the employees loved being able to see the trucks and talk with the drivers. The show they had all worked so hard to make bigger and better than any other show of its kind, was a huge success. Regarding the trucks, Jack said the employees who build them and the men and women who own and drive them have one thing in common: “love of the brand” – and that love was standing tall in Chillicothe, OH this weekend. So many trucks that were built so many years ago are still out here working and getting the job done.
Next year’s event is already in the planning stages and promises to be spectacular, as Kenworth prepares to celebrate their 100th anniversary! We look forward to a show that we have no doubt will be absolutely amazing! And we would expect nothing less from the company that makes “The World’s Best” big rig trucks. Stay tuned to 10-4. We will share more information and details as they become available.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to our friend and fellow contributor Frank Strohmyer for providing many of the pictures for this truck show report.