Trucks at Work

Polish vs. Profit

I had the singular honor to help judge a "show truck" competition this year ar Mid America, held by the National Association of Show Trucks ( and sponsored by Truck-Lite. For me, these trucks are much more than mere "chrome and polish" -- they are literally rolling works of art, each hand crafted and painted with the unique vision of the truck's owners.

What makes the NAST contest even more interesting is that trucks of each of the finalists (six in all) are all "working vehicles" -- Bob and Shelly Brinker, the winners this year, have over 800,o00 miles on their 2000 Freightliner, dubbed "The Legend of the Black Pearl." Runner up Ron Huey does them one better -- his Silver Eagle International has over one million miles on the odometer.

But is the glitz and glamour worth it? From a purely business perspective, sinking ten grand into paint, chrome, and interior work -- plus all the cleaning and washing that goes with it -- doesn't seem to make a lot of fiscal sense in this era of $3 a gallon diesel. And when profit margins hover around 5%, every penny counts, again making all the polish seem like a poor investment choice.

And yet ... every truck on the road serves as a billboard for this industry: a huge, rolling exclamation point that the public puts under a microscope every day. Bo Trout, a long time owner operator, NAST member and show truck owner put it to me this way: "If by doing this we change one person's mental image of trucks and truckers, it's worth it."

To Trout and other show truck owners, it's not about the money -- in fact, he said, you can't do it for money alone because the winner's purses aren't that big. "It's all about pride of ownership and pride in your profession," Trout explained, then told me this story:

"I have one truck I designed as a tribute to our soliders. One day I had a woman follow me in her car to my freight stop outside an airport. I kept thinking to myself, 'Uh oh, did I cut her off? Is she angry with me?' Then she gets out -- tears in her eyes -- and explains she has relatives serving overseas and wants to thank me for the display in honor of them. A moment like that makes it all worth it."