If there’s a list somewhere of essential and perfectly American events, the Guilty By Association Truck Show (GBATS) in Joplin, MO, needs to be on it. Here’s why.
First, of course, are the trucks. More than 400 examples of why trucking is still way cool were registered for the show.
What's great about GBATS is a lot of truck owners seem to register just to get a prime spot in the middle of the action: The weekend is arguably more fun for those who don't mind parking an every-day rig next to a show pony. Nor do they seem to mind lending a hand, or at least a suggestion or two, like "You missed a spot."
But, unlike other shows this summer, a good number of the serious show trucks proudly display grease on the fifth wheel. Of course, any truck show in the parking lot of the Chrome Shop Mafia has to have attitude.
Then there are side-show events, all of which are worthy of headlining elsewhere: motorcycles stunts (awesome both in the air and on the tarmac), a truck and tractor pull (the EPA would not approve, nor would your audiologist), a big rig burnout demo (complete with fire on the pavement); live music (even the recorded music broadcast through speakers all over the multiple parking lots was great); fireworks; and a kids’ area and activities (including a hard-fought pedal tractor pull competition).
And there’s the annual convoy and street party in downtown Joplin. This year was simply spectacular, with a world-record 370 trucks that filled 10 blocks of Main Street and several cross streets. And the convoy raised $120,000 for the Special Olympics. The emcee joked that if truckers had that kind of money, he was in the wrong line of work. Or maybe—actually, no maybe to it—truckers are just a lot more generous than people outside of the business realize.
Indeed, finally and most importantly, GBATS is about family. It starts with the Martins. The late Larry Martin founded 4 State Trucks in 1979 and his name is on the annual award given to a long-time trucker who’s worked hard and shown a commitment to family values. Sons Brice and Bryan now run the business and have put on the show as a customer appreciation event for seven years.
As mentioned above, GBATS is an all-ages family gathering. Not that other truck shows this summer weren’t for the family, but I don’t recall any event outside of an annual church picnic with so many three-generation groups getting together.
And this is very much a community event, with locals turning out in droves both at the GBATS venue and on Main Street, where the city makes the downtown center a trucks-only area.
Ultimately, at the risk of sounding corny, what makes GBATS so special is the fellowship. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
Flatbedder Martin Guss from Nevada, MO, has made all seven GBATS convoys, and he called the growth of the event “mind boggling.” His tractor claimed one of the last spots on Main Street, and he was sure a mile of trucks were still in line behind him.
“This is my family,” Guss said, when asked what brings him back. “And I meet new members of my family every day. My kids have learned the tradition of trucking. They love it.”
So anyone pining for “the good ol’ days” in America and in trucking should mark their calendar and plan to be in Joplin this time next year. I guarantee it’s good for what ails you.